Towsley Canyon is a fascinating little gem of a trail nestled in the Santa Susana Mountains. It’s just off the Golden State Freeway and minutes away from the amusement parks and In-N-Outs of Santa Clarita, but in a quick 5.3 mile loop you’ll work up a sweat, hop near frothy streams, dodge natural tar pits, and walk through a narrow slot-like canyon area of upturned sedimentary rock called The Narrows.
The hike starts out innocuously enough at a large parking area just off the 5. You’ll be on a paved road for the first part of the trail, as it passes a few old buildings and works its way through two parking lots. For the purposes of distances, this trail starts at the parking area closest to the street.
At about the 1.6 mile mark, the trail makes a sharp turn to the south and heads directly between two large slabs of upturned rock. This is the area known as The Narrows, and it’s definitely one of the major attractions of this trail.
By the 1.7 mile mark you’ll exit the south side of the Narrows, where the trail opens up to some gorgeous SoCal scrub scenery. Ignore the remnants of the old oil-drilling road that leaves the trail on the right hand side and continue south. At 1.75 miles, the mostly level-trail starts to make a big climb. Prepare your legs – and also make sure to keep an eye open for the tar pits, scattered oil equipment remains, and interesting tree root formations to your left.
Here, the trail through Towsley Canyon starts up a series of broad switchbacks – ascending about 890 feet over the next 1.3 miles. There’s not a whole lot of shade along this section of trail so it’s probably not something you’d want to be doing in the summer, but on a clear day the views are pretty hard to beat.
At 2.8 miles, the trail hits a short bump in the ridge and separates into two trails. While it looks like the trail to the left is the official route, the more steep trail on the right will lead you to an excellent viewpoint with a small bench – a great place to take a break after all that incline.
After this, you’ll have a short period of fairly level hiking before starting your descent. The downhill on this part of the trail is comparable to what you just hiked up, but it is a tad more steep in spots. You will, however, have the occasional spot of shade to help keep you (relatively) cool.
If you look closely across the urban river of I-5, you can also make out some of the firebreaks of the Placerita Canyon Loop, too:
At the 4.1 mile mark, keep left at the 3-way junction to head back toward the parking area and trailhead.
This section of the trail closely follows another small, tar-filled creek in Wiley Canyon. You’ll pass a few more scramble-able rock formations and some tar deposits bubbling up from the ground on your way back north. At 4.6 miles, keep right at the junction with the Towsley View Loop Trail and continue on the trail until it meets up with the paved road again. Then head back to your car and call it a hike!
Excellent - this trail is very well maintained and well-signed. Junctions are mostly well-marked, often with distances. There are a few unmarked use-trails along the route, but they almost all only veer off the 'normal' trail for a few yards before joining back up.
Take the Golden State Freeway north toward Santa Clarita and take exit 166 (Calgrove Blvd.). Turn west, following the signs for Ed Davis Park / Towsley Canyon. The park will be on the west side of the road very shortly off the freeway. There are three parking areas - the main lot and overflow lot closest to the road are free. There is also a smaller parking lot a bit further into the park that costs $7 to use - but I imagine this is only used as a very last resort.
With recent wildfire damage and ongoing waves of COVID-19 infections and restrictions, National Forest, National Park, and other public land closures, restrictions, or social distancing guidelines may be in-effect.
If infection rates are on the rise, please do your best to remain local for your hikes. If you do travel, please be mindful of small gateway communities and avoid as much interaction as you can. Also remember to be extra prepared with supplies so you don't have to stop somewhere outside your local community for gas, food, or anything else.
Please be sure to contact the local land management agency BEFORE you head out, as these conditions are likely to change without enough notice for us to fully stay on top of them. Thanks, and stay safe!
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