Vanalden Caves and Vista
- Location: San Fernando Valley. From Highway 101, take the Tampa Ave. exit and head south (left if you’re coming from L.A., right if from the west). Take a quick left on Ventura Blvd., go 0.2 miles and turn right on Vanalden Ave. Follow Vanalden three miles to a dead end, where the trail starts.
- Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
- Distance: 1.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 300 feet
- Suggested time: 1 hour
- Difficulty Rating: G
- Best season: Year round
- USGS topo map: “Canoga Park”
- Recommended gear: insect repellent
- More information: Article here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 5
Like Bonita Canyon Falls in the San Gabriels, the Vanalden Caves on the south edge of the San Fernando Valley is an example of how something that seems too good to be true is just that. In this case, the destination is a large sandstone cave, with several holes in the top that allow looking in from above, only a short drive from the Valley. The catch: graffiti, trash, and lots of it. Still, the trail makes a nice excursion and allows San Fernando Valley hikers to see some interesting geology, even if it’s not exactly as nature intended it. The Vanalden Trail also serves as an access point to longer hikes on Dirt Mulholland and the northern end of Topanga State Park.
From the end of Vanalden, head south on the single-track trail. At 0.2 miles, head left at the fork (the right trail heads up to the dirt road.) Follow the trail around the side of the ridge, and descend into a wooded area. The trail drops to a creek bed and continues east, but you will turn right and head south into a small canyon. A short walk along the left side of the creek bed brings you to the cave.
The cave is large, and you can see the sky through some holes in its ceiling. If you are feeling brave, you can climb a narrow trail along the right side of the cave, to its roof. The trail is short and easy to follow, but it also leads along the very edge of a 20-foot drop, so be careful.
Many people simply turn around at the cave but less than half a mile away is a vista point that’s well worth the detour. To get there, continue up the main trail to Dirt Mulholland. On the opposite side, pick up a service road leading past the water tank to a single-track trail. In a short distance, you will come to a round knoll from which you can enjoy a panoramic view of the northeastern Santa Monica Mountains. For those who want a longer hike, the trail continues off the ridge and down into a remote area of Topanga State Park.
Text and photography copyright 2017 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.