The best Malibu hikes! From waterfalls to coastal views, skip the beach and hit the trails to explore another side of Malibu, California.
Malibu is famous for its scenic beaches, celebrity culture, and gorgeous coastal real estate.
What you might not know about Malibu though is that it also has some of the best hiking trails in Southern California – from the Santa Monica Mountains to the coastal trails around town.
And one of the best parts of visiting Malibu is that the climate is so mild and comfortable, which makes all of these trails accessible year-round.
My personal favorite aspect about Malibu trails is how dog-friendly they are. As long as your dog is on a leash you’re allowed to hike with your dog on most of these trails in Malibu.
If you’re looking for ways to explore the nature of Malibu beyond the beautiful beaches, put on your hiking shoes, grab a bottle of water, and hit the scenic trails of Malibu – there are our picks for the best Malibu hikes!
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Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Parking: Open between 8 am and sunset.
Dog-Friendly: All dogs are allowed on a leash.
Camping: Circle X Ranch Group Campground is the only campground that is operated by the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains. They have group tents with a 10-person minimum. Otherwise, there is more camping available in Topanga State Park and Point Mugu State Park.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is located inside the Santa Monica Mountains and is one of the most visited natural areas in the entire state of California.
This recreation area is so popular because its natural beauty sits so close to the second most populated city in the country – Los Angeles. Some even call this area LA’s very own national park.
With so many individual parks, panoramic views of the Pacific Coast, and miles of hiking trails, you can always find a new place to explore. No matter what your ability level is, you’ll find a way to immerse yourself in nature in these mountains.
Before you get moving, there are a few important things you should know: entrance to the park is free, most trails are used by hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and runners, and cell service can be unreliable so bring a map.
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Solstice Canyon Loop
Length: 3.2 miles | Elevation Gain: 797 ft | Trail Guide
Features: Waterfall (if it’s not too dry), creek, oldest still-standing building in Malibu, ruins.
There’s a lot to see on the Solstice Canyon Loop Trail, including some abandoned ruins, natural pools, and even a hidden statue of the Virgin Mary if you can find it.
This popular trail is primarily used for hiking, running, and exploring nature.
The first part of the hike heads up the shady Solstice Canyon Trail where you’ll run into the Keller House and Tropical Terrace Ruins and the natural pools.
You’ll then climb up the Rising Sun Trail all the way back to the trailhead and parking lot.
Trust me, the stunning ocean views make the climb much more rewarding – you’ve got this!
Zuma Ridge Trail
Length: 5.6 miles | Elevation Gain: 1473 ft | Trail Guide
Features: River and great ocean views.
The Zuma Ridge Trail is a heavily trafficked out and back hiking trail with a steady incline.
The trail starts as a wide dirt service road that weaves through the Zuma Canyon and ventures into grassy mountain slopes.
Along the way, enjoy the great panoramic views of Malibu beaches and the Pacific Ocean down below.
Trail tip: I like to wear layers on this hike since there are a lot of windy and chilly spots and you may want to cover up.
Backbone Trail to Sandstone Peak
Length: 3.2 miles | Elevation Gain: 1030 ft | Trail Guide
Features: Wildflowers, Sandstone Peak.
The entire Backbone Trail runs for 67 miles across the length of the Santa Monica Mountains, but this is just a 3.2-mile out and back portion of it.
Be sure to bring good hiking shoes or boots since this is a very rocky trail.
Also, there is ZERO shade in this area so an early morning or evening hike is best to enjoy the scenic views and not overheat on the hike.
Length: 2.5 miles | Elevation Gain: 561 ft. | Trail Guide
Features: Wildflowers, Grotto, mountains, creek (if not dry).
This is one of my favorite hikes when I want to change it up and get a solid workout with a little rock-climbing sprinkled in.
The Grotto Trail is an out-and-back hike that has huge inclines at points and a rocky area at the end that leads you to the grotto/caves.
Be sure to pack your hiking poles, hiking boots, and I recommend wearing long pants to avoid getting scraped up as you climb the big boulders.
If you plan to dip into the small waterfall and grotto area, you’ll need to climb in through the boulders, but it’s well worth the effort on a hot day.
There is not a lot of cell service on this hiking trail but parking is a breeze.
Topanga State Park
Parking: Use this app to pay for parking.
Dog-Friendly: Dogs are NOT allowed on the trails, fire roads, or in the backcountry. Check out this list to find out where dogs are allowed in the area.
Camping: Overnight facilities are primitive camping only.
With 36 miles of hiking trails, Topanga State Park has the bragging rights of being called “The largest state park within a city limit in the US” and is located entirely within the Los Angeles city limits.
Don’t miss out on the docent-led walks every Sunday from January 1 to June 30th offering a free guided hike from 10 am to noon at Trippet Ranch. Meet in the Topanga State Park parking lot at the information kiosk at 10 am.
Temescal Canyon Trail
Length: 2.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 882 ft | Trail Guide
Features: Waterfall, beautiful views, no bikes allowed.
Temescal Canyon Trail is a heavily trafficked loop near Pacific Palisades, California, and is rated as one of the best hikes in Topanga State Park because of its gorgeous views of Malibu, Santa Monica, and downtown Los Angeles.
Depending on how dry the season has been you might also find a fun waterfall on this hike.
There is a hefty $12 parking fee at the park but if you luck out, you might be able to find a free parking spot on the streets nearby.
For the hike, I recommend going past the first trailhead and starting your hike on the second one to go counterclockwise on the loop. This way you’ll have the best views on your way back downhill.
Los Liones Trail
Length: 4.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 1190 ft. | Trail Guide | Moderate
Features: Wildflowers, bird watching, beautiful views.
Another great out and back trail near Pacific Palisades is the Los Liones Trail. This trail is a bit narrow and can definitely feel crowded at times.
Be sure to make your way to Parker Mesa Overlook for a little added distance and enjoy the spectacular views of the DTLA skyline.
The first 2.5 miles are a tough uphill climb that will leave your quads stinging. However, the trip back to the trailhead is almost all downhill and much easier on your thighs and calves.
Malibu Creek State Park
Parking: All-day parking for $12.00 or $3/hour. On weekdays, there’s no one at the entrance gate so they adhere to an honor system.
Dog-Friendly: No dogs on backcountry trails. Dogs are only allowed in the parking lots and campground areas.
Camping: 62 tent campsites with flush toilets, solar-heated showers, and four RV campsites. Every campsite has a fire pit and picnic table but no hookups.
Just 30 minutes away from LA, you’ll find this jewel of the Santa Monica Mountains. The Malibu Creek State Park has over 8,000 acres of rolling hills, towering mountains, and tall grass fields for you to explore.
It’s sometimes referred to as “The Yosemite of Southern California” and easily one of the best places to visit in Malibu.
Formerly owned by 20th Century Fox, Malibu Creek State Park has been seen in many movies and TV shows through the years including MASH and Planet of the Apes.
There is a lot to do at Malibu Creek State Park, including hiking, biking, rock climbing, kayaking, horseback riding, camping, bird watching, painting, and more.
Check out the free guided tours at 10 am on various Saturdays and Sundays in the winter. They take you through the park’s history on a 2.5-hour nature walk. Check the website for the latest schedule.
Rock Pool and Century Lake Trail
Length: 4.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 331 ft | Trail Guide
Features: Horseback riding, lake, rock climbing, M.A.S.H. site, picnic site.
The Rock Pool and Century Lake Trail is a heavily trafficked out and back trail near Calabasas, California that features a lake and is an easy family-friendly hike.
There is something for everyone on this trail, from rock climbing, TV/movie nostalgia, horseback riding, and even a dam.
Enjoy your walk down a shaded path to get to the Rock Pool area which is surrounded by stunning volcanic rock walls.
Check out the Planet of the Apes wall, which is right near the Rock Pool area. If you’re into rock-climbing, you might want to stop here and check out the action.
If you want to get some extra steps in and see a super cool part of TV history, walk a few miles past Century Lake and you’ll run into the old M.A.S.H. site from the popular TV show.
It even includes the cool directional sign that points to various locations around the world. This is a great spot for a picnic.
Trail Tip: Take note that the path around the lake is not a full loop. You’ll have to turn back around the dam area.
Malibu Lake Vista Trail
Length: 1.1 miles | Elevation Gain: 302 ft | Trail Guide
Features: Hiking and horseback riding.
As the name suggests, the Malibu Lake Vista Trail has stunning views of Malibu Lake and can be accessed from the historic Reagan Ranch staging area in Malibu Creek State Park.
Other Hikes to do in Malibu
Ocean Overlook Loop Trail
Length: 2.6 miles | Elevation Gain: 462 ft. | Trail Guide | Easy
Features: Wildflowers, spectacular ocean views.
The name says it all, the Ocean Overlook Loop Trail has some of the best views of the Pacific Coast in Malibu.
This family-friendly trail is in the 532-acre Charmlee Wilderness Park and is great for all skill levels. The terrain is consistently flat except for some uphill right at the very end.
This area was recently devastated by wildfires so there’s not a lot of shade to be had and I’d recommend bringing a hat. With that said, it’s hopeful to see the regrowth in this area with the green sprouting through and nature showing its resiliency again.
There is a $4.00 parking fee at Charmlee Wilderness Park, but you might be able to snag some free street parking in the 4-5 spots near the entrance.
Tuna Canyon Trails
Length: 3.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 652 ft | Trail Guide
Features: Wildflowers, Meditation Circle, spectacular ocean views.
The out and back Tuna Canyon Trail is located near Topanga, California in the gorgeous 1250-acre Tuna Canyon Park.
It’s a popular family-friendly place to walk your leashed dog as you soak up the stunning ocean views.
There are two main viewpoints from the main trailhead.
On the east-facing Hearst Tank Motorway, it’s 1.6 miles round trip and on the Big Rock Lateral west-facing viewpoint, it’s 3.8 miles roundtrip. If you combine them both, you can make it a five-mile hike.
Before you leave, stop and find a moment of zen at the serene mountain top spot known as the Meditation Circle. There’s a rock labyrinth that was created by locals and the ocean views at this lofty spot are absolutely jaw-dropping.
Escondido Falls Trail
Length: 3.7 miles | Elevation Gain: 626 ft | Trail Guide
Features: Waterfall, bird watching, river.
The Escondido Falls Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails located near Malibu, California in the Escondido Canyon Park.
It’s an out and back shady trail that’s a relatively easy hike which makes it great for the entire family.
The parking fee at the park is $12 and the lot is pretty small so be sure to get there early.
You have the option of trying to find free street parking, but it will make your walk a little longer. If you park along the street, keep all valuables out of sight, and lock your car doors. There have been some break-ins in the area recently.
The first part of the hike to get to the trailhead will actually take you through a residential area that eventually opens up into a two-tiered 150-foot waterfall.
This section of the hike can be a bit unsteady under your feet so they have ropes in place to help you get through the loose rocks safely.
Trail tip: If you’re visiting during the dry season, the waterfall can be a tad underwhelming.
Calabasas Peak Trail
Length: 3.7 miles | Elevation Gain: 964 ft. | Trail Guide | Moderate
Features: Rock formations, bird watching, access to Red Rock Canyon.
The Calabasas Peak Trail is an out and back trail located in the Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve.
If you’re looking for a steady aerobic workout, this hike will do the job.
You can expect a moderate and steady uphill climb for the two miles to Calabasas Peak at the highest point. Luckily, this hike is pretty comfortable and easy on the way back down.
And along the way, you’ll be surrounded by the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains, Red Rock Canyon, and a ton of cool rock formations.
If you want to get some extra hiking time in, you can venture into the Red Rock Canyon if you make a right at the bench.
The parking lot here is easy to find and spots are plentiful.
Trail tip: The best times to hike here are from March until November.
Corral Canyon Loop Trail
Length: 2.3 miles | Elevation Gain: 531 ft | Trail Guide | Moderate
Features: River, wildflowers, bird watching, beach, restaurant, ocean views.
Corral Canyon Loop Trail is located in Corral Canyon Park and is one of the most accessible hikes in Malibu.
The $15 parking area is shared with the Malibu Seafood restaurant next door, so the lot can get a bit crowded especially around lunchtime. There is also free parking right on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) at the trailhead.
This moderate leveled loop trail is a bit narrow and the terrain is rough in spots, so it’s not that great for trail runners. I would also recommend wearing pants to avoid getting scratched up by the overgrown brush.
If you take the far left trail from the start, you’ll get to enjoy panoramic ocean views as you climb higher. This alone makes the hike well worth it, even with the lack of shade along the trail.
Tips for Hiking in Malibu
- The sun is hotter than you think – There is not a ton of shade on most of these trails and the heat of the sun can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. Bring breathable layers, wear a hat and sunglasses, and lather up on sunscreen.
- Bring a lot of water and then pack even more – It’s a known hiker’s rule to carry at least 1 liter of water for every two hours of hiking. If the terrain is more challenging or the weather is extra hot, bring more. And don’t forget water for your pup if your fur baby is joining you.
- Be prepared to run into some wildlife, you are in the wild after all – Don’t forget that you’re visiting the home of various animals. You may run into coyotes, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, birds, and many more animals along the hiking trails in Malibu.
- Although this is usually nothing to worry about, here are some tips for hiking and wildlife:
- Be aware of your surroundings and don’t hike after dark.
- Rattlesnakes sometimes sun themselves in the middle of the trail. Keep your distance if you come across one and give them space to slither away.
- Stay on the marked trails to avoid encountering ticks that like to live in shaded, grassy areas. Check you and your dog for ticks after your hike.
- If you encounter a coyote or mountain lion, back away slowly but don’t EVER turn your back or run.
- To avoid an itchy situation, stay on the trail and wear long pants – Pacific Poison Oak is easily spotted if you know what to look for. It almost always has three leaves that grow left than right of the main branch and grow as a vine, shrub, or climbing vine.
- Know the right of way and rules of the trail – Some of the hiking trails in Malibu are a bit narrow and require giving the right of way to a fellow traveler. As a rule of thumb, equestrians have the primary right of way, hikers next, and then mountain bikers.
- Fire safety is crucial – I’m sure you’ve seen reports over the years of terrible wildfires erupting in some of these hiking areas of Southern California. The ground is extremely dry which means it’s highly flammable. Please be ultra-sensitive to the conditions and don’t smoke or do anything that could spark a disastrous fire in this area. We already have our fair share of wildfires every year.
What to Pack for Hiking in Malibu
- Water – enough for you (and your dog if you’re hiking with one)
- Physical or downloaded trail maps – cell service is minimal or non-existent
- High energy snacks to fuel up
- First aid kit
- Breathable layers
- Sunglasses and a hat to protect yourself from the heat
- Insect repellent
- Hiking poles – especially if you’re hiking a steep area or need the extra support for your knees
- Waste bags to clean up after your dog
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
About the Author
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