Surrounded by the Topatopa Mountains, and next to Santa Paula Creek, the Santa Paula Canyon and Punch Bowl Trail features beautiful pools of water and verdant stream-side vegetation leading to the Punchbowl’s 30 foot waterfall. This hike is one of the very best in Ventura County and highlights what the Ojai District of Los Padres has to offer.
Among other activities, this is a great place to backpack and camp next to year round water (Big Cone Camp and elsewhere) and enjoy crystal clear pools of water all year. Under optimal conditions, the natural water slides and deep pools are especially popular. With everything that Santa Paula Canyon and Punch Bowl Trail have to offer, this is a terrific public land destination.
10000 Ojai Rd, Santa Paula, CA (adjacent to Thomas Aquinas College)
US Forest Service
Backpacking, Birdwatching, Camping, Hiking, Picnicking, Relaxing, Running (Trail), Swimming, Viewing, Walking
In 2019, Thomas Aquinas College restored an old trail, which provides much better access to the Santa Paul Canyon. Be prepared for several stream crossings. The next part of the trail is surrounded by private property, including avocado groves and some oil production infrastructure. After this, the trail enters Los Padres National Forest and is beautiful (despite occasional graffiti).
Some of the birds to watch for include Golden Eagles, Costa’s Hummingbirds, Kinglets, Canyon Wrens, and grosbeaks.
The Forest Service does not require backcountry wilderness permits. All trail use and trail camps are on a first-come, first-serve basis. You only need a CA Campfire Permit if you are planning on having a campfire.
There are many YouTube videos of this hike, which are interesting, fun and informative.
I highly recommend also visiting the Sespe Wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest, Ojai Ranger District. It is truly wonderful. Sespe Creek is a beautiful Wild and Scenic River that runs through it for almost 30 miles. There are two especially terrific trails: the Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca National Recreation Trail with stunning sandstone cliffs and formations; and the Sespe River Trail, including the Sespe Hot Springs. A great access point for both trails is at the end of Sespe River Road. This is a stunningly beautiful area.
One of my former students who grew up in Ojai also highly recommends Matilija Creek Trail.