Mt. Pinos to Camp Three Falls
ElevationAscent: 895' 273 m
Descent: -3,751' -1,143 m
High: 8,821' 2,689 m
Low: 5,494' 1,674 m
GradeAvg Grade: 8% (5°)
Max Grade: 33% (19°)
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“A popular backpacking trip for local Boy Scout troops, bagging the highest peak in Ventura County.”— RickG Gutz
Features Birding · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Need to Know
You must coordinate by leaving a car at the entrance to Camp Three Falls (you might need permission from Ventura County Council prior). The drop off there is about a 40-minute drive to Mt. Pinos Nordic Base where this hike starts. You begin by climbing and acclimating until you reach Mt. Pinos - the highest mountain in Ventura County. The altitude can get to a few people, just make sure you are drinking plenty of water and eat well.
A lunch break at the peak of Mt. Pinos is a great activity in itself. There are many people there, and many mountain bikers (keep your head on a swivel as you are on the trail so you can get out of the way). The views are amazing and you can see deep into the San Joaquin Valley to the north along with southern Sierra Nevada Range, the Tehachapis to the east, and the Carrizo Plain and Temblor Mountains to the northwest.
After a nice break for lunch, start your hike on the Vincent Tumamait Trail (AKA Tumamait Trail). It is clearly marked from Mt. Pinos. It descends on some nice switchbacks that give you fantastic views of the mountains and valleys at either end. Plenty of photo opportunities!
Some of the trails at this point may be covered in snow - if you have a map and compass and know how to use them, you'll have no problems (the Hiking Project mobile app and a charged phone help, too). Most trails will just be covered for a few hundred yards and then you can find them again. Parts of the trail can get slippery with the snow and mud, but not dangerously so. Just something to keep in mind.
As you continue you'll then hit the North Fork Lockwood Trail. Take North Fork and head south until you get to Sheep Camp. Sheep Camp is popular, but there are two main areas, which break-up the crowds somewhat. If the first one is bust, just walk another hundred yards to the second section. There is a water spigot at the camp - but I have heard that it may not always flow. Be sure to check with the rangers prior to your trip. The amenities at Sheep Camp are sparse. Campsites and fire pits; that's about it!
Nights can be very cold and windy. I have seen 20's in April, so be prepared for the temperatures to be lower than expected. There are some great views from the southern section of Sheep Camp, especially if you climb the one big rock that you can sit on and enjoy the sun for a while.
The next morning you'll start the descent to Camp Three Falls. The first part of this hike is a tough, steep descent and your legs will definitely feel it! The views are great, however, as you continue descending through the mix of subalpine white fir, and Jeffry Pine habitats. If you need to, you can take a nice break at Lilly Meadows campsite.
From Lilly Meadows, you have an amazing hike through completely different habitat previously experienced on this route. Walk along a creek, ripe with a red dirt and heavily eroded canyon ambiance. Continue along the creekside until you get to a fork. From here you can take a short hike to see the Camp Three Falls namesake waterfall, but it depends on the time of year. Don't get your hopes up if it has been a dry year.
After the falls, you'll connect to a dirt road from the singletrack trail. This will take you all the way down Lockwood Valley to Camp Three Falls.
This is a great backpacking trip that requires good effort to complete. We usually take first-time scouts on this trip so 11-year-olds can do it!
Flora & Fauna
Land Manager: USFS - Los Padres National Forest Office