Matilija Falls

Distance: 9 miles round-trip

Time: 5-6 hours

Highlights: A very picturesque hike up Matilija Creek passing many great waterscapes, swimming holes, turtle ponds and two waterfalls. The trail gets progressively harder to follow with a lot of boulder hopping, scrambling and creek crossings. Be aware of poison oak and rattle snakes, however, both can be avoided. This is a great hike, but should not be attempted unless you are an experienced hiker and have good navigational skills.

Elevation Gain: 950 feet

Difficulty: Moderate for first half and then strenuous

Similarities/Differences: Twice as long as Rancho Alegre’s waterfall hike, but with multiple waterfalls that are superior in height and volume.  Similar elevation gain.

Restrooms: There is a gas station on the right just after turning left onto the Maricopa/Highway 33 turnoff. It is 9.8 miles from the trailhead parking.

Directions: From the parking area, cross the gate and follow the road through the Matilija Canyon Wildlife Refuge.  In ½ mile there will be a light creek crossing, followed by a crossing of the larger Matilija Creek, which will require wading during the rainy season.  In the next ½ mile, pass a trailhead sign for Matilija Camp on the right, a sign for Murietta Trail on the left, and then veer left at a Y intersection where a sign says “ALL TRAILS ”.  Turn right when the road quickly reaches a T intersection, and pass through a wooden gate labeled “Blue Heron Ranch – Private”.  The Forest Service has easement rights that allow public access through the private ranch, but please respect the landowners and don’t pick any fruit. 

Two miles from the trailhead, the road crosses a tiny creek and narrows to become a trail.  For the next mile, the trail stays on the left side of Matilija Creek, passing several idyllic campsites and swimming holes.  Several high-water trails detour towards higher ground on the left, but avoid these whenever possible.  Switching from hiking shoes to sandals at this point may be beneficial.  Three miles from the trailhead, cross the creek and begin using your best judgment to continue upstream. 

Trailhead:  Travel 13.4 miles north, on Highway 33 from Highway 101, to the Y junction with Highway 150.  Bear left staying on Highway 33 heading toward Maricopa.  There is a gas station on the right 0.1 mile after turning.  Continue 5 miles, passing Matilija Road South, to Matilija Road where you turn left.  It is another 4.9 miles to the parking area on the left.  A Forest Service Adventure Pass is required for parking.

For the final 1½ miles, there will be lots of creek crossings, boulder hopping and scrambling with no obvious trail.  The canyon is narrow, and there is no way to get lost. 

Once a secondary waterfall comes into view on the left, Matilija Falls is only a ¼ mile further up the main canyon.  Plenty of shade can be found here for a picnic, and on the right side of the falls there is usually a rope that can be used to reach a view of the scenic upper falls.

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