Yellow Hill Fire Road
- Location: Intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Mulholland Highway, between Malibu and Point Mugu. From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway northwest for 27.4 miles and park where possible on the south side of the highway. From Oxnard, take the Pacific Coast Highway south for 18 miles to the intersection with Mulholland.
- Agency: Leo Carillo State Park/Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area
- Distance: 4.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: Triunfo Canyon
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
- More information: Trip report here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
This no-nonsense hike is a prime example of delayed gratification. For the thankless task of a steep, exposed ascent, you are rewarded with panoramic ocean and mountain vistas, including (pending good visibility) Anacapa, Santa Cruz and Catalina Islands, Point Dume, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the higher peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains. If you are lucky, you may spot distant Santa Barbara and San Nicolas Islands and Old Saddleback in Orange County.
It may be possible to park right by the trailhead, but space there is limited so your best bet is to shoot for parking on the south side of Pacific Coast Highway (which may be also be crowded, especially on weekends.) You can run across the highway to Mulholland, or if you are nervous about doing that, you can head south into the park, turn left on the service road and cross underneath PCH. (You will still have to cross Mulholland, but that road is narrow with light traffic.)
On the west (left) side of Mulholland, about a hundred yards north of P.C.H., look for a gated fire road heading uphill. You begin a steady climb, taking in nice ocean and mountain views on the way up. At about 1.5 miles, you’ll pass through a metal gate and shortly after you reach a 4-way intersection, the beginning of the loop portion of the hike.
You can take the loop in either direction, but the easier way is to continue on the more moderately graded fire road, straight ahead. You wrap around the west side of the hill, passing a sign designating the entrance to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (in case you were wondering).
At 2.3 miles, you reach a junction. The fire road continues higher into the mountains, an option if you want to extend the hike. For this route however, take a hard right and make a short climb to a 1,366-foot knoll. Here, you can enjoy a great view before heading back down.
You can return via the same route, but to shave off a little distance, you can also continue straight downhill on a steep single-track, with some wide-ranging ocean views in front of you. After passing a rusty water tank, you rejoin the fire road. Turn left and retrace your steps back down the hill.
Text and photography copyright 2013 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.