Nicki & Karen

The 7 Best Hiking Trails in Santa Monica, California

Nicki & Karen » August 16, 2021

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hiking in santa monica mountains

Southern California is a highly diverse setting that provides visitors and residents alike with easy access to open plains, picturesque beaches, and vast mountain ranges. Among the most popular locations in Southern California is Santa Monica, which is a coastal city that’s situated just to the west of Downtown Los Angeles. To the north of Santa Monica, CA is a mountain range that goes by the same name and is the perfect destination for anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors.

The Santa Monica Mountains are situated near Santa Monica Bay and are home to many wonderful hiking trails that vary significantly in length and difficulty. Since the Santa Monica Mountains are considered to be a coastal mountain range, you’ll be granted scenic views of the Pacific Ocean when you hike one of the trails in these mountains.

The Santa Monica Mountains are surprisingly varied and can provide you with many unique experiences during your visit. While hiking or visiting one of the parks in these mountains, you’ll be able to experience the mild Mediterranean climate. Keep in mind that the Santa Monica Mountains is one of only five areas in the world where this climate exists. Nearby a few of the more popular hiking trails in Santa Monica, CA is the Paramount Ranch, which is a historic film set that’s still in operation today.

While there is plenty of fun and adventurous activities that you can complete during your visit to the Santa Monica Mountains, the most common reason for people to visit this mountain range is because of the many hiking trails that can be found throughout these mountains. If you want to hike, run, ride your horse, or go mountain biking, you can do so while exploring the 500 miles of trails available to you. Whether you’re hiking or mountain biking, you’ll likely spot some of the local wildlife, which can include anything from coyotes to bobcats. This article takes a closer look at seven of the top hiking trails in and around Santa Monica.

1. Solstice Canyon Loop

The Solstice Canyon Loop is a popular trail that’s located in the Solstice Canyon Park, which is a part of the Santa Monica Mountains. Free parking can be found at 3455 Solstice Canyon Rd. in Malibu, CA. While you can park at the trailhead for free, spots are limited, which is why you should arrive at the trail earlier in the day. The Solstice Canyon Loop is a three-mile trail with moderate difficulty and an elevation gain of 669 feet. If you take your dog with you, they can take part in the hike as long as they are kept on a leash.

The trail is a heavy favorite of local hikers because of how well it’s maintained along with the fact that the hike is mostly shaded. During your journey, you’ll come across a small waterfall and creek, the ruins of a stately mansion, and the oldest stone building in Malibu. Along with the 30-foot waterfall, nature lovers can spend time among pristine pools, exotic plants, and hidden statues, all of which add up to make this a highly memorable trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. The trail can be hiked in 1.5-2.0 hours.

2. Los Liones

Los Liones is a lengthy 4.4-mile trail that’s considered to be among the most scenic hikes on this list. Since the trail is located just one mile from the Pacific Ocean, you’ll experience many unforgettable views during the hike. The trail itself is moderately difficult to hike and is a great place to go for bird watching.

The first 1.0-1.5 miles of the trail are heavily shaded and relatively easy to hike. Once the trail opens up, however, the shade lessens as the climb becomes steeper. As you hike, you should notice ample amounts of ivy and chaparral as well as numerous wildflowers that are native to Southern California. If you want to hike this trail, it can be completed in 1.5-2.0 hours. Free parking is available at 510 Los Liones Dr. in Pacific Palisades.

3. Mishe Mokwa Trail

The Mishe Mokwa Trail is among the most popular trails on this list and can be found at 12896 Yerba Buena Road, which is the location of the Circle X Ranch. Free parking is available at the Sandstone Peak trailhead. If you would like to take your dog on the hike, you can do so as long as they are kept on a leash.

The 5.6-mile Mishe Mokwa Trail is moderately difficult to hike and can be completed in around 3.0-3.5 hours. With an elevation gain of 1,371 feet, you should be provided with spectacular views of nearby mountains as well as the ocean. While the trail is dotted with many beautiful wildflowers, there isn’t much shade throughout the trail, which is why it’s important for you to remember to use sunscreen and take water with you.

4. Paramount Ranch

The Paramount Ranch is a national park attraction that provides visitors with access to numerous hiking trails as well as an Old Western town where many popular films and TV shows have been filmed over the years. This is the perfect destination for hikers who mainly enjoy being out in nature and don’t necessarily require a difficult hike to enjoy their time in the Santa Monica Mountains. Parking is free and can be found at 2903 Cornell Rd. in Agoura Hills.

Of the eight main trails in this park, seven of them are rated as being easy to hike, which is great for beginners. If you have young children, the trails in this park are ideal. For instance, the Coyote Canyon Trail is one mile long and only has an elevation gain of 118 feet. This particular trail should take around 30 minutes to complete. Another top trail is the Paramount Ranch Perimeter Loop, which is just over two miles long and will take you through the Old Western town.

5. Will Rogers State Park

Will Rogers State Park is a beautiful state park that’s located in the Pacific Palisades portion of the Santa Monica Mountains. When you visit the park and one of its eight trails, free parking is available at 1501 Will Rogers State Park Rd. The park spans 186 acres, most of which overlook the Pacific Ocean. If you want to hike one of the trails at this park, it’s open every day from 8AM-12AM.

Of the eight hiking trails throughout this park, two are easy, four are moderate, and two are hard. The three most popular hiking trails in the Will Rogers State Park include Inspiration Point Trail, Inspiration Loop Trail, and Rivas Canyon Loop, the latter of which starts in the Backbone Trail.

The Inspiration Point Trail is the most visited trail in the park because of its easy difficulty and relatively short length of 2.1 miles. It should take you around 1.0-1.5 hours to hike this trail. The Rivas Canyon Loop, on the other hand, is seven miles long and has an elevation gain of more than 1,600 feet. While the trail offers some amazing views, it’s also considered to be the most difficult trail to hike in the Will Rogers State Park. To hike the entire Rivas Canyon Loop, you should set aside 3.5-4.0 hours of your time.

6. Topanga State Park

Topanga State Park is a vast 11,000-acre park that stretches from Topanga Canyon to the Pacific Palisades. The entirety of the park is situated with the Los Angeles city limits, which means that residents of Southern California have easy access to the many hiking trails that can be found in the park. The park plays host to more than 35 miles of trails, most of which will provide you with scenic views of the Pacific Ocean and open grassland. Free parking can be found at 20828 Entrada Rd. in Topanga, CA.

No matter which trail you hike, you’ll likely encounter at least one geologic formation, which can include marine fossils, sedimentary formations, earthquake faults, and volcanic intrusions. The most popular hiking trails in this park include the Temescal Canyon Trail, the Paseo Miramar Trail, and the Skull Rock Loop, all of which are rated as being moderately difficult to hike. The longest of these trails is the Paseo Miramar Trail at 4.9 miles. If you want to hike the entire trail, it will likely take you around 2.5-3.0 hours to complete it. The shortest and likely most scenic trail is the Temescal Canyon Trail, which is 2.8 miles in length and will likely take you around 1.5 hours to hike.

7. Grotto Trail

Grotto Trail is a moderately difficult trail that extends for 2.5 miles and is known for the small cave that can be found just below Sandstone Peak. If you visit this trail during the rainy season, you should see a beautiful waterfall that cascades down the inner areas of the cave. With an elevation gain of 561 feet, you’ll be treated to some picturesque landscapes of the nearby mountains and Sandstone Peak.

Look out for the many different species of wildflowers that dot the surrounding landscape. If you want to bring your dog on this hike, dogs must be kept on a leash. The trailhead and parking area can be found on Yerba Buena Road at the Ranger Station. You’ll need to walk a short distance from the parking lot to the group campground to reach the trailhead. If you plan on hiking the entire out-and-back trail, it should take you around 1.5-2.0 hours to complete the hike. Make sure that you take ample amounts of water with you regardless of when you visit.

All of the hiking trails on this list will provide you with unique and varied experiences. No matter how experienced a hiker you are, you should find at least one trail in this guide that matches your skill level.

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