Chumash Indian Trail (Zuma Canyon)
- Location: Malibu. From Pacific Coast Highway (20 miles northwest of Santa Monica; 25 miles southeast of Oxnard) head north on Busch Drive. Follow it 1.4 miles to its ending at the signed Zuma Ridge Trailhead.
- Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
- Distance: 4.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: All year but hot during the summer
- USGS topo map: “Point Dume”
- Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; long pants and long-sleeved shirts
- More information: Zuma/Trancas homepage here; Zuma Ridge motorway information here
- Rating: 6
Not to be confused with the Chumash Trails of Point Mugu and Simi Valley, the Chumash Indian Trail is an unmaintained but authorized route, leading southwest from the Zuma Ridge Motorway. As of this writing the lower portion of the trail is in very poor shape and not recommended, but the uppermost half mile, while overgrown, is easily navigable. The hike described here primarily uses the lower 1.5 miles of the Zuma Ridge Motorway to access the Chumash Indian Trail, following it to a knoll with some panoramic ocean and mountain views. Though the fire road is exposed, Malibu’s mild year round climate, plus pleasant ocean breezes along the ridge, make this a sensible summer hike, given an early start and adequate sun protection and water (at least 3 pints.)
From the Zuma Ridge Trailhead, follow the fire road as it switchbacks and ascends steadily up the west side of the canyon. As with the northern portion of the Zuma Ridge Motorway, even hikers who don’t enjoy fire roads will likely be impressed by the aerial views of the canyon, which rival those of the single-track Ocean View Trail on the opposite side. One mile from the start, you reach a saddle where the vistas on both sides are particularly impressive; immediately to the west you’ll see the ridge that the Chumash Indian Trail follows and the bump that marks the end of the hike.
After more steady climbing, look for an obscure trail on the left 1.5 miles and 825 vertical feet from the start. The trail appears to be overgrown but is nevertheless marked by a faint, dilapidated sign. Follow the trail southwest through thick coastal sage scrub and chaparral. The vegetation provides some shade but also blocks out the views, although before long the trail opens up and begins a steep descent to a saddle. From here, a short climb brings you to a bump (2.1 miles from the start) where you can enjoy views of Point Dume to the south, Nicholas Ridge to the west and Zuma Canyon to the east.
This is a good turnaround spot for a casual day hike. You can extend the trip by continuing downhill to another vista point in 0.3 miles. Beyond that, the trail deteriorates past the point of being enjoyable and any further descent has to be made up on the return. Some maps show the Chumash Indian Trail continuing all the way down to Morning View Drive in Malibu, making a possible theoretical loop that would return to the Zuma Ridge Trailhead via residential streets, but according the National Park Service map, private property starts somewhere below this point.
Text and photography copyright 2015 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.