Named after California oil tycoon Charles Alexander Mentry, and tucked away at the base of the chaparral-covered hills of Pico Canyon, Mentryville was one of the first oil boomtowns in the state, and was home to over 100 families in the early 1930s.
The entire settlement was built around its oil well located in the north end of Santa Clarita Woodlands Park. Known as Pico No. 4, the first commercially successful oil well in California, it began to drill in 1878 and produced millions in oil until it was shut down in 1990.
The Mentryville site and the surrounding 800 acres in Pico Canyon were eventually donated to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy in 1995 by then-owner Chevron.
Today the canyon offers hikers, bikers, and equestrians an opportunity to explore the back country of Pico Canyon and the nearby Santa Susana Mountains, as well as a unique glimpse of early turn-of-the-century California history.
Mentryville is California Historic Landmark number 516-1 and 2, and the few remaining structures, which include Mentry’s restored thirteen-room Pennsylvania style mansion, the one-room Felton school house, and a period barn, stand as silent reminders of a long-gone era when migrant prospectors of gold, both yellow and black, traveled from one location to the next on the news of a fresh strike.
There are also remnants of numerous oil industry related, and other, artifacts that can be found around the site and along some of the trails leading into and out of Mentryville.
Weekend Activities Guide
If you decide to hike out of Mentryville, the trail goes up to a really cool picnic area, which used to be the party area for the oil well workers. On both sides along the way, you can see how steep the angle of beds of the Pico anticline really is.
Continuing straight, on the other side of the creek are the remains of the bakery built by Anthony Cochems, a baker for Standard Oil Company, in 1897. To left of the old bakery is Minnie-Lotta Canyon, named for two girls who lived in Mentryville at one time — Minnie and Lotta.
From there several trails vein off into the chaparral shrubland, grasslands, and oak savanna covered Santa Susana Mountains.
There are several parks in the area in addition to the Santa Clarita Woodlands Park. There is Ed Davis Park, Rocky Peak Park, and O’Melveny Park at the eastern end of the mountains.
A surprising assortment of strange geologic features and several astonishingly lush canyons encompass the 60,000 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and the 4.8-mile loop through Towsley and Wiley Canyons are a good way to experience the ever-changing array of habitats in the area.
With a picnic area and the nature center, Ed Davis Park is a great place to start your adventure.
From here, hikers can begin their trek up the wide floodplain of Towsley Canyon along the canyon’s creek with its foamy beige water, faint sulfurous smell, and oozing tar. Well before any oil was extracted for commercial purposes here, the Tataviam Indians of the area used this naturally occurring asphalt for medicinal applications and to seal their basketry.
Deeper into the canyon the scenery changes as you reach the portals of the Narrows, a slot like a cleft worn through layers of vertical sandstone. After a brief passage through the Narrows, hikers will begin climbing the canyon slope to the left on what is called the Towsley View Loop Trail that quickly evolves into a narrow, or single-track trail that can be negotiated on foot or mountain bike.
Atop a large green knoll, you can see Towsley Lodge, a beautiful Spanish-style ranch house available for private day or overnight group rental.
After numerous switchbacks, and reaching a high point of 2,450 feet, the trail begins to pitch downward, executing a steep descent down into the shady depths of Wiley Canyon and eventually back down to Ed Davis Park.
Access to Pico Canyon, Mentryville, and all of the areas parks is easy, and just a short drive from downtown Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
From the Golden State Freeway (I-5) in Valencia, exit on Lyons-Pico Canyon Road. Head west on Pico Canyon Road. Near its end, bear left at a Y and continue to the end of the road. A large parking lot is opposite historic Mentryville.
If the MRCA gate is closed and locked, park at this point and walk into the park. If the gate is open, you can park inside the park.
The best time to visit is in late fall and early spring when the weather is moderate but dry. 27201 Pico Canyon Road, Newhall, CA 91381-1804