Want to go on a camping trip minus the cars and RVs? The three first-come, first-served campgrounds along the Upper North Fork Matilija Creek Trail in Los Padres National Forest
can be reached only by foot. And as a bonus you’ll be pitching your tent along a creek that’s still got water. Choose your distance: 1 mile to Lower Camp, 3.5 miles to Middle Camp, and 5 miles to Upper Camp. All three are on the Upper North Fork Matilija Creek Trail. Start at Matilija Canyon Ranch, just a few miles from downtown Ojai. The ranch is a private wildlife refuge that allows public access for hikers passing through to the National Forest Trail (no cars are allowed). Follow the road until you reach a crew of peacocks displaying their vibrant plumes, which marks the end of the private road. Suddenly you’re surrounded by mountains and purple wildflowers. Two water crossings in Matilija Creek keep things cool and interesting. At half a mile, take the turnoff for the signed North Fork Matilija Creek Trail. The path narrows and criss-crosses the Matilija Creek (keep an eye out for yellow paint on the rocks and trees, marking the way so you don’t lose the trail). After another half mile, campfire grills on your right indicate that you’ve reached the Lower Campground. Pitch your tent here and relax by the flowing water or continue on to the Middle or Upper campgrounds. All of the campgrounds are free to use.
BONUS: Farmer and the Cook in nearby Meiners Oaks is a casual organic farm-to-table restaurant with a daily menu of delicious Mexican food and an outdoor pizza oven that fires up on weekend evenings. Sit outside to enjoy the view of the Los Padres National Forest.
From the junction of Hwy. 33 and Hwy. 150, take Hwy. 33 north for about 5 miles, then make a left on Matilija Canyon Rd. and take it until it dead-ends at Matilija Canyon Ranch. Parking available roadside. The hike on the Upper North Fork Matilija Creek Trail to the Lower Campground is 1 mile (one-way) with moderate creek crossings. The hiking trail and campgrounds are dog-friendly. The patio at Farmer and the Cook is dog-friendly.