Bigcone Douglas-fir trees rise like ragged sentinels in Rice Canyon and East Canyon, near the city of Santa Clarita.

Tucked into the steep, north-facing slopes of the Santa Susana Mountains, just north of the San Fernando Valley, are comely Rice Canyon and East Canyon. The area containing both canyons is visible from nearby Interstate 5 as an attractive patch of open space, emerald green from recent rains. The canyons receive an average of about 20 inches of rainfall annually -- just enough, in an environment sheltered from sun's south-slanting rays, to support an island-like array of bigcone Douglas firs. These trees are a Southern California�based relative of the common Douglas firs that inhabit coastal mountain ranges in Northern California and throughout most of the Pacific Northwest.

Both canyons are now included in the Santa Clarita Woodlands Park, which welcomes self-propelled travelers. The narrow trail into Rice Canyon is reserved for hiking only, while hiker, horse, and mountain-bike traffic is permitted on the East Canyon fire road -- at least to the point where a locked gate at the southern park boundary limits access beyond.

To reach the trailhead for these canyons, exit Interstate 5 at Calgrove Boulevard, turn west under the freeway, and take the frontage road, called "the Old Road," south for 0.8 mile to the designated trailhead parking area on the right.

Your trek begins with an uninteresting one-third-mile hike or bike south to an old water trough and other evidence of former cattle ranching. From there (on foot only) you can find and follow the narrow path to the right going into Rice Canyon. This mile-long trail is enchanting for kids and adults alike. You meander through a shadowy fairyland complete with a limpid brook and overarching sycamore, willow, and cottonwood trees. Four kinds of oaks are in evidence here: scrub oak, coast live oak, canyon live oak, and valley oak. In the upper part of Rice Canyon, the trail begins to rise sharply out of the canyon bottom. After climbing for a few minutes, you get a nice view of steep slopes all around and glimpses of bigcone Douglas firs higher up and across the canyon.

To explore East Canyon, retrace your steps back to the fire road, turn right, and commence a gradual ascent along the densely wooded East Canyon floor. This easy passage ends after only 0.5 mile, as the road begins climbing in earnest up the slope to the right. Ever-widening views compensate for the toil, however. At 1.9 miles from the Rice Canyon trail, you reach the south boundary gate -- a mandatory turnaround point. By this time, you've already passed several beautiful bigcone Douglas firs near your path, and many more are visible clinging to the slopes to the west.

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