Ventura River Preserve is an outdoor space near Ventura that covers over 1600 acres of untouched landscape. Located on the outskirts of the small town of Ojai, this preserve offers multiple secluded wilderness trails that are rarely crowded.
After moving to Central California Coast, I’ve been searching for easily accessible trails to do in the area. The Ventura River Preserve offers a wonderful place to escape into nature and go for serene wilderness hikes.
In this guide, I cover details for hiking the 3-mile-long Ventura River Preserve Trail and what you should know before you head out there!
About Ventura River Preserve
Ventura River Preserve is located in Ojai, about a 25-minute drive from Ventura’s downtown. It is free to visit and hike at the Ventura River Preserve but donations are encouraged to keep this land accessible to the public.
This preserve offers several multi-use trails. Some popular activities here include hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and horseback riding. This nature preserve also allows dogs, but be sure to keep them on a leash for their safety and protection from wild animals such as the Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes, coyotes, and bobcats.
Other animals that you might spot at the Ventura River Preserve include deer, hawks, and Baja California tree frogs.
There are several hiking trails at the Ventura River Preserve but the shortest and most popular trail is the Upper River Loop Trail that you can find listed on the AllTrails hiking app as the Ventura River Preserve Trail. This is the trail that I chose to hike on my visit to Ventura River Preserve.
Map of Ventura River Preserve Trail from AllTrails:
The Ventura River Preserve Trail is a 3-mile-long loop with a 100 feet elevation gain that follows parallel to the river and has a couple of river crossings. If you come in the summer, there is no water in the river making it easy to cross and continue the trek.
Other trails that you can hike at this nature preserve include the:
- Wills Canyon Trail: 5-mile-long trail that you can do out and back or connect as a loop with Rice Canyon Trail. This trail travels through oak woodlands offering a much-needed shade in the summer. With 450 feet elevation gain it’s more strenuous than the River Trail but a great alternative if you’re looking for something a bit more challenging.
- Chaparral Crest and Oso Ridge Loop: a steep, 8-mile-long trail with 1000 feet elevation gain that offers incredible views along exposed ridges and rolling hills. This loop is best to be done during cooler weather.
- Kennedy Ridge Trail: 17-mile-long trail that leads out of the Ventura River Preserve into the nearby mountains. This is a long and steep hike with 3500 elevation gain so get a 6:00 am head start if you plan to hike it!
Trail Location & Parking
There is a designated visitor parking lot off S Rice Road in Ojai. This is where the Riverview Trailhead starts that connects with many other hiking trails within this nature preserve. This is not a crowded hiking area so you might only see a few other cars and people, especially on the weekdays.
To get there from Ventura you can take Highway 33 North towards Ojai. Then you will need to make a few turns through smaller neighborhood streets. On Google Maps the trailhead is marked as Ventura River Preserve – Riverview Trailhead or you can use the AllTrails hiking app and set the directions on there – both will lead to the same location.
This parking lot fits multiple cars and has trail maps, warnings, trash cans, and information about the preserve. Once you park you will find the trailhead starting point next to a large gate.
There is no restroom at the trailhead so if you need to use the bathroom before heading into the trail, I recommend stopping at McDonald’s or Starbucks in Ojai about 5 minutes before you reach the trailhead.
Hiking Ventura River Preserve Trail
After parking, go past the gate and continue on the wide road that travels down the hill. At the end of it, you will reach the first (of many) junctions where you can go right to continue on the Ventura River Preserve Trail.
You will encounter many trail signs on your hike but these signs can be confusing because the trails at this nature preserve have many different names, especially if you’re not familiar with them. You can grab a trail map at the parking lot or take a picture of the map on your phone.
To be sure you’re on the right track I recommend using AllTrails or Maps.Me hiking apps. Despite this route looking like an easy loop on the map, I took several wrong turns, got lost on my hike, and had to backtrack. Thankfully there is reception out on this trail so you can always pull up the map and double-check your route.
Soon after you will reach another junction. I decided to hike the River Loop Trail clockwise starting at the south and making my way north so I made a left to follow the Upper River Loop Trail and then made an immediate right.
The first section will take you through a rocky terrain next to the river. Much of this part is hot, exposed to the sun, and completely dry in the summer.
I did hear the sound of a stream at one point but didn’t see any water nearby. I haven’t hiked this trail in the spring but I imagine the water levels are much higher than during the summer droughts.
While this trail is not as “epic” as some other Central California hikes, you still have the opportunity to feel submerged into nature just a short drive from Ventura and other coastal cities.
In the next part, you will need to turn right and cross the river along the Wills Crossover. There was no water in the river which made the crossing very easy.
After the river, the trail will cross a paved path and continue in a shaded forest made of Coast Live Oak and Western Sycamore trees where you’ll get a little break from the sun.
About a mile into the trail, you will need to make a right and climb up rocky stairs to connect with the Orange Grove Trail. This is a turn that I completely missed and had to backtrack to. There will be a cute wooden bench at the top if you need to take a break.
Then you will need to walk through a gate and continue along a wide path. It was starting to get very hot during this part of the hike so I wanted to hurry and finish it up.
On the map, it looked like there is a shortcut that can cross the river and cut the hike in half but I looked around and couldn’t spot it.
After continuing along the main trail, you will reach a closed gate at the northern point. There will be a small side trail that will cross the river again and connect with the Upper River Loop Trail which I took back to the starting point.
It took me a couple of hours to finish this trail and get back to my car. My biggest take-aways from this hike were: 1) don’t underestimate the heat and 2) come earlier the next time around.
Other Visitor Tips
- Bring plenty of water. In the summer months, this is a hot, dry hike. Bring extra water for you and your dog. While this may seem like a quick and short trail, I brought 3 bottles and I ran out halfway through.
- Go early in the morning. I recommend hiking this trail in the morning or on cooler days when the weather is below 80 degrees.
- Bring a snake bite extractor kit. This is something that I got after moving to the coast where rattlesnake sightings are common. Although snake bites themselves are not frequent, it’s always best to bring a kit in case you or your dog get bit by a rattlesnake.
- Wear ankle-high hiking boots. Tall boots will not only prevent your ankles from getting injured on rocky terrain but might also protect you from getting bit by a snake.
- I always bring a first aid kit, headlamp, and a portable phone charger, even on quick day hikes. It’s always best to go prepared!
- It’s easy to get sunburned on open trails like this. Pack mineral sunscreen, lip balm, polarized sunglasses, and a hiking hat to help with the harsh sun.
- I always keep RUFFWEAR dog boots in my backpack when hiking with my dog in case the sand gets too hot during the day along with a collapsible dog bowl and biodegradable poop bags to carry out any pet waste that can be harmful to wild animals.
Looking for more things to do around Central Coast? Check out these posts next:
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- Hiking Toro Canyon Park In Santa Barbara
- Carpinteria Bluffs Trail & Tar Pits Park
- 10 Best Hotels In Santa Barbara For A Perfect Seaside Escape
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