Nicholas Flat Trail
- Location: Leo Carillo State Park, 35000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. From the end of I-10 in Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway northwest for 27.3 miles. The park will be on the right, shortly past the intersection with Decker Road (Highway 23) and before Mulholland. From the Valley, take Highway 101 to Kanan Road. Go south on Kanan for 6.5 miles and turn right on Mulholland. Go 0.9 miles and bear left on Encinal Canyon Road. Follow Encinal Canyon for a total of 8.5 miles to Pacific Coast Highway (taking a sharp left after 3.5 miles.) Turn right on P.C.H. and drive three miles to the park. Day use is $12 per vehicle. Free parking may be available on Pacific Coast Highway.
- Agency: Leo Carillo State Park
- Distance: 4.8 miles (Round trip from parking lot to vista point)
- Elevation gain: 1,700 feet (to vista point)
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: September – June
- USGS topo map: “Truinfo Pass”
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: Weak at parking area and near top; none in between
- Water: Available at campground, not on the trail
- Restrooms: At campground (token-operated showers also available)
- Camping/backpacking: At campground; no backpacking options for the trail
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; trail profile here
- Rating: 7
The Nicholas Flat Trail climbs relentlessly from the coastline to the bluffs high above western Malibu, rewarding hikers with panoramic ocean and mountain views for their efforts. After all the huffing and puffing, the trail arrives at scenic Nicholas Flat, a pastoral sky island with meadows, oaks and a seasonal pond. Since Nicholas Flat is already covered in this write-up of the north approach via the Malibu Springs Trail, this post uses the 1,737-foot high vista point slightly south of the flat as its destination.
Begin by following the Camp 13 trail a short distance to the beginning of the Nicholas Flat Trail. Here, there’s a junction with the Willow Creek Trail. Both trails lead uphill for 0.9 mile where they rejoin at a spur leading to a vista point, making a popular loop hike that can be a good, easier alternative on hot days. At the intersection, the Nicholas Flat Trail begins its push north, following a ridge between San Nicholas Canyon and the Arroyo Sequit (and Mulholland Highway). The stretch immediately after the junction is fairly level but the trail soon makes a very steep ascent. At 1.4 miles, a small vista point with a good aerial view of the Arroyo Sequit canyon makes for a nice resting spot.
The trail bends to the right, skirting the western edge of the rocky canyon carved by Willow Creek. After a tight pair of switchbacks, the grade finally starts to level out and some tall chaparral provides a little shade. At 2.3 miles you reach the spur to the vista point. Follow it uphill for 0.1 mile into the open, where you can enjoy views of the coastline to the south, Boney Mountain to the west and Nicholas Flat to the north.
To extend the hike, retrace your steps back to the junction and continue east on the Nicholas Flat Trail. Soon you reach a junction with the Ridgeline Trail that heads north along the west side of the flat, eventually meeting the Malibu Springs Trail. The Nicholas Flat Trail continues east (right), soon reaching another vista point and then the pond.
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.