Nicholas Flat Loop/Malibu Springs Trail

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Featured in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook!

Cattle pond at Nicholas Flat
Ocean view from Nicholas Flat

Nicholas Flat Loop (with pond)

  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Malibu.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway for 27 miles.   Head north (right) on Mulholland Highway, go 3.2 miles and park in the small, easy to miss turnout for the Malibu Springs trail on the right just before mile marker 3.22.  From the Valley, take Highway 101 to Kanan Road.  Turn left and follow Kanan for 6.2 miles.  Bear right on Mulholland Highway, go 0.9 miles and merge onto Encinal Canyon Road.  Go 3.5 miles and turn right on Lechusa Road.  Go 0.1 miles and turn right on Highway 23.  Go 0.8 miles and make a hard left on Mulholland Highway.  The trail head will be on your left in 4 miles (just before mile marker 3.14).  From points west, take Highway 101 to Highway 23/Westlake Blvd.  Head south for 7 miles to Mulholland Highway, turn right and follow the road 4 miles to the trail head on the left.
  • Agency:  Leo Carillo State Park/Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (Circle X Ranch)
  • Distance: 6.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness, distance)
  • Best season:  October to June
  • USGS topo map: “Triunfo Pass”
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles
  • More information:  trip reports here, here  and here; Everytrail report here; area trail map here
  • Rating: 7

The back country of Leo Carillo State Park offers a network of trails that allows a wide variety of hiking experiences, ranging from short easy outings to challenging half-day treks.  This hike falls into the latter category.  However, while the effort required is considerable, the scenic payoffs make it worthwhile.  On clear days, the hike offers excellent ocean and mountain views; on days heavy with the marine layer, the mist over the groves of oaks and the meadow helps create a feeling of being away from it all.

The Malibu Springs Trail is one of the two foot paths that climbs up the ridge.  It links Mulholland Highway to Nicholas Flats and is actually under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, therefore dogs are allowed (although not once it gets into state park land).  From the highway, the trail climbs steadily, gaining 1,250 feet in under two miles.  As you ascend, you get an aerial perspective on Mulholland Highway and Arroyo Sequit.  The trail moves through attractive stands of oaks providing welcome shade, although be careful of poison oak.

At 1.9 miles, you reach a fork, marking the entrance into Leo Carillo State Park and the beginning of the loop.  You can hike in either direction; if you want to get more climbing out of the way, turn right on the Ridgeline Trail (as described here.)  Follow it uphill for about 0.3 miles and 250 feet more of climbing before it levels out.  You follow the ridge south through oak and chaparral, getting views of the ocean straight ahead.

At 2.6 miles, you reach a junction with the Meadow Trail.  This is an option if you want to shorten your trip, but to get some more nice ocean views, continue on the Ridgeline Trail to a T-junction with the Nicholas Flat Trail, which climbs all the way up from the ocean.  Follow the ridge, getting some more good ocean views, to Nicholas Flat, a wide meadow.  You reach a 4-way junction; take the right fork which is the Pond Trail.  It leads to a small seasonal pond which makes a nice stopping point even if the water level is low; you can rest on a bench beneath two oaks.

Continuing past the pond, you reach a junction with the Meadows Trail.  Turn right, cross a footbridge and turn left almost immediately at the next junction on the Nicholas Flat Trail.  It leads through an impressive grove of oaks, reaching Decker School Road (4.5 miles from the start).  The path continues on the opposite side of the road through a field, climbing briefly uphill past some stumps of eucalyptus trees.  Look for another trail veering off to the left (4.7 miles) and follow it back to the junction with the Malibu Springs Trail.  Retrace your steps back down the ridge to the starting point.

If the trip sounds a little complicated, don’t worry; the park is fairly well signed and this route doesn’t have to be followed exactly for one to experience the Malibu Springs Trail and Nicholas Flat.

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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