For a great summer weekend backpacking trip in our southern Los Padres National Forest, consider a trip up the North Fork Lockwood Trail to Sheep Camp on the flanks of the San Emigdio Mountains. While much of our area backcountry heats up scarily in the summer months, this trail, which takes you through the sacred Chumash Wilderness, offers somewhat milder temperatures, sweeping views, and spiritual replenishment.
You begin at 5,400 feet above sea level at Camp Three Falls along Boy Scout Camp Road in Lockwood Valley, underneath the peaceful watch of Iwihinmu (today called Mt. Pinos) and Toshololo (Frazier Mountain), to whose almost 9,000-foot heights you will ascend. Now a trail that annually aids in the coming of age and soul seeking of young men, this same land also served as a place where Chumash shamans would derive their wisdom, being close to their divine higher realms and the center of their universe. Whatever the time or epoch, the high desert of the Chumash Wilderness, from its badlands to mountain peaks, is an especially peaceful place.
After a quarter-mile stroll through the private property of BSA Camp Three Falls, you walk a little more than two miles toward seasonal North Falls. Here, the terrain is typical Los Padres high desert, awash in the muted blues and sage-y greens of chaparral and juniper with curious boulders and eroding earth. In the summer, you will, no doubt, be hot in this often shadeless stretch. Thankfully, it’s not too long until you come to the small but inviting North Falls on a small side trail to the left. After our winter rains, the falls should have some life to them for weeks to come.
After not much in the way of elevation gain, the trail shoots up steeply, taking you several hundred feet up a slightly sketchy switchback. The views, at least, are wonderful, opening up to the North Fork Lockwood Creek and the mountains of the Sespe Wilderness beyond. Carry on to Lily Meadows, a lovely, pine-tree’d spot just over three miles from the trailhead that, at the right time, abounds with purple lupine, soft blue iris, and the dazzlingly sunset-hued desert mariposa lily.
Lily Meadows is at 6,610 feet; Sheep Camp, at 8,221 feet, is quite a ways above you. But what a great hike up. As you rise gradually up the slopes of present-day Sawmill Mountain — a great, moderately challenging workout — you pass carpets of Indian paintbrush, blazing stars, poppies, and snow plants. As you rise, you are afforded grander views of the sweeping Cuyama Badlands, the wildernesses of eastern Santa Barbara County, and beyond. Whether you settle into rest at Sheep Camp or day-hike farther up to the mountain’s peak, you’ll be on top of the world, and all the smaller, humbler, and wiser for it.