Hiking in Los Angeles: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Solstice Canyon, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Solstice Canyon, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area | Source

Visitors to Los Angeles may be surprised to discover a national park site at the city's geographical center. Franklin Canyon Park, which lies in the center of Los Angeles between the San Fernando Valley and Beverly Hills, is part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a complex network of park sites and locations that extends in an east-west direction from the Hollywood Hills in the heart of the city all the way to Point Mugu in Ventura County. At 153,075 acres, it is the world's largest urban national park.

An oasis in the middle of a vast and ever-expanding urban area, the national recreation area offers multiple opportunities to explore the natural and cultural resources of the Santa Monica Mountains.

A lone valley oak shades a recreation area trail.
A lone valley oak shades a recreation area trail. | Source

Thrill at a ride along legendary Mulholland Highway, which winds its way through the recreation area and offers spectacular views of rocky canyons, chaparral-covered hillsides and the Pacific ocean.

Learn about the lives and traditions of indigenous tribes at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center and Natural Area.

Relive the golden era of film making with a visit to the movie set at Paramount Ranch where Hollywood legends Gary Cooper, Mae West and Randolph Scott once practiced their craft.

Set out on one of the area's many hiking trails to get a close-up look at the flora and fauna of California's rare Mediterranean ecosystem, found only in five areas around the Earth.

State park land along the coast
State park land along the coast | Source

Park History

Grassroots efforts to conserve the natural, archeological and cultural resources of the Santa Monica Mountains and adjacent Pacific coastline culminated in November 1978 when Congress authorized Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area as the 295th unit of the National Park System. At that time, the National Park Service owned no land in the area. Instead, it forged partnerships with a number of state and local agencies to promote national park goals. It began acquiring land in the area in 1980 and now owns and manages 23,185 acres.

Today, numerous agencies and organizations partner in the management and upkeep of multiple park sites and locations within the recreation area boundaries. In addition to the nearly two dozen sites managed by the National Park Service, the area includes six state parks and seven state beaches.


Ocean view from the TRW Overlook along the Rising Sun Trail
Ocean view from the TRW Overlook along the Rising Sun Trail | Source
Ruins of the Keller hunting cabin
Ruins of the Keller hunting cabin | Source
Ruins of the Roberts ranch house
Ruins of the Roberts ranch house | Source
Solstice Canyon has one of the few year-round waterfalls in the recreation area.
Solstice Canyon has one of the few year-round waterfalls in the recreation area. | Source
A Western Kingbird sits along the Rising Sun Trail
A Western Kingbird sits along the Rising Sun Trail | Source

A Hike in Solstice Canyon

The stunning vistas and cultural artifacts found along the Solstice Canyon trail system provide an excellent introduction to the Santa Monica Mountains' resources and history. Solstice Canyon first served as home to the Chumash Native American tribe and then to ranchers who grazed their cattle in the area. The canyon housed a space research facility in the 1960s. It became a public park in 1988 and is now managed by the National Park Service.

Solstice Canyon has over eight miles of trails for hikers of all fitness levels. The Dry Canyon Trail (1.2 miles round-trip) offers an easy stroll through the woodlands along an intermittent stream, while the Sostomo Trail/Deer Valley Loop is a challenging 3.9 miles through chaparral and coastal sage scrub to a magnificent ocean view along the west ridge of the canyon.

For a good intermediate hike and a variety of scenery, take the Solstice Canyon Trail through the peaceful valley to the back of the canyon. There, connect to the Rising Sun Trail and loop back along the east ridgeline of the canyon for a total of approximately 3 miles. The Solstice Canyon Trail is accessed from Corral Canyon Road in Malibu, off the Pacific Coast Highway. The trailhead is just past the parking lot and amphitheater.

As you set out on the trail, you will follow a creek upstream past the ruins of Henry Keller's stone hunting cabin. The cabin was built in 1903 and destroyed by the devastating Corral Fire in November 2007. At the back of the canyon lies the ruins of the Roberts Ranch House. Built in 1952, it was designed by renowned architect Paul Williams and incorporated waterfalls, springs and other natural features in its design. The house was destroyed by wildfire in 1982, but the foundation remains to provide a sense of its unique blueprint.

Visit the waterfall behind the ruins for a cool respite, then climb the Rising Sun Trail to the canyon's east ridge. As you traverse the dramatic ridgeline, watch the west canyon wall for signs of wildlife. Mule deer, coyotes, bobcats and even mountain lions may be found within the recreation area's boundaries. Also watch for the more than 380 species of birds that reside in the area.

Have your camera ready at the TRW Overlook for the picture-perfect view of the Pacific Ocean framed by the canyon walls. After your photo stop, descend past the ruins of the Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge space research facility, also destroyed in the 2007 Corral Fire, to the parking lot.

The 2007 Corral Fire impacted homes in this neighborhood off Corral Canyon Road.
The 2007 Corral Fire impacted homes in this neighborhood off Corral Canyon Road. | Source

The Corral Fire

Wildfires pose a constant threat to the fragile ecosystem of the Santa Monica Mountains. Fires have increased in frequency as the area's population has grown. Dry summers and fierce Santa Ana winds fuel fires caused by human activity, making fire prevention crucial to the recreation area's management.

The blackened skeletons of trees and fence posts above the green growth of Solstice Canyon provide a reminder of the most recent fire to denude its slopes. On November 24, 2007, a fire started by an illegal campfire burned 4,700 acres in Solstice Canyon destroying 51 homes and buildings, including the historically-significant Keller hunting cabin. Several men were charged with responsibility for the fire and at least two were sentenced to jail.

Visit Paradise Cove before or after your hike in Solstice Canyon.
Visit Paradise Cove before or after your hike in Solstice Canyon. | Source

Nearby

For breakfast before your hike in Solstice Canyon, or for refreshments afterward, stop at Paradise Cove Beach Cafe in Malibu. Dine in a casual atmosphere right on the beach. The scenic cove has served as the setting for numerous television shows and movies over the years. From Coral Canyon Road, turn right (north) on Pacific Coast Highway and travel approximately 2.5 miles to Paradise Cove Road on the left.


The rocky cliffs surrounding Paradise Cove
The rocky cliffs surrounding Paradise Cove | Source

More Recreation Area Hiking

Arroyo Sequit
34138 Mullholland Highway, Malibu

Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyon
5792 Chesebro Road, Agoura

Circle X Ranch
12896 Yerba Buena Road, Malibu

Paramount Ranch
2903 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills

Peter Strauss Ranch
30000 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills

Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa
Main Entrance at Via Goleta and Potrero Road, Newbury Park

General Information

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is located west of Griffith Park in Los Angeles County and to the east of the Oxnard Plain in Ventura County. The area is bordered on the north by U.S. Highway 101 (Ventura Freeway) and on the south by State Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) and the Pacific Ocean.

Available activities include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping at over 300 campsites. The area is open year-round from dawn to dusk. The National Park Service Visitor Center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.



Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

show route and directions
A markerSolstice Canyon -
Solstice Canyon, Malibu, CA 90265, USA
[get directions]

B markerPark Headquarters and Visitors Center -
401 W Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360, USA
[get directions]

C markerParamount Ranch -
2903 Cornell Rd, Agoura Hills, CA 91301, USA
[get directions]

D markerSatwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center and Natural Area -
Via Goleta & Potrero Rd, Triunfo Pass-Coastal, CA 91320, USA
[get directions]

E markerParadise Cove -
28128 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265, United States
[get directions]

More by this Author


Comments 26 comments

alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Since this is practically in my backyard, I appreciate the info. I didn't know this existed and appreciate the maps of their locations. Voting this Up and Useful.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Oh my gosh, Aurelio, I think it was your hub about walks in L.A. that inspired me to hike while I was there. You must check it out!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I have been to L.A. a number of times and had no idea this area existed. I probably will never return since it isn't my favorite city in the country (not even close) but you did a good job of selling it....good hub!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Bill! I hadn't visited LA for 21 years but have some good friends there whom I owed a visit. My husband and I like to spend our vacations doing outdoorsy things (we usually come home needing a vacation from our vacation!) and are trying to visit as many national parks as we can, which is what led us to Santa Monica Mountains. I never imagined something like that would exist right in the middle of the LA urban sprawl.


Princessa profile image

Princessa 4 years ago from France

Lovely photos, looks like a very pretty place to visit. I had been to LA a few times and never visited this area. I really need to make a point to visit next time I am there to see my grandma.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Princessa. It really is worth a visit the next time you're in the area. The drive up the Pacific Coast Highway is spectacular.


albertsj profile image

albertsj 4 years ago from Pittsfield, Ma

The pics alone are really beautiful. While I'm not a fan of the L.A. area, you make me kind of long for it. The Santa Monica Mtns, of course. : )


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Jacy! Now that I've discovered the mountains and all the great hiking opportunities, I won't be waiting another 21 years for my next visit.


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

Hi there!!! Your pictures are amazing!!! I just started hiking this year in the Adirondack region of NY...fun!!! Your hub makes me want to go to The Santa Monica Mountains now!!! Voted up, tweeted, shared on fb...nice job!!!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Audra Leigh! Isn't hiking great? It's so much fun that you hardly realize you're getting an awesome workout, too! I've never been to the Adirondacks but would love to hike there some day.


Gloshei profile image

Gloshei 4 years ago from France

Wow Debs this is fantastic, I know I will never get there but this certainly will make up for it.

The scenery is out of this world, we certainly do have a lovely planet.

Thankyou for sharing I have bookmarked just to re-visit.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thank you for the awesome comment, Gloshei! I appreciate it.


Curiad profile image

Curiad 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

This is a very well written and useful article! Your photography is awesome as well, Thank you for the great Hub!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

And thank you for the nice comment, Curiad. I appreciate it!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, how lovely! your photos really were gorgeous, I wish I could visit, I never realised there was a part of L..A. like this. I love hiking and this would be a great place to explore, rated up! nell


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Nell. I couldn't believe when I found a place like this to hike in L.A. Maybe you can get there someday.


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I had no idea that this existed in LA. Thanks for the great information and beautiful photos!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thnaks, random! I appreciate you reading and commenting.


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

Hiking, or trekking for that matter, is one of my favorite recreational activities. I trek and hike in Nepali mountains. Maybe I could have another wonderful experience when I'm In Los Angeles.

Your pictures are amazing.


SanneL profile image

SanneL 4 years ago from Sweden

The last time I visited LA was 33 years ago. Wow, how times flies. . . I'm sure things have changed since then. However, I do remember so many beautiful places around the LA area and I definitely remember the good times I had there. Your photos are breathtaking! Thank you for sharing this great hub that brought back some fond memories!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Absolutely stunning scenery, thanks, I enjoyed reading this and looking at your beautiful photos.

Voted up etc.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Vinaya, I would love to hike in Nepal. The trek to Everest base camp is one of my dream vacations. Thanks for your comment.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thank you, SanneL. I'm glad I bought back happy memories for you. : )


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thank you, Judi. I was really pleased at how the photos turned out. I'm glad you enjoyed them.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Well, you already know my trip to CA was to the San Francisco area, now I wish I had gone further south. Your photos are beautiful! I guess the Pacific Coast Highway is really the way to go. So many surprises in places we don't expect. You packed a lot of information in this hub too! Voted up and interesting. Thanks for SHARING.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Tillsontitan! I would love to someday drive all the way from LA to San Francisco (or vice versa) on the PCH. It's fabulous!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working