Indian Cave of Alder Creek

Sespe Wilderness Area of Los Padres National Forest

click the picture to see more detail

Highlights: The hike to Indian Cave is a strenuous 17-mile backpack (roundtrip distance) that vists a sandstone cave with Chumash Indian pictographs in a remote wilderness setting.

Directions: The drive takes about two hours from Bakersfield. Head south on I-5 over Tejon Pass. Just before Magic Mountain, take Route 126 towards Ventura. In Fillmore, turn right on Main Street and follow it north for about 5 miles to a dirt road which heads off to the right into the Sespe oil fields. Follow this dirt road, which winds spectacularly along several gorges, for 10 miles to a locked gate at the Dough Flat Condor Lookout.

Trailhead: The hike begins at Dough Flat (2840 ft) and follows the trail to McDonald Cabin. A trail junction is reached after 2 miles of up and down walking, take the left fork. A half mile of level terrain then leads to the Cow Spring campsite (3500 ft). The trail then drops steeply (1,000 ft of elevation loss) to a gorge where a signed trail junction (2800 ft) is reached at 6 miles. Bushwack a short distance down the path on the right (north) that leads to the head of a gorge. DO NOT GO UP THE GORGE, as it contains dangerous cliffs. Instead take a path on the right (east) that switchbacks over a small but steep hill. The trail then drops to a dry creek crossing, skirts the head of the aforementioned gorge, and follows grassy gullies to another small but steep hill to the northwest. The path through this stretch is hard to follow, and map and compass are strongly recommended. From the hilltop, a good trail drops to Alder Creek at 7 miles, but deteriorates rapidly as it heads upstream, crossing and recrossing the creek. The Indian Cave campsite (2990 ft) is reached when the gorge opens out at a flat area with a large oak tree at 7 miles. The cave sits 20 feet above the creek, a few yards downstream from the campsite.

Maps: The 7-minute topographic quadrangle is Devils Heart Peak Peak.


  • Trail is very difficult to follow in places, and map and compass are essential. The cave is itself is not marked on the topo.
  • A National Forest Service fire permit (free) and Adventure Pass ($5.00/day) are required. These can be obtained at the Chuchupate-Lockwood Valley (661-245-3731) or Ojai (805-646-4348) Ranger Stations. Big 5 Sporting Goods also sells Adventure Passes.
  • Giardia is a concern and a water purifier is needed.
  • Beware of wasp nests where the trail runs next to short cliff faces.
  • There may be no water at Cow Spring in the Fall and Summer.

More Attractions:

  • There are three Indian mortar holes are on a boulder hidden at the top of the dangerous gorge mentioned in the trail description. Do not attempt to go up this gorge from below. Instead look for the mortars by going 30 yards off the trail when above the gorge.
  • Check out the Sespe oil fields while driving to the trailhead. The field was discovered in 1883 and contains numerous wells and tar seeps in spectacular locations.
  • The Devils Heart is a heart-shaped scar on Topatopa Mountain which is best seen by looking west, across Sespe Canyon, about 1/2 mile after reaching the Cow Spring campsite.
  • The pictographs at Indian Cave were painted by Chumash Indians. This is a protected archaelogical site. Treat it with care and respect!
  • Sespe Gorge is the deep canyon beneath the Devils Heart. It is a remote, spectacular gorge that was set aside in 1947 by the U.S. Congress as the Sespe Condor Sanctuary.


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