While hiking the Southwest Ridge after coming up Horn Canyon is not the easiest way to summit Chief Peak, it is well worth the effort, boasting beautiful canyon, ocean, and mountain views. It also has a nice diversity of terrain, traveling on trail, fire road, and some bushwhacking and class 2 hiking the last half mile to the craggy summit. This route clocks in at 14.5 miles round trip, and approximately 4,150 feet of elevation gain going up, and 4,350 feet elevation gain total.
Bird lovers will want to bring binoculars to observe the amazing turkey vultures and maybe a California Condor swirling around the summit, from the nearby Sespe Condor Sanctuary. Whether you choose to wear hiking boots or sneakers, you may wish to make sure you wear high socks or gaiters, as there is much loose dirt and rocks to find their way into your shoes on the terrain near the summit.
To get to Horn Canyon Trailhead make you way to the lovely town of Ojai, nestled at the bottom of the Nordhoff Ridge. From CA 101/Route 1 take Route 33 north for 13.7 miles. Turn right on Route 150/Main Street. After 3.4 miles turn a slight left onto Reeves Road. After 1.2 miles turn left on McAndrew Road. After 2.2 Miles make a right entering the Thatcher School campus, and immediately make another right. Soon you will see a sign for Gymkhana Field, follow the sign and turn right down the dirt road. Drive a brief 1/10 of a mile (passable by all cars with care) and you will see the Horn Canyon Trailhead on your left, by a gate.
Park by the gate or along the road, being wary not to block the intersection or gate. There is no requirement to buy an Adventure Pass for this trailhead. There are no park service bathrooms at this trailhead or anywhere along the route.
The Southwest Ridge via Horn Canyon Trail to Chief Peak is a mix of trail, fire road, and bushwhacking. Start up the Horn Canyon Trail which is a moderately flat hike for the first 1.25 miles. After the third stream crossing the trail becomes a sustained steep climb. Two and a half miles into the hike you will pass The Pines Campsite, a small, primitive campground beautifully shaded by towering Coulter pine trees, with benches and stools. According to the forest service website
, these trees were planted here after the destruction of the 1948 wildfire.
At four miles you will hit the Sisar Fire road, turn left/west and head for the saddle where Sisar intersects Nordhoff Fire Road, and continue straight, in the direction you were going. As you round the corner you'll get a wonderful reveal of Chief Peak, and note the skyline ridge on the left from this vantage point - this is the southwest ridge, your route to the top.
At 6.7 miles in you'll hit the bottom of the firebreak that runs up the southwest ridge. Start hiking up the firebreak which is easy and obvious to follow, just stay on the dirt - if you wander up any paths chocked by bushes you are off trail. At around 5400 feet, 150 feet below the summit, you'll arrive at the rocky, class 2 ridge that leads you directly to the top. Lots of high-step-hiking, you do not need to use your hands, except for maybe the very last move to the top.
At the top, sign the unofficial register, tag the benchmark, and take in the amazing views. Chief Peak is a fun, bouldery summit with many places to sit back and take a nap. There's even a nice flat spot that may fit a tent.
Pack enough water for the long hike. The stream crossings, a spring at Pines Campsite, and a spring along the fire road are the water sources along the route but are seasonal and unreliable.
Most of this hike is exposed with little respite from the sun, bring sunscreen and a hat.
Binocs for bird watching.