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. 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.
- Location: Calabasas, near Malibu Creek State Park. From Highway 101, take the Las Virgenes exit (32) and head south for 3.3 miles. Turn right on Mulholland Highway. At 1.9 miles, look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road. Park here, walk a little farther down the road and cross the street to the signed Phantom Trailhead. From Pacific Coast Highway, take Malibu Canyon Road north for 6.3 miles (it becomes Las Virgenes along the way) and turn left on Mulholland.
- Agency: Malibu Creek State Park
- Distance: 5.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, trail condition, navigation)
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo maps: Malibu Beach
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
- More information: trip report here
- Rating: 7
There aren’t many hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains that offer both panoramic views and quiet, secluded canyons, but the Phantom Trail is one of them. The scenic variety on this trail, which includes great aerial views of Malibu Creek State Park, the San Fernando Valley and a wide stretch of the Santa Monica Mountains, makes it one of the better trips in the area. Although the summer heat around here is notorious, large portions of this trail are shaded, so with good timing–and extra water–it should be doable. Keep in mind that this hike has a lot of up and down and that the return trip actually has more elevation gain, so a late afternoon/early evening start can work in your favor.
From Mulholland, the Phantom Trail ascends quickly, soon arriving at a ridge. On the left (west), the view includes Sugarloaf, Castro Peak, Ladyface and several other summits (clear-day views may stretch all the way to the Boney Mountain complex). On the right, you can see Saddle Peak and most of Malibu Creek State Park. The trail bypasses several of the small bumps along the ridge, sticking at first to the east side and then making a westward descent into a canyon. The signage is pretty clear, but some of the fire breaks that cross the trail may cause some confusion, so use trail ducks if necessary.
After leaving the canyon, the trail swings back around toward the east. A false trail leads off to the left (make a note of this on your return trip; if you don’t see the sign it’s easy to take the wrong fork). Head right, and enter a pleasant wooded canyon. The descent continues, finally arriving at a meadow.
The Phantom Trail continues past the meadow, eventually hooking up with Liberty Canyon Road, but the last stretch is overgrown with thistle plants and becomes hard to follow. If you want the bragging rights of having completed the Phantom Trail, go for it, but most hikers will probably be happy to make the meadow their turnaround point. The real high-point of the trip, arguably, is the last leg of the return, when you see great views of Malibu Creek State Park on the descent to Mulholland.