Ventura River Preserve
Please note: A lesser known third trailhead is located at the end of Old Baldwin Road just off Highway 150 in Ojai. This Old Baldwin Trailhead is great for equestrians and has an ADA accessible trail. The trailhead hours 7:30 to 7:30 in the summer and 7:30 to sunset in the winter.
Whether nature’s pleasure for you is an invigorating hike, a spring wildflower walk, a horseback or mountain bike ride, or just enjoying the river on a hot summer day, the Ventura River Preserve offers nearly 1600 acres of nature right here in Ojai for all to enjoy.
Located in the western Ojai Valley the Ventura River Preserve protects three miles of the Ventura River and surrounding canyons. Diverse topography creates ideal conditions for a variety of plant communities. Steep north facing slopes in Wills Canyon offer refuge for shade loving plants, while the surrounding chaparral blanketed hillsides are open to summer sun. Pockets of grasslands and meadows offer a colorful variety of spring wildflowers and grasses.
Once the sprawling Rancho El Nido ranch, this land has remained relatively untouched and is a haven for a biologically rich mix of over 300 animal and plant species. The preservation of this property is made even more significant by its location adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest and within Ventura River watershed, one of Ventura County’s most important watersheds. The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy is actively involved with the protection and restoration of a healthy Ventura River watershed system, which provides the sole source of water for the entire Ojai Valley.
A bit of history…
Twice slated to be developed as a high end community with an exclusive golf course, the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy worked tirelessly on a dream to preserve this property. In 1999, as the property was changing hands from one developer to another, the southern steelhead trout was declared an endangered species. Water availability from the river for a golf course and new homes, suddenly became an issue.
Knowing of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s interest in preserving the property, The California State Coastal Conservancy stepped in to provide $3.1 million of the $4 million it would take to purchase and provide ongoing maintenance on the 1,591 acre property and an adjacent 160 acre conservation easement. Fundraising for additional acquisition and stewardship monies needed was a challenge, but the Ojai community stepped up to help keep this land in open space preservation. Completing the dream for public access to this natural treasure, Ojai’s Church of the Living Christ granted a trail easement through their land just off of Rice Road for a trailhead and parking area.
Once the territory of grizzly bears, this property is still home to a wide variety of wildlife including black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, badger, coyote and mule deer, to name a few. Abundant food, shelter, space and water make this a key habitat for local wildlife. In wet months, frogs, salamanders and other amphibians abound in the seasonal creeks. Birds of prey such as Great Horned Owls and a variety of hawks soar over the oak savanna, river bottom and under the oak canopy of Wills Canyon.
Before the creation of Matilija Dam, significant runs of steelhead trout inhabited this stretch of the Ventura River. During high stream flows, the now endangered southern steelhead trout still make their way up and down the three miles of the Ventura river on the property. The Ventura River Preserve played a key role in the creation of a fish ladder and will be an asset to the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration project which seeks to remove the dam in the near future. The removal of the dam, and protection of deep pools on this section of the river will play an important part in steelhead recovery.
Visiting the Ventura River Preserve…
The Riverview Trailhead into the Preserve is located on Rice Road, just south of El Roblar in the Meiners Oaks area of Ojai. Parking is available at the trailhead. Whether you are ready for a strenuous hike, or a Sunday stroll, there are miles and miles of trails to explore on your own or on a guided hike, offered several times each year. See our calendar forhike listings. Hiking, horseback and bicycle riding, dog walking, birdwatching, photography and just enjoying wild open spaces are among the many recreational activities the Preserve has to offer.
For the preservation of natural habitat, protection of wildlife and the safety of all visitors…
- Please stay on marked trails
- Please keep dogs leashed at all times and do not allow them to swim in the river
- No fires, fireworks, or smoking, please
- No firearms of any kind are permitted on the preserve
- No motorized vehicles or recreational toys
- Please exercise courtesy for others at all times
- Carry your cell phone in case of emergency
- No overnight camping
- Please carry out everything you bring into the preserve, especially trash.
- Trash cans are located at the trailheads
While we welcome your canine friends, please be sure that they are on a leash at all times for the protection of wildlife, other preserve users and yourself. While your dog may be well behaved, animals often react unexpectedly to unfamiliar situations, including other dogs, horses, coyotes or other wildlife ahead on the trail which they may smell before you can see. Additionally, when wild animals detect the scent of dogs who have strayed off the trails, they no longer feel safe in that area. For the safety of all concerned, we ask that you are diligent to respect the leash law while enjoying the preserve, and encourage others to do the same. If leashes are a challenge for equestrians or bicyclists, please leave Fido at home when you ride.
Are commercial or event uses allowed on the Preserve?
While commercial use for educational and recreational purposes may be approved, any proposed business use of the property including rides, tours, hikes, photo or video filming, etc. will be subject to approval by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy upon meeting certain requirements for such use. We respectfully ask that commercial users consider contributing a small portion of profits to the ongoing stewardship of the Preserve. Please contact us at email@example.com to learn more.
While certain educational activities are permitted on the Preserves, private events such as weddings, reunions or parties are not generally permitted. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries regarding organized preserve uses.
How can I help?
It takes a community to steward this land. There are many ways to help.
- Volunteer for Preserve patrols, trail maintenance, or restoration projects
- Leave the land as you found it, leave no trace that you were ever there
- Bring a bag to pick up trash left on the trail by others
- Call 805.649.6852 to report emergencies or inappropriate activities. (if no answer, please follow the prompts to the Preserve Manager’s cell number)
- Donate today to the Ventura River Preserve stewardship fund
- Honor or memorialize someone special with a named resting bench along the trail.