To reach the trailhead from the parking area, run 0.8 miles west on the road that passes along private property.
After crossing the creek, take the marked trailhead on the right to head north on North Fork Matilija Creek Trail
, crossing the creek again in less than a tenth of a mile. As you cross the stream, take note of the faulted and folded nature of exposed bedrock, evidence of past movement on the Santa Ynez Fault.
The trail follows the creek, which flows year-round (the creek is a semi-reliable water source) and crosses it numerous times on the run. Matilija Camp is only about 0.5 miles from the trailhead and is shaded by oak and bay trees; there are several pools in the creek nearby. As you continue on from the camp, you'll follow some switchbacks, after which the trail levels off a bit.
At about 3.5 miles, cross a meadow to Middle Matilija Camp, which is located on the east bank of the creek and shaded by oak trees. Continuing from the camp, you'll travel through big cone spruce, bay laurel, and maple trees that shade the canyon floor. Runners will rise out of the canyon briefly, only to reenter it at a narrower point.
At 5.9 miles, runners will reach Upper Matilija Camp. Less than a mile further up the trail is Maple Camp, a nice remote campground near the creek and shaded by a maple grove. North of Maple Camp, the trail steepens and follows switchbacks rising out of the canyon. You'll likely have nice views of Old Man Mountain, the Santa Ynez range, and the Pacific Ocean, from this point on the trail. The trail ends 8.1 miles from the trailhead (8.9 miles from the parking area) at Cherry Creek Road.
Thanks to John McKinney, The Trailmaster, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about trails in California, check out his guides at The Trailmaster Store
An assortment of trees, including oak, maple, spruce, bay, and sycamores shade the canyon floor. Matilija poppies are likely to be spotted along the trail from May to July. These are tall (3-7 feet) and bushy with delicate white flowers; they have strong smell which is likely noticeable before even seeing them.