Hiking in Los Angeles: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Visitors to Los Angeles may be surprised to discover a national park site at the city's geographical center. Franklin Canyon Park, which lies in the center of Los Angeles between the San Fernando Valley and Beverly Hills, is part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a complex network of park sites and locations that extends in an east-west direction from the Hollywood Hills in the heart of the city all the way to Point Mugu in Ventura County. At 153,075 acres, it is the world's largest urban national park.
An oasis in the middle of a vast and ever-expanding urban area, the national recreation area offers multiple opportunities to explore the natural and cultural resources of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Thrill at a ride along legendary Mulholland Highway, which winds its way through the recreation area and offers spectacular views of rocky canyons, chaparral-covered hillsides and the Pacific ocean.
Learn about the lives and traditions of indigenous tribes at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center and Natural Area.
Relive the golden era of film making with a visit to the movie set at Paramount Ranch where Hollywood legends Gary Cooper, Mae West and Randolph Scott once practiced their craft.
Set out on one of the area's many hiking trails to get a close-up look at the flora and fauna of California's rare Mediterranean ecosystem, found only in five areas around the Earth.
Grassroots efforts to conserve the natural, archeological and cultural resources of the Santa Monica Mountains and adjacent Pacific coastline culminated in November 1978 when Congress authorized Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area as the 295th unit of the National Park System. At that time, the National Park Service owned no land in the area. Instead, it forged partnerships with a number of state and local agencies to promote national park goals. It began acquiring land in the area in 1980 and now owns and manages 23,185 acres.
Today, numerous agencies and organizations partner in the management and upkeep of multiple park sites and locations within the recreation area boundaries. In addition to the nearly two dozen sites managed by the National Park Service, the area includes six state parks and seven state beaches.
A Hike in Solstice Canyon
The stunning vistas and cultural artifacts found along the Solstice Canyon trail system provide an excellent introduction to the Santa Monica Mountains' resources and history. Solstice Canyon first served as home to the Chumash Native American tribe and then to ranchers who grazed their cattle in the area. The canyon housed a space research facility in the 1960s. It became a public park in 1988 and is now managed by the National Park Service.
Solstice Canyon has over eight miles of trails for hikers of all fitness levels. The Dry Canyon Trail (1.2 miles round-trip) offers an easy stroll through the woodlands along an intermittent stream, while the Sostomo Trail/Deer Valley Loop is a challenging 3.9 miles through chaparral and coastal sage scrub to a magnificent ocean view along the west ridge of the canyon.
For a good intermediate hike and a variety of scenery, take the Solstice Canyon Trail through the peaceful valley to the back of the canyon. There, connect to the Rising Sun Trail and loop back along the east ridgeline of the canyon for a total of approximately 3 miles. The Solstice Canyon Trail is accessed from Corral Canyon Road in Malibu, off the Pacific Coast Highway. The trailhead is just past the parking lot and amphitheater.
As you set out on the trail, you will follow a creek upstream past the ruins of Henry Keller's stone hunting cabin. The cabin was built in 1903 and destroyed by the devastating Corral Fire in November 2007. At the back of the canyon lies the ruins of the Roberts Ranch House. Built in 1952, it was designed by renowned architect Paul Williams and incorporated waterfalls, springs and other natural features in its design. The house was destroyed by wildfire in 1982, but the foundation remains to provide a sense of its unique blueprint.
Visit the waterfall behind the ruins for a cool respite, then climb the Rising Sun Trail to the canyon's east ridge. As you traverse the dramatic ridgeline, watch the west canyon wall for signs of wildlife. Mule deer, coyotes, bobcats and even mountain lions may be found within the recreation area's boundaries. Also watch for the more than 380 species of birds that reside in the area.
Have your camera ready at the TRW Overlook for the picture-perfect view of the Pacific Ocean framed by the canyon walls. After your photo stop, descend past the ruins of the Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge space research facility, also destroyed in the 2007 Corral Fire, to the parking lot.
The Corral Fire
Wildfires pose a constant threat to the fragile ecosystem of the Santa Monica Mountains. Fires have increased in frequency as the area's population has grown. Dry summers and fierce Santa Ana winds fuel fires caused by human activity, making fire prevention crucial to the recreation area's management.
The blackened skeletons of trees and fence posts above the green growth of Solstice Canyon provide a reminder of the most recent fire to denude its slopes. On November 24, 2007, a fire started by an illegal campfire burned 4,700 acres in Solstice Canyon destroying 51 homes and buildings, including the historically-significant Keller hunting cabin. Several men were charged with responsibility for the fire and at least two were sentenced to jail.
For breakfast before your hike in Solstice Canyon, or for refreshments afterward, stop at Paradise Cove Beach Cafe in Malibu. Dine in a casual atmosphere right on the beach. The scenic cove has served as the setting for numerous television shows and movies over the years. From Coral Canyon Road, turn right (north) on Pacific Coast Highway and travel approximately 2.5 miles to Paradise Cove Road on the left.
More Recreation Area Hiking
34138 Mullholland Highway, Malibu
Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyon
5792 Chesebro Road, Agoura
Circle X Ranch
12896 Yerba Buena Road, Malibu
2903 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills
Peter Strauss Ranch
30000 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills
Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa
Main Entrance at Via Goleta and Potrero Road, Newbury Park
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is located west of Griffith Park in Los Angeles County and to the east of the Oxnard Plain in Ventura County. The area is bordered on the north by U.S. Highway 101 (Ventura Freeway) and on the south by State Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) and the Pacific Ocean.
Available activities include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping at over 300 campsites. The area is open year-round from dawn to dusk. The National Park Service Visitor Center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.