Chief Peak

Los Padres National Forest, California

Trip Date: Saturday, November 12th, 2016
Last Updated: Thursday, April 4th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Hard
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 9 miles roundtrip
Time 5 hours
Terrain Strenuous climbing, 2200 feet of elevation gain
Best Seasons Spring, Fall, Winter
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Climbing Chief Peak was one of the most glowing experiences I've ever had while hiking. This remote peak is an Ojai landmark and the namesake of numerous Ojai and Ventura County locations, businesses, and products (including the Chief Peak IPA I enjoyed at Topatopa Brewing in Ventura on the way home from this hike). From its nearly 5600-foot elevation summit, you'll enjoy views of not only the Ojai Valley, but all of western Ventura County and the Pacific Ocean extending to the Channel Islands on a clear day. If your inability to wake up on a Saturday morning gives you a late start (like me), don't fret because there is nothing more serene than walking along the ridge road (which feels like the top of Ventura County) while watching the sunset over the ocean.

Before starting the climb, I highly recommend heading to Rose Valley Falls -- your tired legs won't want to hike the extra mile after you've summitted! Follow the trail on the south side of the campground, and you'll end at the trickling mossy cliff pictured below. After winter rains, this waterfall is much more impressive. In any case, Rose Valley Falls is one of those rare Southern California water sources and a worthy destination for any hiker.

Rose Valley Falls is just a trickle in the dry autumn

Rose Valley Falls is just a trickle in the dry autumn

The view towards the campground from the falls

The view towards the campground from the falls

To start the climb to Chief Peak, head up the dirt forest road on the west side of the campground, and then walk around the gate ahead. The entire hike save for the last half mile will be on forest roads; while these roads are gated off to the general public, stay alert for the unlikely vehicle (I encountered one on my descent, surprisingly). The road is rocky -- not something you'd ever want to drive on -- but because it's a road the slope is gradual. Set a steady pace, and you'll start rising above the valley. The scrubby vegetation means you'll have ample, unobstructed views of the lush mountains and valleys of the Los Padres National Forest all throughout the hike, as shown in the two pictures below.
The beautiful green topography of the Los Padres National Forest

The beautiful green topography of the Los Padres National Forest

A full moon rising above the Topatopa Mountains

A full moon rising above the Topatopa Mountains

After about 2 miles of ascending, you'll reach the Nordhoff Ridge Road. Of the 2200 feet of elevation gain on this hike, the majority occurs during the ascent to the Nordhoff Ridge Road, meaning this next section will be mostly flat with some gradual uphill. You'll have your first views to the south, with the Ojai Valley and the Pacific now visible. You'll enjoy another 2 miles of the stupendous views along this ridge (and you can actually enjoy them since you won't be working so hard), like the sunset from the ridge pictured below with Anacapa Island clearly visible across the ocean.
Sunset along the Nordhoff Ridge Road

Sunset along the Nordhoff Ridge Road

About a half mile from the peak, the Nordhoff Ridge Road will reach a saddle and begin descending towards Chief Peak. Start paying attention and look for a use-trail on the left side of the road. If you go to far on the road, you'll end up directly north of the peak (in its shadow). Follow the steep use-trail up and over a sub-peak, to a saddle, and then finally to the true summit. Enjoy the panoramic view of Ventura County! To the east you can see the banded rocky ridge of Topatopa Bluff and the brown dirt line of the Nordhoff Ridge Road carved on top of the green mountains, as shown in the first picture below. To the south and west, you can see all the way to the Channel Islands, as shown in the second picture below.
A view of the Nordhoff Ridge Road as it continues towards the iconic ridge of Topatopa Bluff

A view of the Nordhoff Ridge Road as it continues towards the iconic ridge of Topatopa Bluff

Golden sunlight over the Ojai Valley and Pacific Ocean as seen from Chief Peak's summit

Golden sunlight over the Ojai Valley and Pacific Ocean as seen from Chief Peak's summit

Immediately after descending the use-trail from the peak back to the road, you'll have to ascend 100 feet. From then on out, it's a triumphant descent on the Nordhoff Ridge Road as you gaze down and across the Ojai Valley with a feeling of accomplishment. I hope you enjoy this hike as much as I did! Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Rules about dogs are generally pretty relaxed in national forests once you leave the popular trails and recreation areas, but I couldn't find any specific information about Rose Valley. Dogs are definitely allowed on leash, and you could easily get away with going off leash once out of sight of the campground. This route certainly is not family-friendly, but the short hike to Rose Valley Falls from the campground is. Spring, fall, and winter are the best seasons to hike since summer in this mostly shadeless environment can be terribly hot unless you start before sunrise. While snow may fall at this elevation, it usually doesn't remain for long. Sun protection is a must, and you should bring plenty of water in any season. This trail is far from LA and the population centers of Ventura County, so you won't see many people on this hike, though the campground may be full on a nice weekend.

Directions

From Los Angeles, take U.S. Highway 101 to Ventura, then head north on California Highway 33 towards Ojai. Turn left to stay on California Highway 33 towards Maricopa. Turn right on Rose Valley Road in about 15 miles, then turn right again in 3 miles at the brown sign pointing towards the campground.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

If you aren't camping here, you must park at the day-use area north of the campground or alongside the road outside of the campground. No fee or Adventure Pass is required to park in the day-use area. There are pit toilets available near the day-use parking and in the campground.

External Links

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