Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 4-6 Santa Monica Mountains (West) Season: All year

Nicholas Ridge Motorway


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Ocean view, Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains
Ocean view, Nicholas Ridge Motorway (turnaround point is the hill in the center)
View from the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, western Malibu
Looking west toward Nicholas Flat

Nicholas Ridge Motorway

    • Location: Northwest of Malibu. From Pacific Coast Highway, 21 miles south of Ventura and 25 miles north of Santa Monica, take Decker Canyon Road (Highway 23) north for 2.4 miles to Decker School Road (a Y-intersection that is easy to miss). Bear left onto Decker School Road and follow it 1.5 miles to its end, where there are a few parking spots in a small lot shaded by oaks. From Highway 101, take the Westlake Blvd/Highway 23 exit and head south for 9.3 miles. Take a hard right on Decker School Road and follow it 1.5 miles to its end. (Note: if you’re coming from the north, don’t turn on Decker School Lane; you want Decker School Road which is about a mile farther south.)
    • Agency: Leo Carillo State Park; Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
    • Distance: 4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 900 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season: All year but hot during the summer
    • USGS topo map: “Truinfo Pass”
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trail map from Go Breadcrumbs here (stops at the “official” ending point of the motorway); map of parcels of land adjacent to Leo Carillo State Park that the NPS hopes to acquire, including the lower end of the Motorway (in black) here
    • Rating: 6
Nicholas Pond Trail Head, Leo Carillo State Park, Malibu CA
0:00 – Start of the hike, Nicholas Pond Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Nicholas Ridge Motorway is a fire road running down the eastern edge of Leo Carillo State Park, following a ridge between Nicholas Canyon and Decker Canyon. The road runs, in one form or another, all the way from the Pacific Coast Highway to the Nicholas Flat area of Leo Carillo State Park but the lower section of the trail is steep, loose, rocky, overgrown and not all that enjoyable, except for diehards. The 4-mile hike described here, which descends to an overlook and climbs steeply back up the exposed fire road, is the most sensible way to explore the Nicholas Ridge Motorway. This lightly traveled trail is a good destination for hikers who feel as if they’ve seen it all when it comes to the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:10 - Start of the Nicholas Ridge Motorway (times are approximate)
0:10 – Start of the Nicholas Ridge Motorway (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the Nicholas Pond Trail through an attractive grove of oaks. Enjoy the shade; it’s the last of it you’ll see. At about a third of a mile, you meet a T-junction. The right fork heads toward the cattle pond and the interior of Leo Carillo State Park’s high country; the Nicholas Ridge Motorway heads left. Follow it through a meadow where it climbs through a thicket of chaparral to a saddle, dips briefly and climbs to a second bump.

Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu CA
0:17 – Beginning the descent on the Nicholas Ridge Motorway

Here, you can enjoy a nearly 360-degree view including the ocean, the Boney Mountain complex, Nicholas Flat and more, before beginning the descent. Head right (the left fork leads to private land) and follow the ridge, gradually at first, then steeply. After passing by an abandoned trail branching to the left, the motorway skirts the edge of Decker Canyon, providing some dramatic views.

Ocean view from the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA
0:28 – Looking west from the Nicholas Ridge Motorway near the first turn-off

A second trail (1.5 miles from the start) branches off to the right, but again you stay straight. A sign marks the end of the motorway but the trail continues downhill, bending southeast, passing by a fence marking off the Malibu Riding & Tennis Club’s property. (Some maps show the motorway descending to the west, but as of this writing, that leg is clearly off limits.)

Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA
0:38 – Note the pole on the right marking the “official” end of the trail past the second turn off, about 1.5 miles from the start

Your descent continues to a knoll about 800 feet above sea level. Here, you can an enjoy a 180-degree view before making the steep climb back to the Nicholas Pond Trail.

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

Ocean view from the end of the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA
0:48 – Ocean view from the turnaround point
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