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Santa Susana Mountains State Park

Stagecoach Trail
 
From Chatsworth Park South to Devil’s Slide is 2.5 miles round trip
with 500-foot elevation gain

One of the major obstacles to stagecoach travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco was a route out of the west end of the San Fernando Valley over the Simi Hills. About 1860, a steep road was carved out of the rock face of the hills. The steepest stretch, a peril to man and beast, was known as Devil’s Slide.

The slide, the old stage road and a portion of the Simi Hills are preserved in a park in-the-making located just west of Chatsworth. In 1989, the state purchased 400 acres in the Santa Susana Pass area and added it to another 400 acres of state-owned parkland. The park represents two decades by San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley environmentalists, spearheaded by the Santa Susana Mountain Park Association.

Santa Susana as a park name is confusing because the Simi Hills, not the nearby Santa Susana Mountains, are protected by the park. Visually, the Simi Hills with their sky-scraping sedimentary rock formations are quite different from the rounder, taller Santa Susana Mountains to the north of Chatsworth.

The reddish-orange sandstone outcroppings of the Simi Hills, dating from the Tertiary and Mesozoic periods 60 to 80 million years ago, form a dramatic backdrop for the park. It’s easy to see why these rugged hills were a popular setting for Western movies.

The hills overlook Chatsworth, named after Chatsworth, England. Founded in the 1880s, it became a community of vegetable patches, orchards, cattle and horse ranches. Although one of the west San Fernando Valley’s oldest towns, it’s managed to hang on to its rural character somewhat better than most valley communities.

A network of trails loop through the park, but the trails are unsigned and more than a little confusing. During your first visit to the park, expect to improvise a bit. Once you get the lay of the land, subsequent visits will be easier.

As you drive up Devonshire you’ll notice signed Stagecoach Trail, an equestrian trail. Leave your car and pick up this trail if you wish, but it’s more convenient continuing to the ample parking area in the main part of Chatsworth Park South.

NOTE: Chatsworth Park South is closed to the public pending resolution of a lead contamination problem.


Directions to trailhead: From the Ventura Freeway (101) in Woodland Hills, exit on Topanga Canyon Boulevard and drive 6.2 miles north to Devonshire St. Turn left and proceed 0.75 mile to Chatsworth Park South, a city-owned park with wide lawns and picnic areas, located next to the new state park. If you’re coming from the Simi Valley-San Fernando Valley
Freeway (118), take the Topanga Canyon Boulevard exit in Chatsworth, drive 1.5 miles to Devonshire and turn right to the park.

The hike: From the parking lot, walk across the wide lawn (or take one of the dirt paths that border the lawn). With the park recreation center directly behind you, navigate toward a couple of oaks and join a gravel path that begins just below a water tower on your right.

Begin a moderate ascent. When presented with confusing choices and unsigned junctions, try to keep ascending straight up the hill. Don’t drift too far to the south where there’s a line of electrical transmission towers, or too far to the north where the Southern Pacific railroad tracks penetrate the mountains.

A half mile from the trailhead you’ll intersect a paved road, which winds up to a small hydroelectric pumping plant. You, however, will almost immediately abandon this road at a break in a chain link fence by two telephone poles. Here you’ll find the old stage road and begin to climb more earnestly toward Devil’s Slide.

A century ago, the road was in much better shape. Erosion has carved wagon-wheel-sized potholes into the soft rock. The Devil’s Slide is more like the Devil’s Stairs these days.

Near the top of the slide is a historical marker placed by the Native Daughters of the American West commemorating “Old Santa Susana Stagecoach Road, 1859-90.” This is a great place to pull up a rock, sit a spell and survey the San Fernando Valley, which spreads south and east. Just below is Chatsworth, a mixture of old ranchland and new townhouses. If you’re lucky, you’ll sight a freight or passenger train snaking through the Simi Hills and disappearing into the Santa Susana tunnel.

After enjoying the view, you can continue another 0.25 mile up the Stagecoach Trail and inspect the rest of Devil’s Slide. Or you can retrace your steps and take one the side trails leading southeast over to the park’s intriguing rock formations.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.