The Punchbowl and the Slides

Distance: 8.5 miles round-trip

Time: 3.5 hours

Highlights:  Picturesque waterfalls, deep swimming holes, beautiful narrow canyon filled with singing Canyon Wrens and a couple of water slides. If you're tempted to try the big slide, be advised that you will have no control over the extremely fast, moss covered rock and will come dangerously close to the rock wall at the bottom. The slider I witnessed had a blast, but it looked too dangerous for me to try. The pools, on the other hand, are great.

Similarities/Differences: Over twice as long as Rancho Alegre’s Rock-Hop To Lake Cachuma, and with pools of water big enough to swim in.  Remember the graffiti in the Highway 154 tunnel?  It’s here, too.

Directions: Begin the hike at the entrance of Thomas Aquinas College, and follow the numerous trail signs, staying on the paved road to the right.  Near the top of the campus, veer right where the road forks.  The road continues through Ferndale Ranch and the avocado groves of Rancho Recuerdo.  Pass oil pumps on the left and continue to follow the road until it ends at a fenced enclosure surrounding more oil pumps 1 mile from the trailhead.  The trail goes left along the edge of the fence to the shore of Santa Paula Creek.  Follow the creek upstream until an opportunity to cross presents itself at about 1.5 miles.  Beware – the crossings can be very dangerous after heavy rains! 

Elevation Gain: 700 feet

Difficulty:  Moderate hike, but last quarter mile to slide is not suitable for pre-teens. There is rock climbing, wading across the creek, rock hopping and scrambling over smooth and sometimes slippery rocks.

Restrooms: Steckel Park is 1.2 miles southeast of trailhead on the east side of Highway 150 and Mill Park is 4.8 miles southeast on the west side.

Trailhead: The hike starts at the entrance to Thomas Aquinas College on Highway 150. From Highway 126 take the 10th Street/Highway 150 exit and travel northwest 5.7 miles to the first parking area on the left and another 0.2 mile to the second parking area on the right.

Continue upstream, following a trail of graffiti-covered rocks and cross the stream a second time at 2.5 miles.  You will soon reach a rock cairn where the main trail leaves the valley, ascending switchbacks to reach Big Cone Camp at 3.5 miles.  Pass through the camp and descend a switchback to one of the forks of Santa Paula Creek.  The Slides trail can be seen entering the forest on the opposite side of the creek, slightly upstream.  To reach the Punchbowl, rock hop downstream 50 yards, then climb over large rocks to your right.  

To reach the Slides, return to the main trail, and a quarter-mile of uphill climbing will take you to a spot directly above the Punchbowl with a memorial cross for a woman who fell to the rocks below.  The trail parallels the creek, then switchbacks up to Cross Camp at about 4 miles before returning to the creekside.  The trail soon ends at a narrow, cave-like slot canyon, and passage upstream is impossible after heavy rains.  The Slides are another quarter-mile up the canyon, and this final section will likely involve wading through pools of water and lots of scrambling over slippery rocks.  There are many beautiful places where one can picnic in this area, but do not go further than you are comfortable with.  Return the way you came.

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