Caspers Wilderness Park
Distance: 2.1 miles
Total elevation gain/loss: 150'/150'
Hiking time: 1 hour
Optional map: USGS 7.5-min Canada Gobernadora
Best times: All year
Magnificent coast live oak trees, the biggest in the park, line this trail along the west side of Bell Canyon. The Spanish called this tree la encina, a word whose derivatives are echoed in the communities of Encino near Los Angeles and Encinitas ("little oaks") near San Diego.
Start at the old windmill (a mile north by paved road from the visitor center), following the path signed NATURE TRAIL. Cross the gravelly bed of Bell Canyon and stay on the far side for the next 1.0 mile.
As if stricken with some kind of arboreal arthritis, the limbs and branches of the oaks are fantastically contorted. Actually there's an underlying order to the seemingly random pattern. By intricately branching, the tree can support more leaves with less wood. Many of the oaks show fire scars dating back to the Stewart fire of 1958, which originated in Riverside County. Pushed along by Santa Ana winds, the fire swept across all of what is now Caspers Park, charring a total of 66,000 acres. This area was not quite reached by the 1993 fire, which also swept southwest on a Santa Ana, but stalled about a mile from here.
In late fall the tall sycamores along the Oak Trail can be even more attractive than the oaks. Crunch through the crispy leaf litter beneath their spreading crowns and watch the golden sunbeams dance amid thousands of fluttering leaves overhead. In winter the trunks and branches are ghostly white. By early spring, new leaves are emerging, and sunlight passing though them bathes the ground shadows in a jungle-green luminance.
When you reach Star Rise (the fire road coming down from Bell Canyon's west ridge) turn right. After 100 feet, bear right again on a foot trail leading over to the Bell Canyon Trail, a dirt road. You can follow this back about a mile to the starting point.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication