Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Cellular Service General information: Waterfall hikes Rating: 4-6 Santa Monica Mountains (East) Season: All year

Temescal Canyon Loop and Skull Rock


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As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook!

Skull Rock
Skull Rock
Sycamores in the bottom of Temescal Canyon
Sycamores in the bottom of Temescal Canyon

Text and photography copyright 2010 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.  The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here.   Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Temescal Canyon Loop and Skull Rock

  • 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.
  • Agency: Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 6

This popular trail is another example of how L.A. residents don’t need to drive too far to hike in the summer.   The Temescal Canyon trail does pay a price for its popularity–it is perhaps the only hike I’ve ever been on where I’ve seen graffiti on cacti–and it takes a while to escape the noise from the nearby Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Boulevard, but it does offer a nice variety of scenery and a good, quick workout.

The loop can be hiked in either direction.  If the day is cool, hike clockwise (as described here); if it is warm, hike counter-clockwise, so your ascent is in the shade.

From the parking lot, follow the signs for the trails.  You ascend a few stairs, ignore a trail branching off to the left, and arrive at a split.  The right (straight) fork is your return route; you take a sharp left and continue the climb.  The trail quickly switchbacks up the side of a ridge, passing the state park boundary and taking in views of the ocean.  Undoubtedly you will have to stop and catch your breath a few times.  After half a mile or so, the trail levels out and soon begins another ascent, arriving at a bump on the hillside with views of the Santa Monica bay, and on clear days, the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  After dipping down into chaparral, the trail climbs again and makes some wider switchbacks.  Keep right at the two side trail junctions you’ll see, and in a mile and a half or so from the beginning, you arrive at the trail to Skull Rock.

This half-mile spur takes you to the appropriately named geological landmark.  Bear right at a junction and soon you will see Skull Rock.  Unfortunately, the graffiti here is pretty bad, but you can still see the interesting wind-carved caves inside the rock and get a nice view of the ocean.

After retracing your steps, continue down the loop trail, passing by a seasonal waterfall.  Even if there is no flow, the canyon is an attractive place, shaded by oaks and sycamores.  Half a mile from the waterfall, enter a clearing, where the trail bears to the right, passes a few maintenance buildings on the left and follows a ridge where it arrives at the first junction.

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