Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch

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Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch

  • Location:  Santa Monica Mountains, north of Malibu.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway north for 6.1 miles and then take Topanga Canyon Boulevard north 4.7 miles to Entrada (just past the center of town), take a right and drive a mile.  The park entrance is on the left.  From the Valley, take the 101 freeway to Topanga Blvd. and go south for 7.8 miles, and take a hard left on Entrada.  There is a $10 per day parking fee.
  • Agency: Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 6.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent; sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and and here; area trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead at Trippet Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead at Trippet Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The scenic Topanga Overlook (also known as the Parker Mesa Overlook) can be reached from Pacific Palisades in the east or, as described here, from the west, starting at the Trippet Ranch area of Topanga State Park.  While this trailhead has a $10 per vehicle price tag (compared with free parking for the east approach) the payoff includes panoramic views of Topanga Canyon and the ocean, up-close looks at sandstone geology and an attractive grove of oaks.  Overall it feels more secluded than the eastern approach, save for the noise from cars on Topanga Canyon Blvd.

0:08 - Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

0:08 – Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

From Trippet Ranch, take the East Topanga Fire Road past a picnic area and head uphill, bearing right at the first intersection and left at the second. At 0.3 miles, you reach a signed junction where your route, the East Topanga Fire Road, branches off to the right. (The left fork heads uphill to Eagle Rock.)

0:16 - Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

0:16 – Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

The fire road continues its climb through an oak woodland. At 0.6 miles, the ascent levels out and a solitary bench provides a resting spot with a nice view of Topanga Canyon. Continuing south, you descend to a ridge and follow it, making another moderate climb of about 200 feet followed by another descent.

0:56 - Geology

0:56 – Geology

At about 2.3 miles, you pass some pink sandstone geology on the left. You then begin the last major ascent of the outbound half of the hike, climbing about 250 feet over the next half mile to reach the spur to the overlook. The East Topanga Fire Road continues to Pacific Palisades.

1:10 - Spur to the Topanga Overlook

1:10 – Spur to the Topanga Overlook

Turn right on the spur to the overlook and head south for half a mile, negotiating a few moderate ups and downs before reaching the end. Here, you can enjoy a great view of Santa Monica Bay from two benches. On clear days you can see east to Mt. Baldy and southeast to Old Saddleback. Return via the same route or, if you’ve left a car shuttle, you can continue east to the Pacific Palisades trailhead.

1:25 - Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

1:25 – Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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Temescal Peak via Temescal Ridge Trail

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Looking east, just below Temescal Peak

Looking east, just below Temescal Peak

Looking south from the Temescal Ridge Trail

Looking south from the Temescal Ridge Trail

Temescal Peak via Temescal Ridge Trail

      • Location: Pacific Palisades.  From the end of I-10, take Pacific Coast Highway northwest for 4.4 miles to Sunset Blvd.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Palisades Drive.  Turn left and go a total of 3.8 miles (Palisades becomes Chastain Parkway.)  Park on the corner of Chastain Parkway and Via Las Palmas.  Access the trail by heading northeast on Via Las Palmas through the housing community, following the signs to Topanga State Park.
      • Agency: Topanga State Park
      • Distance: 6.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 800 feet
      • Suggested time: 3 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  October – June
      • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
      • Recommended gear: sun hatsunblock
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
      • More information: here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7

This long, but not too strenuous hike visits Temescal Peak, one of the highest points in the eastern Santa Monicas.  It follows an exposed fire road for most of the way, with views of Topanga Canyon to the west and Temescal Canyon to the east.  With free parking, the hike is conveniently located to the west side of Los Angeles, and while most of the route is under power lines, after a while, the sights and sounds of the city vanish.

0:00 - Start of the hike on Via Las Palmas (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

0:00 – Start of the hike on Via Las Palmas (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

From the corner of Chastain Parkway and Via Las Palmas, head uphill into the gated community. You access the service road, and almost immediately take a sharp right on a concrete walkway. It may seem like an odd beginning for the hike, but you are only on the walkway for a short distance, following it uphill on a few switchbacks. The trail turns to dirt and soon meets the Temescal Ridge fire road (0.4 miles.)

0:02 - Hard right on the concrete walkway (times are approximate)

0:02 – Hard right on the concrete walkway (times are approximate)

Turn left and begin hiking uphill. At 0.8 miles, you follow the east side of the ridge, entering a pleasant, shaded area. You go downhill slightly and begin another ascent to a summit with antennas (Green Peak.) Heading downhill, you get a nice view of Topanga Canyon. You may notice the Trailer Canyon Fire Road (an alternate starting point for this hike, and a more challenging route) coming up from below; you meet up with it 1.4 miles from the start.

0:09 - Turn left on the Temescal Ridge Trail

0:09 – Turn left on the Temescal Ridge Trail

With the majority of the climbing behind you at this point, the next mile and a half is pleasant as you continue following the ridge to the north. Off to the west, you can see several other Santa Monica summits – Saddle Peak, Castro Peak, and even the distant outline of Boney Mountain. To the east are the Hollywood Hills and beyond them the San Gabriels.

0:19 - Shade on the Temescal Ridge Trail

0:19 – Shade on the Temescal Ridge Trail

At 2.6 miles, you may notice Temescal Peak, a bump on the ridge that stands out. At 2.9 miles, you reach a junction. Take a hairpin right turn on the Backbone Trail, and briefly head southeast. As the trail starts to bend northeast, heading toward Will Rogers State Historic Park, look for a rough path heading uphill to the left, just past a fire break that crosses the trail. Follow it to Temescal Peak, about one hundred feet up. There are a few places where the trail is a little loose, but it’s not too hard to follow.

1:05 - View of Temescal Peak

1:05 – View of Temescal Peak

On the summit, you can sit and enjoy a great view that includes Catalina Island, the Santa Monica Bay, downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Monicas, the San Gabriels, the Santa Susanas and more.

1:10 - Hard right on the Backbone Trail

1:10 – Hard right on the Backbone Trail

After enjoying the view, retrace your steps. On the return trip, you’ll enjoy some nice ocean vsitas. You can extend your hike by continuing south along the Temescal Ridge Trail to Skull Rock, half a mile past the spur that leads back down to Chastain Parkway.

1:15 -Leave the Backbone Trail and head left, uphill toward the summit

1:15 -Leave the Backbone Trail and head left, uphill toward the summit

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:20 - Looking north from Temescal Peak

1:20 – Looking north from Temescal Peak

Musch Meadows Loop (Topanga State Park)

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On the Musch Meadows Trail

Purple Sage on the Musch Meadows Trail

Musch Meadows Loop

  • Location: Topanga, on the corner of Hillside Drive and Rosario Drive.  From Pacific Coast Highway, head north on Topanga Canyon Blvd. for 5.8 miles, and take a right on Hillside (its’s a small street and easy to miss, so keep an eye out.  The turn is just before the fish market).  Almost immediately, take a sharp right to stay on Hillside.  Go 0.2 miles and park in the small dirt lot on the corner of Hillside and Rosario, by the gated fire road.  If there is no parking available there, you can park farther up on Hillside Drive.  From the Valley, take Highway 101 to Topanga Canyon Blvd. and head south for 6.8 miles to Hillside Drive.  Turn left and follow the directions above.  (Note: if you are coming from the Valley, don’t take the street on the right called Hillside, which comes up right before the Hillside on the left that you’re looking for, right past the fish market.)
  • Agency: Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 2.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • More information: Trail maps here, here
  • Rating: 6

This short but scenic (and surprisingly challenging) loop visits Topanga State Park’s lightly traveled western corner.  The trails here connect with others in the park, making it easy to extend the hike.

From the parking area, follow Hillside south for half a mile, passing by a few homes, enjoying nice views of Topanga Canyon on the right.  You enter the park and make a short climb to a T-junction, where you’ll head left on the Musch Trail.  You are now on a segment shared with the popular Eagle Rock loop.  The trail winds pleasantly along the side of the hill, providing good views of the canyon.

After a mile, you’ll pass a turnoff for Prier Road, which leads back down to Hillside.  Stay right, cross a service road and pass by a campground.  Shortly after the campground, you’ll enter a meadow.  Turn left on an obscure, unsigned trail that heads through the meadow, descends through some oaks and reaches another junction.  This is the Musch Meadows Trail.  You can cut your trip short by turning left, but for a nice, scenic extension, head right.

The trail enters a canyon (be careful of poison oak here), comes out and follows a rambling course over the next half mile, in and out of another canyon, up and around some hillsides.  It’s overgrown in some places, and gets right up to the edge of the ridge, so be careful.

In half a mile (1.8 from the start), the trail reaches a junction on a ridge, where you get nice views of Topanga Canyon and the Saddle Peak ridge to the west.  The trails leading straight and to the right go to private property; the trail to the left follows the ridge for a little while.  This is a good place to turn around.

Retrace your steps, continuing past the junction (stay right).  The trail continues for a short distance, making a hairpin turn to the left and climbing to meet up with the paved service road.  Turn right and head steeply downhill for a quarter mile back to Hillside Drive.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Rivas Canyon Trail

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Greenery in Rivas Canyon

Late afternoon on the Rivas Canyon Trail

Rivas Canyon Trail

    • Location: Temescal Gateway Park.  From the Pacific Coast Highway, take Temescal Canyon Road for a mile to its end at Sunset Blvd. and drive into the park.  Park by the camp store.  The fee is $7 per day.  (Sometimes, free parking can be available on Sunset Blvd.)
    • Agency: Topanga State Park/Will Rogers State Historic Park/Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 4.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Difficulty Rating: PG (Steepness, elevation gain)
    • Best season:  October – June
    • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7

The Rivas Canyon trail links two of the most popular destinations in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains: Temescal Gateway Park and Will Rogers State Historic Park. As a self-contained hike, it’s both challenging and scenic, but it has the added benefit of providing access to additional trails, should you want to make a longer trip.

From the parking lot at Temescal Gateway Park, walk past the restrooms and the information center. Instead of heading left, as you would to to visit Skull Rock and the waterfall, head right at the split in the service road, and continue up to the signed Rivas Canyon Trail, indicating Will Rogers S.H.P. in 2.1 miles. The Rivas Trail wastes no time in ascending. As you climb, you get nice views of the hills above Temescal Canyon, and of the ocean. There are a few spots where false trails branch off but the main one should be pretty obvious; the signage here is good. After half a mile of steady ascent, the trail levels out somewhat and follows a course on the side of the ridge, taking in great views. Then it begins its descent into Rivas Canyon.

You switchback down the side of the ridge into a pleasantly quiet wooded ravine. At the bottom of the hill (1.5 miles from the start), head right at a split, on a trail signed for Will Rogers. You walk through a pleasant grove of sycamore trees, but as enjoyable as the scenery down here is, keep an eye out for poison oak. At two miles, after passing the back sides of some houses, you reach the end of Rivas Canyon Road, a private street.

This can be a good turnaround point, but if you want to continue into Will Rogers State Historic Park, pick up the trail across the way. You begin another climb, curving back toward the canyon and then finally making it into the state park’s boundaries. A wide, green field makes a nice place to stop for a snack before either turning around or continuing to explore the park.

Considering how close the Rivas Canyon trail is to Santa Monica and Los Angeles, and the popularity of the two parks it connects, it’s surprisingly lightly visited. On my weekday afternoon visit, the two parks had a lot of hikers, but on the Rivas trail itself, I only saw one jogger and two hikers, one of whom said as I approached, “Look…another human!”

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Trailer Canyon Fire Road

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View from the Temescal Ridge Fire Road

On the Trailer Canyon Fire Road

Trailer Canyon Fire Road

      • Location: Pacific Palisades, south of Topanga State Park.  From the western end of I-10 in Santa Monica, continue on Pacific Coast Highway for 4.4 miles to Sunset Blvd.  Turn right on Sunset, go 0.5 miles and turn left on Palisades.  Go 2.4 miles and turn left on Vereda de la Montura.  Take an immediate right on Michael Lane and drive 0.5 miles to a junction with the fire road.  Park on the street and follow the fire road to the signed Trailer Canyon trailhead.
      • Agency: Topanga State Park
      • Distance: 4.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
      • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season: Year round (Hot during the summer)
      • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
      • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles; sunblock
      • More information: here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6

The Trailer Canyon Fire Road is one of several access points in the southern end of Topanga State Park. The hike to the junction with the Temescal Ridge Fire Road, described here, is a nice, moderately challenging trip where hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of the ocean and canyons. Those with time and energy can extend the hike in either direction.

From Michael Lane, the trail ascends steadily, soon providing nice views of the canyon and its unique geology, including famous Eagle Rock. The grade is fairly consistent throughout, gaining a manageable 450 feet per mile. There is no shade, although with an early start, the hillside will probably block the sun.

After three quarters of a mile, you officially enter Topanga State Park. Shortly afterward, the trail curves south, providing views of the ocean, Catalina Island and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. After doubling back to the north, the road continues its climb. At the Temescal Fire Road, take a left and walk briefly to a flat spot where you can get a good aerial view of the canyon. On clear days, you can see Santa Barbara Island and even distant San Nicolas, appearing like a flat pancake on the ocean.

Text and photography copyright 2011 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Will Rogers State Historic Park: Inspiration Point and Backbone Trail

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Backbone Trail just above the footbridge

View from Inspiration Point, Will Rogers State Historic Park

Will Rogers State Historic Park: Inspiration Point and Backbone Trail

  • Location: 1501 Will Rogers State Park Road, Pacific Palisades.  Take I-10 to its end, where it becomes northbound Pacific Coast Highway.  Go 2.1 miles to Chautauqua Blvd. and turn right.  Go 0.9 miles and turn right on Sunset.  Go 0.6 miles and turn left on to Will Rogers State Park Road.  Drive a mile to the park entrance.  Parking is $12 per day per vehicle.
  • Agency: Will Rogers State Historic Park/Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 7

The land that comprises Will Rogers State Historic Park was once owned by the famous cowboy actor.  In addition to a number of hiking paths, the grounds also include his former ranch house, a polo field and more.  The easternmost state park in the Santa Monica Mountains and thus the closest to Los Angeles, Will Rogers State Historic Park is perhaps best known by hikers for Inspiration Point, but it also provides access to the eastern end of the Backbone Trail. The route described here visits both.

From the parking area between the polo field and the ranch house, head north along a paved road. It passes by an athletic field and heads on up toward some horse stables. Take a sharp right on a dirt fire road, signed for Inspiration Point. In just under a mile, you reach a junction. Look for a single-track trail on the left which climbs to join a fire road. Head left and you’ll soon arrive at Inspiration Point, where the clear-day views include the ocean, downtown Los Angeles, the San Gabriels and more.

Back at the junction, look for the Backbone Trail heading north into Topanga State Park (avoid the adjacent fire break). The trail climbs steadily, winding around the hills, taking in wider and wider views as it ascends. After crossing a footbridge, the Backbone Trail continues to climb, finally topping out at an unnamed peak, 0.9 miles from the Inspiration Point fire road. Here, you are rewarded for your efforts with a 360 degree view of the Santa Monicas, San Gabriels, the ocean and on clear days even the Santa Anas of Orange County.

Past this point, the Backbone Trail descends, and continues toward the center of Topanga State Park. You can continue to follow it to, well, 70 miles to Point Mugu, but for a nice afternoon’s hike, this is a good turnaround point.

Text and photography copyright 2011 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Bienvenida Loop (Topanga State Park)

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On the Bienvenida Trail, Topanga State Park

Hills on the Bienvenida Trail, Topanga State Park

Bienvenida Loop (Topanga State Park)

  • Location: Topanga State Park, between Malibu and Santa Monica.  From Santa Monica, take the Pacific Coast Highway and turn right on Temescal Canyon Road.  Go 1.1 miles to the end and turn left on Sunset.  Go 0.6 miles and turn right on Bienvenida.  Go for a mile and look for a signed entrance to Topanga State Park just before the gated community entrance.  Park on the corner of Floresta and Bienvenida and enter the park on the east side of Bienvenida.
  • Agency: Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 550 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • More information:  trail map here; video here
  • Rating: 5

This easy to miss entrance to Topanga State Park allows access to a wide variety of trails.  The short but vigorous loop here makes a great after-work excursion, but it can easily be extended to include Skull Rock and other destinations in Temescal Gateway Park an Topanga State Park.

From Bienvenida, follow the trail along a path between two houses, and begin switchbacking up a steep slope.  Soon you arrive at a junction where you head right.  The trail climbs and descends (several side-trails branch off, but the main route sticks close to the side of the hill.)  You get nice ocean views as you make your way to the Temescal Ridge Trail.  Head left at the junction and continue to make a steep climb (this is part of the popular loop from the Temescal Gateway trailhead to Skull Rock.)  In half a mile, you arrive at a four-way split.  The right trail heads back down to the parking area; the straight-ahead trail leads to Skull Rock.  Your route takes a sharp left on the Bienvenida Trail.

The next three quarters of a mile are very enjoyable, as the trail weaves in and out of some small canyons, with good ocean views.  At the first junction you came to, head right and retrace your steps back to Bienvenida Avenue.

Text and photography copyright 2011 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.