Porter Ranch Trail – a slice of wilderness in LA

The San Fernando Valley, at the North West edge of Los Angeles covers 224 square miles and is home to nearly 2 million people. The Porter Ranch Trail offers a small slice of nature in this urban mass of concrete. A 3.7 mile walk that will refresh your spirit.

The San Fernando Valley once consisted of a combination of grasslandoak savanna, and chaparral shrub forest types of plant community habitats. Now most of the Valley is covered with asphalt and concrete. Fortunately, untamed sections remain around the edges. One of the most vivid contrasts can be seen along the Porter Ranch Trail, a tiny sliver that skirts the Porter Ranch housing development.

Begin at Reseda Boulevard

The trail skirts the hillside , curving along the contours of the hills as it heads westward. The route rises from one major boulevard before eventually descending to another. Start at an unremarkable dirt patch by the highway. But as you leave the street behind and settle into the natural landscape, it really does begin to seem you are far out into the countryside.

Look down from the Porter Ranch Trail
Civilization below?

True, in most cases, you have to focus and limit your gaze in order to overlook the massive housing developments on all sides, but the persistence of nature is unmistakable.

Beautiful plants everywhere on the trail

The dry hillsides at first appear fairly uniform in vegetation but actually are include a number of both native and non-native plant species. Sticking to the common names, the natives include White Sage and Black Sage, Black Eyed Susan, White Morning Glory, Buckwheat, Purple Lupine, Coyote Bush, Sticky Monkey Flower, Yucca, California Goldenbush and many more. Non natives include Tree Tobacco, Mustard, and Thistle plants. 

A well maintained route makes hiking easy

Fires are a feature of the chaparral ecosystems, and evidence of past fires are not hard to find. A stand of pine trees planted near the west end of the trail was lost in a recent fire that endangered a number of homes as well.

The homes are up against the mountains as tightly as possible. In most cases, this simply leads to a steep hillside immediately behind the house, but sometimes, the homes are backed by small, inaccessible canyon-like folds in the hills, and in a few cases, the owners have taken full advantage of the spaces, building oasis-like refuges invisible from the street.

LA life below the Porter Ranch Trail
Look down on LA life

One seen from above included a greenhouse, a pair of fish ponds, large outdoor dining areas, and extensive pathways.

We saw several large grassy areas filled with tiny black bird, probably Bushtits, feasting on the seeds. A Red Tailed Hawk circled high above, with Crows occupying the spaces a little below.

A mourning dove perches on the Porter Ranch Trail
Mourning Dove on a Chaparral Yucca

I managed to catch a photo of a grey Mourning Dove sitting on a Yucca spike just before it flew away.

Civilisation not far away

Derricks and other equipment visible on the mountaintop to the north are part of a huge natural gas storage facility, which uses the natural porosity of the sandstone to store the huge amounts of gas that supply the San Fernando Valley.

The Derricks in the distance on the Porter Ranch Trail
Derricks feeding LA’s hunger for gas

These replaced the large natural gas storage units that once were such as visible part of the Los Angeles skyline, offering a nearly invisible alternative, but their future is in some doubt. In 2015 the Aliso Canyon storage facility was the site of the largest natural gas leak in US history, releasing roughly 100,000 tons of gas into the atmosphere and forcing evacuation of 2,500 residents.

What Next?

If you enjoyed the Porter Ranch Trail you can find more great walks in Southern California by going to Find A Walk – USA.

We are always looking for new walks. If you have a great walk you’d like to share find out more at Share Your Walk.

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