The Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca National Recreation Trail is a pawsome 18-mile out-and-back trail up the mountains north of Ojai in the Los Padres National Forest. The full trail is for experienced two- and four-legged hikers only, with almost 4000 feet of elevation gain over multiple days of trekking and back-country camping. Completing the full out-and-back hike requires at least three eight-hour days of dedicated hiking.
However, the trail is accessible to beginners, too. You and your pup can reach one of the trail's most scenic features in a five-mile round-trip hike with only about 500 feet of elevation gain. The beauty of the landscape and the challenge to explore a little more each time will keep you and your dog coming back to this trail for additional adventures.
You'll start your hike at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead just off of Rose Valley Road. The trailhead is just about an hour's drive north of Ventura. There are vault toilets available at the paved parking lot, but no water. Just past the start of the trail, you'll cross Sespe Creek for the first of many times. The creek crossings can be a little tricky at times of year when the water's high. Make sure you check with a ranger for trail conditions and that your dog is comfortable with wading across.
The trail is named for the striking white sandstone formations that come into view almost right away. The smooth rocks were formed in the distant past when this area was underwater. Vegetation is more lush close to the creek, while desert sage and chaparral plants grow around the striking white rocks. Wildflowers often bloom around them, too. When you finally reach Piedra Blanca, you might be surprised by the scope of the undulating stone formation. At certain points, you might feel like you're on the moon or a distant planet.
You'll find the Piedra Blanca Camp about a mile beyond the rock formation. This is where you'll want to turn around to complete the five-mile round-trip hike. If you want to continue, you can keep going past several campsites and into the shade of mountain trees including cedars, alders, and conifers. The trail passes through a few campgrounds, and ends at Reyes Creek Campground.
Plan your hike and come prepared if you're going to hike long enough to need to camp. You'll need to keep your pup on a leash, bring your own waste bags, and clean up after them. You'll also need to make sure your pup is physically capable of the challenging and steep long-distance hike.
Make sure you and your dog hike to Piedra Blanca together if you're in Ojai, and don't forget to bring your camera so you can capture the beauty of this unique place.