Rivas Canyon Trail

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Greenery in Rivas Canyon
Late afternoon on the Rivas Canyon Trail

Rivas Canyon Trail

    • 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.  (Sometimes, free parking can be available on Sunset Blvd.)
    • Agency: Topanga State Park/Will Rogers State Historic Park/Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 4.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Difficulty Rating: PG (Steepness, elevation gain)
    • Best season:  October – June
    • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7

The Rivas Canyon trail links two of the most popular destinations in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains: Temescal Gateway Park and Will Rogers State Historic Park. As a self-contained hike, it’s both challenging and scenic, but it has the added benefit of providing access to additional trails, should you want to make a longer trip.

From the parking lot at Temescal Gateway Park, walk past the restrooms and the information center. Instead of heading left, as you would to to visit Skull Rock and the waterfall, head right at the split in the service road, and continue up to the signed Rivas Canyon Trail, indicating Will Rogers S.H.P. in 2.1 miles. The Rivas Trail wastes no time in ascending. As you climb, you get nice views of the hills above Temescal Canyon, and of the ocean. There are a few spots where false trails branch off but the main one should be pretty obvious; the signage here is good. After half a mile of steady ascent, the trail levels out somewhat and follows a course on the side of the ridge, taking in great views. Then it begins its descent into Rivas Canyon.

You switchback down the side of the ridge into a pleasantly quiet wooded ravine. At the bottom of the hill (1.5 miles from the start), head right at a split, on a trail signed for Will Rogers. You walk through a pleasant grove of sycamore trees, but as enjoyable as the scenery down here is, keep an eye out for poison oak. At two miles, after passing the back sides of some houses, you reach the end of Rivas Canyon Road, a private street.

This can be a good turnaround point, but if you want to continue into Will Rogers State Historic Park, pick up the trail across the way. You begin another climb, curving back toward the canyon and then finally making it into the state park’s boundaries. A wide, green field makes a nice place to stop for a snack before either turning around or continuing to explore the park.

Considering how close the Rivas Canyon trail is to Santa Monica and Los Angeles, and the popularity of the two parks it connects, it’s surprisingly lightly visited. On my weekday afternoon visit, the two parks had a lot of hikers, but on the Rivas trail itself, I only saw one jogger and two hikers, one of whom said as I approached, “Look…another human!”

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.


    1. Yeah – that’s true! I mean, what do they think people are going to do, street race in the Temescal Gateway parking lot?

  1. Hi. I hiked the Rose Valley Falls Trail and made a blogpost. I included a link to your site because I found out about that trail because of this helpful site. I hope you don’t mind.

  2. i have been hiking these trails for years. before they were actually even linked. sometimes we literally had to crawl when the chaparral got bad. I’m excited to see how its been maintained!

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