Great California Day Hikes

Santa Paula Punch Bowls

If you are looking for a challenging and rewarding hike in Ventura County, you might want to check out the Santa Paula Punchbowls. This hike takes you along the scenic Santa Paula Creek, through lush forests and rocky terrain, to a series of pools and waterfalls that are perfect for cooling off on a hot day. Here is what you need to know before you go.

The hike starts from a new parking area on the north side of Route 150, near the entrance of Thomas Aquinas College. You will see a sign for the Santa Paula Canyon Trail, which follows the creek upstream. The trail is well-marked with black diamonds and signs, but you will also need to cross the creek several times, so be prepared to get your feet wet. The trail is mostly shaded by oaks, sycamores, and alders, and you will enjoy the sound of rushing water along the way.

The trail gradually climbs up the canyon, passing by some private properties and ranches. You will also see some graffiti and trash left by previous visitors, which is unfortunate and disrespectful to nature. Please do your part to keep the trail clean and pack out what you bring in. After about 3 miles, you will reach Big Cone Camp, a backpacker campground with several sites and a pit toilet. This is a good spot to take a break and refill your water bottles from the creek.

From Big Cone Camp, you have two options to continue to the Punchbowls. You can either follow the trail as it ascends steeply on the right side of the canyon, or you can stay on the creek bed and scramble over rocks and boulders. The creek route is shorter but more difficult and potentially dangerous, especially after heavy rains or when the water level is high. The trail route is longer but safer and easier to follow. Either way, you will end up at Cross Camp, another backpacker campground with several sites.

From Cross Camp, you are only a short distance away from the first Punchbowl, which is marked by a 25-foot waterfall and a large pool. This is a popular spot for swimming and cliff jumping, but please exercise caution and common sense. The water can be cold and deep, and the rocks can be slippery and sharp. Do not jump from heights that you are not comfortable with, and always check the depth of the water before diving in.

If you are feeling adventurous, you can continue past the first Punchbowl and explore more pools and waterfalls upstream. The trail becomes fainter and more overgrown as you go, so be careful not to lose your way. You can also hike up to Jackson Hole Camp, which is another mile or so from Cross Camp. This is a more secluded campground with fewer sites and less traffic.

The hike to the first Punchbowl and back is about 8 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of about 800 feet. However, this does not account for the ups and downs of the trail or the creek crossings, so expect to exert more effort than that. The hike can take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on your pace and how long you stay at the Punchbowls. Make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, and a swimsuit if you plan to swim.

The Santa Paula Punchbowls hike is a great way to experience the beauty and diversity of Los Padres National Forest. You will see stunning views of the Topa Topa Mountains, enjoy the refreshing water of Santa Paula Creek, and have fun at the Punchbowls. This hike is best done in spring or summer when the water is warmer and more inviting. However, it can also be done in fall or winter when there are fewer crowds and more water flow. No matter when you go, you will have a memorable adventure at the Santa Paula Punchbowls.

How to get there.

To get to the Santa Paula Punchbowls, you will need to drive to the parking area on the north side of Route 150, near the entrance of Thomas Aquinas College. You will see a sign for the Santa Paula Canyon Trail, which is the trailhead for the hike. The parking area is about 15 miles east of Ventura and 10 miles west of Ojai. You can use this address for your GPS: 10000 Ojai Santa Paula Rd, Santa Paula, CA 93060.

What to bring

  • Santa Paula Punchbowls hike is a 10.8-mile out-and-back trail near Ojai, California
  • The trail leads to the Punchbowls, which are great swimming holes with a 25-foot waterfall
  • The trail starts near the entrance of St. Thomas Aquinas College off of Highway 150
  • The trail passes two backpacker campgrounds: Big Cone and Jackson Hole Camp
  • The trail has some rocky and overgrown sections and several water crossings
  • What to bring:
  • Water (lots of it, especially in summer)
  • Food (snacks or lunch)
  • Sunscreen (there is not much shade)
  • Shoes (sturdy and water-resistant)
  • Trash bag (leave no trace)