Thousand Oaks is more than acre upon acre of suburban homes interrupted by shopping malls. It’s also home to 1,700-acre Wildwood Park, a sprawling recreational area featuring waterfalls, archeological sites, and an extensive multiuse trail system for hikers of all levels. Many residents of the city northwest of Los Angeles in Ventura County aren’t even aware that the park’s natural beauty beckons just off Highway 101. Literally a few steps from neatly manicured backyards bordering a gently sloping canyon, Wildwood also offers nature hikes, biking, horseback riding, summer day camps, and interpretive programs.
A good place to start exploring is the 4.4-mile Lizard Rock and Paradise Falls loop. It begins at Mesa Trail, a flat path surrounded by tall brown grass, wildflowers, and huge volcanic outcroppings some 30 million years old. Early Native Americans lived in the region, and artifacts such as grinding stones and arrowheads still can be found there. In the 1960s, the producers of TV’s “Gunsmoke” series liked the area so much, they built a fake Dodge City, which has since vanished.
Well-marked Lizard Rock Trail meanders down through a field of prickly pear cactus and yucca into lovely riparian woodlands. It eventually leads to Wildwood Canyon Trail and then Paradise Falls Trail. Forty feet tall, Paradise Falls cascades into a large pool next to a rock grotto. While tempting, swimming and climbing around the waterfall are prohibited. The creek feeding the falls is cold and deep, and swimming in it is not advised.
You don’t have to hike the entire loop to get an idea of what Wildwood Park offers. Trails lead off in several directions, and you can decide on the spot how far you want to cover. If you just want a pleasant picnic spot, the park offers many shaded tables, trash cans, and some public restrooms. Trail maps are available online and from the Conejo Recreation & Park District. Visitors also are advised to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water when venturing out. The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to dusk and is free to all.