On the luxurious shores of California’s iconic hotspot for celebrities lies a region with unparalleled natural splendor. The crashing waves tumbling against the rocky cliffs from the incoming tide make Malibu a premier destination for Hollywood’s elite.
The backdrop to the Malibu coastline is the rugged and overlooking Santa Monica Mountains that deliver an incredible landscape of rolling highlands, misty waterfalls, and deep canyons. With the craggy shores and the diversity of the neighboring range, Malibu is the ideal location for the most beautiful and diverse hiking opportunities you may find.
1. Mugu Peak Trail
Credit: Randy Durrum / Flickr
From Malibu, drive west along the Pacific Coast Highway for 18.2 miles and turn right on Chumash Trail, the trailhead for this hike.
Point Mugu is an iconic cape off the coast in Northern Malibu that has been featured in television commercials and film shoots, highlighted by the unmistakable natural landmark, Mugu Rock. Along the hillside is the trailhead for the knee-buckling Mugu Peak Trail. This loop hike encircles the summit of Mugu Peak, giving unobstructed views out over the vast Pacific Ocean and an overlooking view of Point Mugu.
From the entrance of the trailhead, you will begin climbing almost instantly. The climb from the parking area is a strenuous and grueling incline that is not for the faint of heart. The exposed and unhindered nature of the trail allows for several overlooks that will give you plenty of opportunities to catch your breath. Once overcoming and enduring the mountain, you will be gifted with panoramic views of both the rocky coastline and the lush California countryside.
Difficulty: StrenuousDistance: 2.7 MilesElevation Gain: 1,246 Feet
2. Solstice Canyon Loop
From Malibu, drive east on the Pacific Coast Highway for 2.2 miles and turn left on Corral Canyon. Continue for 0.2 miles and take a right on an unnamed road for another 0.2 miles and the parking area to Solstice Canyon Loop will be on your left.
The loop hike through Solstice Canyon is abundant in natural diversity, as well as architecture and history. The trail leads you into the hills, passing the unique Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy – better known as the “Darth Vader building.” The moderate climb takes you to beautiful Pacific Ocean views along the ridge before the terrain will begin to transform from dirt to desert sand.
The trail will descend into the Solstice Canyon, a dry and arid landscape complete with unique sandstone rock formations and access to a pristine waterfall. As your hike concludes, you will discover the ruins of Tropical Terrace, built by Paul Revere Williams, was known as an architectural wonder and mid-century masterpiece that unfortunately burnt down in the 1982 Dayton Canyon Fire.
Difficulty: ModerateDistance: 3.0 MilesElevation Gain: 669 Feet
3. Point Dume Cove Trail
From Malibu, drive west on the Pacific Coast Highway for 1.0 miles and take a left on Zumirez Drive and then an immediate right on Wildlife Road. Stay on Wildlife Road for 0.3 miles and take a right on Fernhill Drive. Continue driving for another 0.7 miles and take a right onto Cliffside Drive. After 0.5 miles, the trailhead will be on the right.
Please Note: The only parking options are on the streets in a residential area. The parking spots will likely be full, but with the short distance of the hiking trail, the spots tend to open and turnover every few minutes.
The Point Dume Cove Trail is an easy and memorable hike that provides excellent views of the Pacific Ocean from the towering bluffs of Point Dume. Enjoy hiking through the protected areas of the Point Dume Natural Preserve as you are led to two separate overlooks, one from the summit of Point Dume. The peak is an excellent place to attempt to spot migrating whales breaching the surface of the Pacific.
Once reaching the summit of Point Dume, take a few moments to experience the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and an overlooking view of the inviting cove. After completing the hike, head down the fenced-in stairwell that leads you down to the cove and investigate the many colorful tide pools created by the crashing waves.
Difficulty: EasyDistance: 1.4 MilesElevation Gain: 347 Feet
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4. Los Leones Canyon Trail
Credit: mynameis_Marilei / Flickr
From Malibu, drive east on the Pacific Coast Highway for 13.3 miles. Take a left onto Sunset Boulevard and drive for 0.4 miles. Take a sharp left onto Paseo Miramar. Continue for 0.8 miles and turn right on Resolano Drive. After 0.2 miles, take a right back onto Paseo Miramar. Drive for another 0.1 miles and your trailhead will be on the left.
A not-so-secret gem of Los Angeles, the Los Leonis Trail is a popular trail that leads to one of the best vantage points in all of Malibu – Parker Mesa. Parker Mesa is 1,525 feet tall and overlooks Santa Monica Bay, downtown Los Angeles, and on a cloudless day, as far as the San Bernardino Mountains.
Los Leonis is a moderate hike that takes you along the ridge of the Parker Mesa through the uniquely dense and lush landscape of the mountain. The steady climb takes you through incredibly picturesque fields and meadows of bursting wildflowers among miles of bright green California fauna.
The trail can be crowded, especially at Parker Mesa – try to start early to enjoy a quiet ascent and secluded summit of this truly magnificent Malibu trail.
Difficulty: ModerateDistance: 4.4 MilesElevation Gain: 1,190 Feet
5. Backbone Trail to Sandstone Peak and Mishe Mokwa Trail
From Malibu, drive west on the Pacific Coast Highway for 6.8 miles and turn right onto Encinal Canyon Road. Continue for 5.0 miles and turn right onto CA-23 N. Stay on CA-23 N for 0.8 miles and take a sharp left down Mulholland Highway. Drive for 0.4 miles and turn right on Little Sycamore Canyon Road for another 3.9 miles. The parking area for the Mishe Mokwa Trailhead will be on the right.
The Backbone Trail is a 70-mile backpacking trail through the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains. Taking the Mishe Mokwa Trail is an excellent way to experience the trail as a day hike without missing remorse along this fantastic trail.
This beautiful trail starts with relentless switchbacks that slowly lead you to the summit of Sandstone Peak, an incredible panoramic view of the entire range. The peak also features a peculiar balanced rock formation that resembles what some claim is a basketball spinning on the tip of an individual’s finger.
On the way down, stop at Inspiration Point – a beautiful and far-reaching view that overlooks both the Los Angeles skyline and Santa Monica Bay. The trail will continue along the Mishe Mokwa Trail through the lush and aromatic fields of sagebrush before returning you to the parking area.
Difficulty: ModerateDistance: 5.7 MilesElevation Gain: 1,312 Feet
Related Read: 10 Best Hiking Trails in Santa Monica, CA
6. Zuma Canyon Loop Trail
From Malibu, drive west on the Pacific Coast Highway for 2.3 miles and make a right onto Bonsall Drive. Continue for 0.3 miles and turn right to stay on Bonsall Drive. After 0.7 miles, the parking lot to the trailhead will be on your right.
The Zuma Canyon Trail is a wonderful path that is best fit for experienced hikers. With over 10 miles of intense, high-grade climbs, the adventure through the canyon is difficult but undoubtedly rewarding. Thanks to the challenging conditions, this trail is unlike the busier hikes in Malibu and your efforts are satisfied with a secluded canyon journey.
The trail traverses over an old fire road up Zuma Ridge. The path alternates between the fire road and overgrown paths along the ridge before finally descending into the canyon. There is no specific overlook or rock formation payoff, but this trail is a continuous photo-op through the beautiful and colorful canyon.
T&T Tip: The trail is exposed and lacks any water sources. Be sure to bring a sufficient supply of water, sunscreen, and most importantly, plenty of bug spray!
Difficulty: StrenuousDistance: 10.7 MilesElevation Gain: 2,755 Feet
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7. Rock Pool & Century Lake Trail
From Malibu, drive west on the Pacific Coast Highway for 1.4 miles and take a right onto Kanan Dume Road. Drive for 9.3 miles and turn right onto Troutdale Drive. Stay on Troutdale Drive for 0.4 miles and take a left onto Mulholland Highway. Continue for 5.1 miles and turn right onto Las Virgenes Road for 0.2 miles and enter Malibu State Creek Park. Drive for 0.5 miles and turn right onto Park Entrance Road and an immediate left. The trailhead parking area will be on your left.
Century Lake Trails is an adventure for not just hikers, but for rock climbers, cliff jumpers, and movie buffs alike. The hike leads to Rock Pool, a pristine mountain swimming hole tucked away within towering walls made of dense sandstone that develop perfect climbing holds for the bold adventures who enter this desert oasis. You may witness cliff jumpers and be tempted to take the leap - be warned, park officials have been known to issue hefty fines. In addition to being a stunning oasis, the popular 1968 film, “The Planet of the Apes” also filmed scenes along the scenic shores of Rock Pool.
This hike is suitable for adventure seekers of all abilities. The trail leads you through the beautiful Santa Monica Mountain wilderness with very minor elevation changes before looping around the gorgeously expansive and reflective Century Lake, be sure to stop at the 2.5-mile mark, where you will visit the former set for the famous 1970s TV series, “M*A*S*H.”
Difficulty: EasyDistance: 4.4 MilesElevation Gain: 331 Feet
8. Escondido Falls
Credit: Eric Chan / Flickr
From Escondido Beach, drive west on the Pacific Coast Highway for 0.8 miles. Take a right onto Winding Way, followed by an immediate left onto Old Road and the parking lot for Escondido Falls will be on your left.
Escondido Falls is an impressive two-tiered waterfall that cascades down from a lofty height of 150 feet! The hike to the base of the falls is a walk comfortable for most hikers and will wander through dense forests of sage, chaparral, and ancient oak trees before reaching the shores of this misty mountain waterfall.
The best time to visit the falls is in the winter after strong rainfalls. The falls are dry in the sizzling summer months, but when the temperature turns and the water is flowing, the extraordinary beauty of Escondido Falls can be captured at its absolute best. Bring a raincoat, when the falls are crashing, getting soaked is a refreshing inevitability.
Difficulty: EasyDistance: 3.7 MilesElevation Gain: 534 Feet
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9. Temescal Canyon Trail
From Malibu, drive east on the Pacific Coast Highway for 14.5 miles. Take a left onto Temescal Canyon and drive for 1.2 miles and take another left into the parking area. The trailhead will be on the right end of the parking lot.
Temescal Canyon Trail is an excellent Los Angeles city hike. The trailhead from Temescal Gateway Park is located on the west side of LA, in the Pacific Palisades - right off infamous Sunset Boulevard. This beautiful trail leads high above the skyline of Tinseltown, escorting you through a canyon lined with ancient sycamore and oak trees.
The hike along Temescal Canyon Trail is a busy but moderate loop along a well-maintained dirt path through the southern end of Topanga State Park. The trail traverses the ridge of the canyon and provides beautiful panoramic views of both the Pacific Ocean and Los Angeles. On the clearest of days, you can see as far as the San Gabriel Mountains and the luxurious Catalina Islands.
Difficulty: ModerateDistance: 4.0 MilesElevation Gain: 928 Feet
10. Sostomo and Deer Valley Loop Trail
Credit: ktaletsk / Reddit
From Malibu, drive east on the Pacific Coast Highway for 2.2 miles and turn left on Corral Canyon. Continue for 0.2 miles and take a right on an unnamed road for another 0.2 miles and the parking area to Sostomo and Deer Valley Loop Trail will be on your left.
The trail through Sostomo and Deer Valley is a lovely and scenic loop hike and a relatively unknown hike-path along Solstice Canyon. The perfectly secluded trail takes you through a comfortably shaded valley that runs along the ridge of the canyon that gives wonderful views of the Pacific Ocean as well as a beautiful panoramic view of the entire valley.
This moderate-to-strenuous hike has long sections with rough terrain – loose gravel, high grades, and small rock scrambles that make for a challenging hike; however, these amazing views and the quiet serenity of this tranquil hike make your efforts well worth the journey.
Difficulty: ModerateDistance: 6.3 MilesElevation Gain: 1,811 Feet