La Jolla Valley Loop via Chumash Trail (Point Mugu State Park)
- Location: Western end of Point Mugu State Park, in Ventura County. From the end of I-10 in Santa Monica, take the Pacific Coast Highway for 36 miles. The Chumash Trail is on the north side of the road (right), across from an orange lookout tower, past the other two entrances to the park (La Jolla and Big Sycamore). From the San Fernando Valley, take Highway 101 to the Lewis Road/Route 34 exit (35 miles west of I-405). Go south for 5.4 miles on Lewis (it changes to Hueneme Road on the way) and turn left on Las Posas. Go 3 miles and turn left onto Pacific Coast Highway. Go 2.3 miles and look for the parking lot on the left. From Santa Barbara and Ventura, take highway 101 to exit 62/Pacific Coast Highway and follow it southeast for 13 miles.
- Agency: Point Mugu State Park
- Distance: 6.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, distance, elevation gain)
- Best season: October to May
- USGS topo maps: “Point Mugu”
- Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
- More information: Chumash Trail info and photos here and here; alternate route through the loop (including Mugu Peak) here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 8
This challenging and scenic route is like several smaller hikes rolled into one: a trip through a meadow with panoramic views, a pleasant walk through a quiet, shaded canyon–and an extremely steep climb and descent. There are several possible variations to the route; it can easily be shortened or extended.
The Chumash Trail is the westernmost trail in Point Mugu State Park, cutting through an area that could be described as the Santa Monica Mountains’ last stand before dropping to the ocean and the coastal plain of Ventura and Camarillo. It’s closer to Santa Barbara than L.A., but can still be reached in about an hour from Santa Monica along P.C.H. The small parking lot that provides access to the Chumash Trail is the westernmost of Point Mugu State Park’s three Pacific Cost Highway entrances. It’s the only one too with free parking – although the steepness of the Chumash Trail could be seen as a price of sorts.
From the parking lot, the Chumash Trail ascends at a grade that may make you question the presence of a benevolent higher power. The good news is that as you climb up the hill, you’ll get great views of the ocean, and the Channel Islands. Expect to spend at least half an hour on this 0.7 mile stretch, which climbs nearly 900 feet. Several false trails branch off but the main route is usually pretty clear. About half way up, the trail splits but soon comes back together. At this point, the grade lessens slightly, but you’ll undoubtedly be huffing and puffing by the time you arrive at the juncture with the trail to Mugu Peak.
This route heads left, up to a saddle where another trail to Mugu Peak branches off. Stay straight, and begin a slight descent into La Jolla Valley. Here, you get a payoff for your earlier efforts. La Jolla Valley is true example of a land that time forgot. When you’re walking through the wide meadow, it’s hard to believe you’re in So Cal. Rolling hills dominate the foreground, while Boney Mountain lurks off to the northeast. Other than some satellite equipment on the hills and an occasional aircraft overhead, there are virtually no signs of civilization.
At 1.1 miles, the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail (your return route) comes in from the right. Stay straight; pass through a grove of oaks and make your way northeast. Another path branches off to the right, but you stay straight and soon arrive at the La Jolla Valley Campground. Just before you get there, you’ll cross a footbridge that may look unstable, but the plywood surface is backed up by more
solid beams underneath.
The La Jolla Valley Campground has a few shaded picnic tables. This can be a nice place to stop for a break before continuing (2.5 miles from the start). Shortly past the campground, you’ll turn right on the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail. (You can extend the trip by continuing northeast, where several other trails soon intersect.)
The La Jolla Valley Loop Trail heads south, through a canyon and past a small pond. Here you get the first real shade of the hike, mainly from tall chaparral, and a few oaks. After 1.2 miles (4 miles from the start), you’ll come to a split. The La Jolla Canyon Trail heads south toward Pacific Coast Highway, while our route heads west (right), cutting alongside the hill. You get a few glimpses of the ocean during this stretch (which is also part of the route to Mugu Peak described on this site.)
After 0.9 miles, the Mugu Peak trail branches off to the left (it’s a more challenging alternate to this route; it also eventually leads back to the Chumash Trail). Another trail heads right soon afterward, but we continue straight on the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail. It crosses a small canyon which may have some water if there’s been rain, and re-enters La Jolla Valley. At 5.7 miles from the start, you complete the loop. Head left, up the hill and out of the valley, and back toward the Chumash Trail. This is a good place to take a break and admire the scenery; it’s best to make the steep descent with fresh legs.
The variety and quality of the scenery on this trip is more proof that while Point Mugu State Park might not be terribly convenient, it’s one of the best places to hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, and well worth the effort to get there.
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.