Last weekend, we planned a short overnight backpacking adventure on the North Fork Matilija Trail, just outside of Ojai, CA. Thanks to recent rain, we knew that Matilija Creek would be flowing and full of water.
The trailhead is at the end of Matilija Road, off the 33, and shares the same starting point as the Murrieta Trail. It was the first sunny day we had seen in awhile and it was apparent that everyone else had the same idea of enjoying the beautiful weather. When we got to the dirt parking lot I had read about, we discovered that the recent rainstorm had flooded it, limiting its parking options. We were lucky enough to find parking along the street and made sure to not leave any valuables in the car. The trailhead parking area is known for vehicle break-ins unfortunately.
The first part of the trail is on a paved road that is on private property. It’s important to stay on the road during this portion to avoid any issues with the landowners. At the end of the paved road, it turns to a dirt road where you will be greeted by your first creek crossing. I counted a total of ten creek crossings (each way) during our hike and was glad that I brought my trekking poles. About a year ago, Costco sold some collapsible carbon fiber trekking poles by Cascade Mountain for less than $30. So far, they’ve held up quite well and are appreciated on every hike I bring them on.
This trip was the first time we were able to use our new Kelty Redwing 50L packs. I bought them for Christmas after reading all the positive reviews. They have lots of pockets and compartments and are roomy enough to carry everything we need for our backpacking trips. Since we’re still using our bulky old Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads, we strapped them on the outside of our packs, which was easy to do with this pack. They also feature PerfectFIT™ Suspension that allows you to adjust your pack to each load you carry. After using them for 2 backpacking trips, I’m happy to report that they were extremely comfortable and I did not experience any soreness in my back or shoulders.
The trail was mainly flat and easy to follow. There was also ample amounts of shade throughout the entire hike. About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach Matilija Camp. This area is large enough to accommodate larger groups and is apparently a popular destination with local Boy Scouts. We continued on past camp towards our stop for the night, Middle Matilija Camp. The hike to camp is about 4 miles each way. We took our time on the trail and all the creek crossings and got to camp in about 2 hours. My parents actually hiked with us most of the way and turned around to head home before we got to camp. This seems to be a popular day hike but less popular for backpacking, as we did not see anyone past Matilija Camp.
There were no signs for Middle Matilija Camp but we found an open area shaded by a few Oak trees where we decided to settle in. The creek was right down the trail from camp and provided a relaxing soundtrack to our evening. We packed enough drinking water but decided to fetch some water from the creek to boil for coffee and cooking. The water was fairly murky but tasted fine after boiling, minus the last sip that was full of dirt. I also brought along my LifeStraw water bottle, which allowed me to fill it from the creek and drink the filtered water through the straw.
We brought our REI Flex Lite chairs to relax at camp after our hike. They may be a little heavy for those extreme backpackers who count every ounce but at 1lb 10oz, they were worth it. We were the only people camping that night in Middle Matilija Camp. The only critter we saw was a young Woodpecker who eventually found his way into his home through a small hole in the trunk of one of the Oak trees.
The weather that night wasn’t too bad and was somewhere in the high 30s/low 40s. In the morning on our hike back, we saw frost along the trail less than a mile from camp. We didn’t see too many groups hiking in while we were heading out. Since we were close to Ojai, we decided to check out Ojai Valley Brewery in downtown, which just opened up a few days prior. They are a nanobrewery that focuses on “different and uniquely local” beers, including one that uses local chaparral herbs. All in all, it was a nice, easy backpacking trip and our new packs passed the test. I’m looking forward to many more backpacking trips this year!