Cameron Nature Preserve, Malibu, CA

Cameron Nature Preserve to Mesa Peak

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Cameron Nature Preserve to Mesa Peak

  • Location: Malibu. From Pacific Coast Highway (33 miles east of Oxnard, 1.2 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road and 14 miles west of Santa Monica), go north on Puerco Canyon Road for 0.4 miles to its ending at the Cameron Nature Preserve. Limited parking is available on the right side of the road. If parking is unavailable here, park farther down the street toward P.C.H.
  • Agency: Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (Cameron Nature Preserve)
  • Distance: 6.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,550 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash
  • Cell phone reception: Weak
  • Restrooms: None
  • Water: None
  • Camping/backpacking: Nearest campground is at Malibu Creek State Park
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles sunblock sun hat
  • More information: Write-ups about the preserve here and here

Mesa Peak can be reached from the east via Malibu Creek State Park, from the west via Corral Canyon (both along the Backbone Trail) and thanks to director James Cameron, from the south via the Puerco Canyon Motorway. You don’t have to be a fan of “Titanic” or “Avatar” to appreciate Cameron’s contribution to outdoor recreation in the Santa Monica Mountains. In 2014, the preserve was opened after Cameron sold 703 acres of land to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority for a discounted price of $12 million. Of the three main routes to Mesa Peak, this is the only one that is dog friendly, although given the exposed terrain and significant incline, appropriate precautions should be taken with four-legged hikers.

From the gate, begin climbing on the fire road, taking in views of Point Dume to the west and Puerco Canyon to the east. After making a few switchbacks and passing a junction with the Zev Yaroslavsky Coastal Trail, the fire road comes to a Y-junction, just under a mile from the beginning. Off to the right, below, are a few abandoned buildings, resembling those seen at the Lasky Mesa site to the north. You can take a detour to explore these buildings by heading straight.

The Puerco Motorway continues uphill to another junction (1.3 miles.) Head right and continue the steady climb. Soon the south end of Mesa Peak comes into view; you may notice the Backbone Trail carving its way through the hills beyond it. You enter a west-facing section of the trail, providing some shade if you are hiking in the morning. A lone oak clings to the side of the ridge.

At 2.8 miles, you reach a saddle and the trail levels out. Just before it begins to descend, make a hairpin left turn on a steep, loose and unsigned use trail. It climbs to a bump with a small antenna facility and continues to Mesa Peak, where you can sit and enjoy excellent coastal views before heading back.

Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Cameron Nature Preserve, Malibu, CA
View of the Backbone Trail beyond Mesa Peak
Cameron Nature Preserve, Malibu, CA
Abandoned car and metal shed, Cameron Nature Preserve
Cameron Nature Preserve, Malibu, CA
Oak on the Puerco Motorway
Cameron Nature Preserve, Malibu, CA
Southwest view from the Puerco Motorway






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.


  1. I have two photos from 1948 taken by my father that I wonder if you could help me identify. They are taken on a mountain, with one looking west I believe toward the ocean. Perhaps the Santa Ana Mountains? If you are willing to take a look, send me an email at

  2. I really like your blog. You give so much information about the hike, that it makes me want to drive to California right now. I also love that you include if dogs are allowed or not because this is a huge thing for me. I love to take my dog places. Also, love that your ratings are like movie ratings!

    1. Thanks Ashley, glad you’re enjoying it…that’s why it’s here. And yes I like to have fun with the “movie” ratings – more entertaining than easy, moderate, strenuous, etc. Keep hiking!

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