Skull Rock, Temescal Canyon, CA

Temescal Canyon Loop and Skull Rock

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  • 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. Make the first left and follow the driveway to the lower lot where the Temescal Canyon Trail begins. Parking is $10 per vehicle (credit cards accepted, cash accepted but change not given). Alternately, you can park outside on Temescal Canyon Road for free and walk in. Metro Bus route 602 and Big Blue Bus route 9 both stop outside the park entrance.
  • Agency: Topanga State Park/Temescal Gateway Park
  • Distance: 4.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,150 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain)
  • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer (best after recent rains)
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Good at the trail head and on the ridges; weak to none in the canyon
  • Water: Fountains at the trail head
  • Restrooms: Available at the trail head
  • Camping/backpacking: None (nearest is Musch Meadows Campground, Topanga State Park)
  • Recommended gear: Hiking poles
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here (some of the routes vary); video of the waterfalls here and here
  • Rating: 7

Updated February 2019

Here is one of the most popular hikes in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains. The short but vigorous loop features ocean views, an attractive canyon, famous Skull Rock and – if there have been recent rains – a pair of seasonal waterfalls. The hike has its drawbacks, notably traffic noise near the beginning and graffiti and trash at Skull Rock, but it is scenic variety makes it an essential Santa Monica Mountains hike.

Begin by following the trail into lower Temescal Canyon. Stay on the right side of the creek before crossing it on a footbridge. In 0.4 mile, you reach a junction. The right fork heads back to the parking area; the left and middle forks are the start of the loop. If you are hiking in the morning, it’s best to do the loop clockwise as described here; in the afternoon, go counter clockwise so you can make your ascent in the shade and catch the sunset on your way down.

From the junction, head left and begin a stiff ascent, picking up 500 feet in the next 0.8 mile. At about 0.4 mile from the junction, you are rewarded for your efforts as the trail levels out, reaching a vista with a wide view of the ocean. Continuing uphill, you pass a junction with the El Medeo Trail and reach the Leacock Memorial Trail (1.2 miles from the start), coming up from Bienvenida Ave. The next 0.6 miles shares the route with the Bienvenida Loop. You continue the ascent, picking up another 300 feet skirting the edge of the canyon and following a ridge before reaching the next junction. Here, the Bienvenida Trail heads downhill to the left. Your route is straight, soon reaching a turnoff for Skull Rock. If you are short on time, you can skip the Skull Rock detour by heading right and downhill.

To continue to Skull Rock, follow the trail uphill for half a mile, soon getting a glimpse of the formation sticking out from the hillside. As you pass it, notice a use trail on the left. Scramble through the growth to reach the backside of Skull Rock.

After enjoying the ocean views, retrace your steps back to the junction and continue your descent. About half a mile below the junction, you reach the waterfall. The upper tier can be seen from the footbridge; a short but potentially tricky rock scramble (watch out for poison oak) just beyond the bridge brings you to the 10-foot lower tier. After returning to the main trail, you continue your descent down oak and sycamore shaded Temescal Canyon. At the picnic area, turn left and follow a single-track trail that passes above the buildings before reaching the first junction. From here, retrace your steps 0.4 mile back to the parking lot.

Temescal Canyon Trail
Start of the hike, lower parking lot
Temescal Canyon, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Turnoff for Skull Rock
Skull Rock, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Approaching Skull Rock
Trail to Skull Rock, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Use trail to Skull Rock
Skull Rock, Santa Monica Mountains
Skull Rock
Temescal Canyon waterfall, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Waterfall as seen from the footbridge (February 2019)
Waterfall, Temescal Canyon, CA
Lower waterfall tier (February 2019)
Picnic area, Temescal Canyon, Pacific Palisades, CA
The picnic area

Text and photography copyright 2019 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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