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California’s Sespe Wilderness

A roadless wonder in California's Los Padres Wilderness.

Unlike most waterways in the United States, Sespe Creek still flows undammed and crystal clear through one of the nation’s largest roadless areas, the 220,000-acre Sespe Wilderness in Los Padres National Forest. A vigorous grassroots campaign to “Keep the Sespe Wild” led to the creek’s wild and scenic designation in 1992, and the slogan is now a victory banner on Ventura County car bumpers.

There is much worth saving in this southern California wilderness: sheer gorges, cool pools, hot springs, parched badlands, barren chaparral, chalky sandstone with bizarre outcroppings, aboriginal petroglyphs, pine-spattered peaks, and a variety of wildlife, including bears and bobcats. It all adds up to limitless possibilities for trekking in an untamed land that’s just a short drive from Los Angeles.

TRAILS: There are 18 trails offering a total of 136 miles of hiking. The 11-mile Alder Creek Trail from Dough Flat to Sespe Hot Springs is exceptionally mouthwatering. A short bushwhack away from the lazy-flowing Sespe leads into Hot Springs Canyon and a sulfur-scented nirvana.

DIFFICULTY RATING: Moderate; elevation, 2,225 to 3,700 feet.

WHERE: The Alder Creek trailhead is only 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles, but allow 21/2 hours driving time for traffic and bumpy back roads. Take I-5 north to CA 126 west; turn north in Fillmore on A Street-Goodenough Road for 141/2 jolting miles (high clearance or 4WD vehicle is recommended).

MAPS: Overview of Sespe/Ojai District Trails ($1.07), USGS quadrangle Devils Heart Peak, and Los Padres National Forest Map ($4.29 each) available from Ojai Ranger District (see address at right; make check payable to “LPIA”).

CONTACT: Ojai Ranger District, 1190 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA 93023; (805) 646-4348. User fee: $5 per day/per vehicle, $30 per season/per vehicle; free campfire permit required.

($4.29 each) available from Ojai Ranger District (see address at right; make check payable to “LPIA”).

CONTACT: Ojai Ranger District, 1190 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA 93023; (805) 646-4348. User fee: $5 per day/per vehicle, $30 per season/per vehicle; free campfire permit required.

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