Alta Vicente Reserve

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Catalina Island as seen from the Alta Vicente Reserve, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Catalina Island from the Alta Vicente Reserve
Prickly Pear Trail, Alta Vicente Reserve, CA
How the Prickly Pear Trail got its name.

Alta Vicente Reserve

  • Location: Upper Point Vicente Park, 30940 Hawthorne Blvd, Rancho Palos Verdes. From downtown Redondo Beach, take Palos Verdes Drive West south from Pacific Coast Highway. Follow it 4.8 miles to Hawthorne Blvd. and turn left. The park entrance will be on the right in 0.5 miles. Park in the lot behind the administrative buildings. From San Pedro/Long Beach, take the 110 or 47 Freeways to Gaffey St. Bear left onto Gaffey, go 0.2 miles and turn right onto 1st St. Go one mile and turn left onto Western/Highway 213. Go 1.7 miles and turn right onto 25th St. Follow 25th St., which becomes Palos Verdes Drive South, for a total of 6.6 miles to Hawthorne Blvd. Turn right and drive 0.5 miles to the park entrance, on the right.
  • Agency: Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 45 minutes
  • Best season: Year-round
  • USGS topo map: Redondo Beach
  • More information: here; here
  • Rating: 4

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.

Alta Vicente Reserve, Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
0:00 – North Spur trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
Alta Vicente Trail, Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
0:20 – Descending the Alta Vicente Trail at the junction with the Prickly Pear Trail (times are approximate)

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.

Alta Vicente Trail, Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
0:25 – Farming gear near the bottom of the Alta Vicente 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.

Alta Vicente Reserve, Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
1:24 – View from just past the upper junction with the South Spur 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.

Picnic table, Alta Vicente Reserve, Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
1:30 – Picnic table

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.

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