Alta Vicente Reserve
This double loop around the Alta Vicente Reserve is one of the more interesting short hikes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Although civilization is never far away, the variety of scenery, including views of Catalina Island, the Santa Monica Mountains and possibly even the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains, make it a worthwhile trip and one that can be done virtually all year round (good to keep in mind during heat waves). Vegetation includes cacti, coastal sage scrub oak and more.
The Alta Vicente Reserve is the type of place that’s enjoyable for a stroll of any length without a particular objective or destination. The route described here doesn’t have to be followed exactly for the hike to be fun and navigation can be surprisingly confusing at times, although it’s hard to get too lost in this 55-acre park.
From the north side of the parking lot, follow the signed North Spur Trail downhill, at first through vegetation and then into the open, taking in nice views of the coastline below. At 0.2 miles, you reach the main route through the park, the Alta Vicente Trail. Turn left and follow it along the bluffs above Palos Verdes Drive West and the Point Vicente Reserve. You pass a junction on the right leading to a dead end and one on the left (the South Spur Trail) which heads back to the parking lot. Soon after, veer left and begin a short but steep climb up the bluffs, reaching a junction with the Nike Trail at 0.6 miles. This is your return route; continue ahead on the Alta Vicente Trail to another junction with the Prickly Pear Trail.
This next loop (about 0.7 miles) can be hiked in either direction. To break up the ascent, consider hiking counter-clockwise as described here. The Alta Vicente Trail descends sharply, passing by a field with abandoned farming equipment and joining the lower end of the Prickly Pear Trail, at this point a fire road. The trail passes some private buildings and begins a steep climb through thickets of, as its name would promise, prickly pear cacti. Fortunately the spines have been trimmed, although there are plenty exposed cacti elsewhere on the trail.
Another short but steep climb brings you to a ridge where the Prickly Pear Trail heads left through a vacant lot. After leaving the lot it briefly follows the top of the bluffs, providing excellent views of the Terrenea Resort, the Point Vicente Reserve and Catalina Island. It descends back to the Alta Vicente Trail at 1.3 miles; here turn right and retrace your steps to the Nike Trail which ascends toward the parking area. After a junction with the top end of the South Spur Trail, continue along an unsigned dirt path that traces the upper rim of the bluffs, passing by a picnic table (1.5 miles). At 1.7 miles, the trail ends at a parking lot. Walk past some city buildings and picnic tables to complete the loop at the North Spur trailhead.
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.