Think you’ve seen it all in the Santa Monica Mountains? Try this short but adventurous hike out for size. The West Cold Creek Canyon Preserve was recently acquired by the nearby Cold Creek Canyon Preserve. While the Cold Creek Canyon Preserve is accessible only through docent-led activities or by reservations, the West Cold Creek Canyon Preserve is open to the public. The Cold Creek High Trail (also known as the Great American Trail after the bank that used to own the land) climbs from Cold Canyon Road to Stunt Road through some of the most rugged terrain of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains. Much of the trail is overgrown and several stretches have badly eroded. While there’s not much poison oak, it can be hard to avoid in spots, so keep an eye out. Be careful of ticks, especially during the spring. Navigation is a challenge, although if you keep a few landmarks in mind, you won’t get lost.
Because the upper end is easier to find and has more available parking, this post describes a reverse hike (down then up). Start by heading down the paved road. When the road bends to the right, bear left on a vaguely defined trail that heads downhill into an oak-shaded meadow. The trail clings tightly to the hillside and drops deeper into the woods, passing a barely trickling (even after rain) waterfall. A metal drainage pipe runs underneath the trail, which momentarily becomes a natural bridge. After passing by a pair of large oaks, the trail emerges into the open. When it appears to head straight, look for an obscure route heading left and climbing to a saddle (0.4 mile from the start). Here, you get an excellent view to the west including the Goat Buttes of Malibu Creek State Park, Castro Crest and Sugarloaf.
The trail descends along a ridge, overgrown in spots but easy to follow. At 0.7 mile from the start, it makes a sharp left turn and heads back into the woods. You cross the canyon bottom and scramble through some brush before re-emerging. The trail appears to bend left but don’t follow it; instead turn right and head through a meadow. You’ll pick up another, better-defined trail here, which heads left and briefly uphill (look for a white plastic pole).
At about one mile from the start, you reach a large sandstone boulder towering over a clearing. For casual hikers or those short on time, this is a good turnaround point as the remainder of the hike is steep, loose and requires bushwhacking. The trail continues its westward descent, tightly hugging the canyon wall. At 1.6 miles, just before the trail reaches a small clearing overlooking Cold Canyon Road, make an abrupt right turn. You pass through a field and then the trail makes its last dip, paralleling Cold Creek and reaching the Cold Canyon Road, 1.7 miles from the start. A steep and somewhat sketchy use trail provides access to the stream itself (watch out for poison oak). Cold Creek usually flows year round, especially following rain, providing a relaxing haven to sit and rest for the climb back to Stunt Road.
Text and photography copyright 2017 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.