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The Ventura River Trail follows the former Ventura and Ojai Valley Railroad right-of-way, from just north of Ventura to Casitas Vista Road at Foster Park northeast of town. Here the trail continues to Ojai as the Ojai Valley Trail. The Ventura River Trail has a distinctly industrial feel to it, and it gives trail users a close-up look at the many businesses (both past and present) that have fueled the region's growth. Opened in 1999, the trail links the Ojai Valley Trail and the Omer Rains Coastal Bike Trail (via a short, signed trek on sidewalks or bike lanes) for a spectacular 17-mile urban bike ride that extends from historic Ventura Pier to downtown Ojai.
The Ventura River Trail parallels State Route 33 and Ventura Avenue, but the roads are not always visible. Beginning at the southern end and heading north, you pass a variety of features from the area's natural and industrial heritage, including an impressive wall of sedimentary layers exposed by the Ventura River, active and abandoned industrial sites and the occasional oil derrick. It may not be the most scenic stretch of trail you've experienced, but it is certainly interesting.
The route is marked by a series of curious art installations that incorporate various themes related to Ventura. Installations include "A Delicate Balance," bronze great egret and brown pelican sculptures; "Orange Trace," clusters of painted bronze oranges arranged to look like they just fell from a freight car; and "Win*Pin," a windmill/pinwheel hybrid sculpture that incorporates the poinsettia, Ventura's official flower.
By the time you reach the trail's midpoint, the scenery transitions slightly as it winds along pastureland and an equestrian path, with the Ventura River on one side and Ventura Avenue on the other. The trail is paved and in good condition, crossing roads occasionally. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the trail is fairly light in the springtime but picks up in the summer.
Like most rail-trails, the Ventura River Trail is a very comfortable ride, though there is a slight uphill grade from Ventura to Foster Park. Foster Park is a lovely linear park along the Ventura River and a popular spot for family barbecues on weekends. (It gets very busy on holidays!) The park has restrooms, water fountains and parking, which makes it a good starting point, though there is an entrance fee.
If you're visiting Ventura for the first time, you may want to check out any number of interesting sites. Ventura's City Hall (the town is officially called San Buenaventura), a 1912 marble and terra-cotta Beaux Arts building, provokes memories of a long-gone era in the Central Coast. The Ventura Pier, built in 1872, is Southern California's second-oldest pier and a great place to watch the local surfers catching waves.
To reach the southern trailhead, take exit 71 from US 101 onto W. Main Street and head east. Take a left (north) onto N. Olive Street. Turn left again (west) onto Rex Street. The trailhead is at the intersection of Rex and Dubbers streets. Street parking is available nearby.
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