The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is a United States National Recreation Area in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, between the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys to the north, and Malibu to the south.
The Santa Monica Mountains run through the heart of Los Angeles, but have been largely preserved as an oasis of geographic and biological diversity. Miles of scenic roads and hiking trails can be a welcome escape from ever-present Los Angeles traffic.
The establishment of the National Recreation Area in the Santa Monica Mountains was the culmination of over 75 years of conservation effort. A movement to preserve the park's unique natural environment has been under way, in one form or another, since the early years of the 20th century.
The adjacent Point Mugu State Park, Topanga State Park, and Malibu Creek State Park were created by the State of California prior to the establishment of the National Recreation Area, linking much of the public open space together, in 1978.
The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy continues to acquire land for public use throughout the range as it becomes available.
The Santa Monica Mountains feature distinct types of scenery. On the south-facing slopes, there are beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. The Channel Islands and Catalina Island are visible on clear days.
The canyons offer shaded seasonal streams and hidden meadows.
Flora and fauna
The Santa Monica Mountains are a chaparral ecosystem, consisting primarily of grasses and shrubs, such as sage and ceanothus, dotted with occasional stands of valley oak. This habitat supports many types of birds, small mammals, and reptiles. Deer are common in the valleys, especially near lakes and streams.
Coyotes are one of the primary predators in the region, and have adapted well living in proximity to human populations. They are not a serious threat to people, but visitors' pets should be kept indoors at night.
Mountain lions are also native to the Santa Monica Mountains. Their population is very small, but their range is extensive. If encountered, under no circumstances should they be approached or threatened.
The Santa Monica Mountains share Southern California's Mediterranean climate. Summer temperatures are typically in the 70s and 80s (°F), but can sometimes climb to over 100. Hikers should bring adequate water supply and dress appropriately.
Winter daytime temperatures are typically in the 60s (°F). Campground visitors are advised that temperatures can occasionally fall into the low 30s overnight.
The rainy season in Southern California approximately from October to April. Winter storms are sporadic, but can result in dangerous conditions. Soil saturated with water can become loose and hazardous, and landslides are not uncommon. Less frequently maintained trails may also be washed out and unusable after a particularly heavy rain. Be aware of the weather conditions and keep an eye on the forecast if visiting during this time.
In addition to seasonal changes, temperatures and conditions can often vary significantly by elevation. A hot day in the canyon areas may be cold and windy along the peaks exposed ridges.
There are many different points of access, as the Recreation Area is not contiguous. The National Park Service Visitor's Center is located at King Gillette Ranch, where Mulholland Highway crosses Malibu Canyon Road. A second Visitor's Center is open Saturday and Sunday at 4121 Potrero Road in Newbury Park.
Fees and permits
Park use is free of charge, but campsite permit fees do apply for overnight visitors. There are many state and local jurisdictions, in addition to the National Park Service, who maintain trails and campsites throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, so always check the fees and reservation policies for specific campsites beforehand.
There are many, many miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. Trail maps are available from the National Park Service site or the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Outdoor and hiking supply retailers, such as REI, also offer trail maps for purchase.
Since many of the trailheads are remote from urban areas, travel by car or motorcycle throughout the mountains is advantageous, if not entirely essential. There are several scenic canyon roads that connect the beaches and valleys that cross the mountains, as well as Mulholland Highway, which runs along much of the length of the range.
Bicycle, motorcycle, and car clubs frequently tour any (or all) of these roads, especially on weekends and during the summer months, so visitors are always advised to share the road, be alert, and practice patience. Narrow roads with blind corners, steep drops, and occasional rock slides do not recommend aggressive driving.
- 1 King Gillette Ranch, 26876 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas (Near the intersection of Las Virgenes Road and Mulholland Highway), ☏ . 9AM-5PM. The primary visitor's center for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. California State Parks and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy share use with the National Park Service at this site. A trail spur connecting to the Backbone Trail terminates at this location. Free.
- 2 Satwiwa Cultural Center (Rancho Sierra Vista), 4121 Potrero Road Newbury Park (take Wendy Drive 2.5 miles south from US Route 101 to Potrero Road), ☏ . 9AM-5PM. Cultural Center open Sa and Su only. Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center provides public exhibits and education regarding local Tongva/Gabrielino cultures. This site is a starting point for trails to Boney Peak and Big Sycamore Canyon/Beach. Free.
- 3 Point Mugu State Park, 9000 W. Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, ☏ . 8AM-10PM. Parking - $12.
- 4 Topanga State Park, 20825 Entrada Rd, Topanga, ☏ . 9AM-dusk. Parking - $10.
- 5 Malibu Creek State Park, 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas, ☏ . Dawn-Dusk. Made up of land once owned by Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, and 20th Century Fox, this park was used for the filming of many famous movies and TV shows, including the 1960s classics Doctor Dolitte and Planet of the Apes, and the 1970s-80s TV series M*A*S*H. A trail that leads along Malibu Creek brings hikers to the Rock Pool, a swimming and diving spot which is surrounded by high cliffs popular with rock climbers, scenic Century Lake, and the remains of the M*A*S*H set, which were badly damaged by a wildfire but still contains a few relics. Horseback riding, mountain biking, and camping are popular activities here. Rangers are on staff during the weekends to answer questions and help you find your way around. Parking $12, free with state park pass.
- 6 Paramount Ranch, 2903 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills, CA, 91301. Paramount Studios constructed the ranch as a filming location during the golden age of Hollywood, but it fell into disrepair with the changing times and ownership. The National Park Service acquired the site in 1980 and began a facelift of the facility. The revitalized site was used for the filming of the television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman from 1992 to 1997, and it is still in use for occasional filming in the present day.
- 1 Backbone Trail, Eastern Trailhead: 1501 Will Rogers State Park Rd, Pacific Palisades; Western Trailhead: Thornehill Broome Campground, Point Mugu State Park. The Backbone Trail is a 65-mile continuous route that runs along the ridgeline of the Santa Monica Mountains between Point Mugu State Park at the western end of Malibu and Will Rodgers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. A great way to experience the diverse scenery and ecology of the Santa Monica Mountains.
- 2 Big Sycamore Canyon Trail, Northern trailhead: Satwiwa Cultural Center, Southern trailhead: Sycamore Cove. A relatively mild 86-mile hike or bike, especially going downhill north-to-south. Good for an afternoon family trip (if you arrange to be picked up at the other end) and you can watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Easy for school-age children (but know your child's ability level, as there's no shortcut out).
- 3 Malibu Canyon Trail (M*A*S*H Camp), 5-mile round-trip to the M*A*S*H filming location. A short, moderately strenuous hike through Malibu Creek State Park, skirting Century Lake. The remains of the filming location and sets from the 1970s television program M*A*S*H can still be seen today, slowly being reclaimed by the elements.
- 4 Malibu Golf Club, 901 Encinal Canyon Road, Malibu, ☏ . Located at the head of Encinal and Trancas Canyons, visitors here can enjoy a day on the links surrounded by mountain ridges and natural chaparral. $75-100, senior and twilight discounts available.
- 5 Malibu Riders, 5711 Bonsall Dr. Malibu. Offers horseback rides in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Zuma Canyon, Paramount Ranch, and Malibu Canyon rides are available. $50-100.
There are no retail or commercial areas in the park proper, and the surrounding land is largely ranches and light residential. Plan to bring all your supplies in with you if you are hiking or otherwise exploring the back country. When travelling by car, however, the surrounding communities are still near enough that a short detour to Malibu, Thousand Oaks, or Agoura Hills will only cost 15-30 minutes and you can continue on your way.
- 1 Saddle Peak Lodge, 419 Cold Canyon Rd, Calabasas, CA 91302, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. W-F 5PM-8:45PM; Sa 5PM-9:45PM; Su 10:30AM-2PM and 5PM-8:45PM. A curious mix of country lodge and Hollywood hotspot. Offers a high-end dining experience in the hills overlooking Malibu. Business casual dress code (jeans OK). Main course $35-55, Prix fix $85-185.
- 1 Malibu Wines, 31740 Mulholland Highway, Malibu, CA 90265, ☏ . 11AM-6PM. The Santa Monica Mountains feature an up-and-coming wine industry. The tasting room at Malibu Wines is open year round, but is outdoors, so consider the weather if planning a visit.
The region is sparsely populated and there are very few commercial establishments in the mountains proper. Visitors that do not plan on camping usually stay in the surrounding communities.
Campgrounds managed by the National Park Service.
- 1 Circle X Ranch, 12896 Yerba Buena Road, Malibu, CA, 90265 (Take Yerba Buena Road 5 miles north from Pacific Coast Highway), ☏ . 9AM-5PM. Circle X Ranch is the only campsite within the National Recreation Area boundary. Trails to nearby Sandstone Peak and Boney Peak terminate here. Free entry. Reservation fee for campsite use varies.
Campgrounds managed by California Department of Parks and Recreation. Reservations may be made online, or at +1-800-444-7275
- 2 Sycamore Canyon Campground (adjacent to Sycamore Cove on Pacific Coast Highway). Developed campground near the beach in Point Mugu State Park. Easily accessible from the park entrance. Campsites are drive-in accessible. $45.
- 3 Thornehill Broome Beach Campground (10 Miles north of Sycamore Cove campground on Pacific Coast Highway (California Route 1)), ☏ . A drive-in primitive campground near the western terminus of the Backbone trail. Accessible from PCH. $35, $225 to reserve larger group campground..
- 4 La Jolla Valley Campground (2.6-mile hike from Thornehill Broome Beach via Loop Trail). A small walk-in campground on the La Jolla Valley Loop trail. Space is extremely limited, and reservations may be difficult to come by. Hike-in access only. $10.
- 5 Danielson Multi-Use Area (Danielson Ranch) (4.8 Miles from Sycamore Cove, 3.3 miles from Satwiwa on Sycamore Canyon Trail). A small hike-in campground along the Backbone Trail, approximately half-way between the Pacific Ocean and Newbury Park. $10.
- 6 Canyon Campground, 35000 East Pacific Coast Highway Malibu. A large vehicle-accessible developed campground across PCH from Leo Carrillo State Beach. $45, $225 to reserve larger group campground..
- 7 Malibu Creek Campground. A vehicle-accessible developed campground near the entrance off of Las Virgenes Road. $45, $225 to reserve larger group campground..
- 8 Musch Camp. A small, primitive campground 1 mile north of the Entrada Road entrance to the park. $10.
Camping is by permit only, and is restricted to designated areas. Contact the National Park Service or California State Parks site for specific information.
- Water in the Santa Monica Mountains creeks and lakes is not safe for drinking. Visitors should drink only the water they bring with them.
- Western Rattlesnakes are endemic to this area. Be aware of the trail ahead of you as they will often warm themselves in the sun during summer months. If climbing, always watch where your hand grip will be and check any holes or crevices before proceeding. Long sleeves and long pants are advised in scrub or wooded areas.
- This area can be extremely prone to wildfires in the summer. Campfires and fire pits are typically prohibited, and where they are allowed, should be strictly monitored and controlled.
- Deer Ticks are endemic to this region, and can carry Lyme Disease. Long Sleeves and Long Pants are advised, and always check yourselves and your pets after being in scrub or wooded areas.
- This region is prone to mudslides after heavy rains. Drive with caution on mountain and canyon roads, especially after a storm. When hiking, monitor the forecast and know trail conditions beforehand.
- Very few facilities are available on trails. Visitors are advised to carry plenty of water and dress appropriately for weather conditions.
- Malibu - An exclusive coastal community and home to the rich and famous, and features miles of beautiful public beaches.
- Pacific Palisades - An upscale, mostly residential community overlooking the ocean. The J. Paul Getty Villa museum is located here.
- Santa Monica - A popular tourist destination with a famous pier and the 3rd Street Promenade shopping center.
- Thousand Oaks - A medium-sized bedroom community just across the county line in Ventura County.
- Topanga - An eclectic artist community nestled in the canyons between the coast and the San Fernando Valley.
|Routes through Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area|
|Fillmore ← Thousand Oaks ←||N S||→ Malibu → Ends at|
|Chatsworth ← Topanga ←||N S||→ Malibu → Ends at|