A Complete Guide to Hiking in Malibu

What do you look for on a hike? Is it a beach, hills, forests, or steep ground? In Malibu California, you get the best trails plus a chance to bump into your favorite Hollywood actor. Malibu is a small city in the western part of Los Angeles and here’s something great; the best hikes are within driving distance of the city.

With all this in mind, I have prepared a complete guide to hiking in Malibu. Besides outlining the best trails for you to try out, I have prepared basically everything else that you need to know.

Let’s get started!

Malibu Landscape

Hiking in Malibu

One of the reasons why Malibu stands out from the rest of cities in California is the beautiful coastline that is also home to quite a number of celebrities. 

As you walk along the wide and sandy beaches, like Zuma Beach and Lagoon State Beach, the houses of celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Miley Cyrus, Robert Downey Junior, and Lady Gaga dominate the landscape against the backdrop of the Pacific ocean.

Moving into the inland of Malibu, hiking trails meander through breathtaking landscapes created by waterfalls, canyons, grasslands, rocks, and state parks. Here’s the best part; almost every trail in Malibu gives you a different view of the Pacific Ocean.

Though they come in varied difficulties, hiking trails in Malibu are not as long or highly elevated as some hikes in Texas.

This makes most of the trails ideal for individuals, families, kids, people with disabilities, and even animal companions.

Malibu Climate

Malibu experiences a warm Mediterranean climate thanks to the city’s coastal location. This climate is characterized by two main seasons; summer and winter. 

Summer runs from late June or early July to October. Sometimes, it may extend to November which is the beginning of winter that usually runs through May. June is the month of transition between the two seasons.  

Surprisingly, the temperatures between summer and winter vary very little. While the highest temperature averages at about 76.10F, the lowest averages at 550F and rarely drops below 410F. This translates to a pretty warm winter compared to other regions in California.

Summer is usually dry with temperature ranges between warm and hot while winter is usually mild and a bit rainy at times. Snow in Malibu is extremely rare.

The Best Time to go Hiking in Malibu

The climate all year round in Malibu is excellent for hiking. A great experience is, however, guaranteed by proper planning and preparation for your hiking adventure.

Considering the climate of Malibu, the warmest months are July, August, and September. If you would rather avoid hiking in the heat, then avoid these months. 

Nevertheless, you can still have a wonderful experience in trails that are shaded and those that pass along sources of water where you can either take a dip or get a cooling breeze. When you do, its recommended to hike in the mornings to avoid the hot midday heat. By the way, the summer season is a great time to catch some beer and BBQ festivals in the city after a great day of hiking.

Are you a fan of hiking in the rain? January and February are the wettest months in Malibu. They also happen to be the coldest. That said, you should avoid any shaded and water-logged trails – they are likely to remain muddy and difficult to use.

Would you like to spice up your hike with some surfing also? If so, then January and February (winter months) are just perfect for a surfing adventure. 

The opposite alternative is July, which is the driest month. May through October are also dry months with very little or no rainfall.

In terms of temperatures, January to May, and then November is considered pleasant months; the temperatures range between 680F-770F. 

Tip: If you want to go hiking in Malibu on a low budget, go in November. The month does not receive many tourists and so travel and accommodation prices go down.

Safety While Hiking in Malibu

Threats to hikers’ safety in Malibu are usually related to poor planning, lack of precaution, and failure to exercise the right judgment by hikers. The safety issues, as outlined by Malibu Search and Rescue include injuries, death, and loss of property among other things.

Nevertheless, there are other threats such as wildfires that can result from both human negligence and natural occurrences. While lightning strikes and the sun can cause these fires, the majority of them are as a result of intentional or neglected fires. 

Speaking of wildfires, Malibu has experienced quite a number of those with the Woosley fire back in 2018 being the worst yet.

So, how do you keep safe while hiking in Malibu? I have outlined several measures that will take you a long way:

  • Wear the right clothes for the environment and pair this with good quality hiking boots
  • Keep away from wet, moss-covered rocks as they might be slippery leading to falls and injuries
  • Carefully study and memorize two-way trails to avoid getting lost
  • When hiking in areas with low or no cell network, switch your phone off to avoid draining the battery- you never know when you might need your phone
  • Alert several people with the details of your hike whenever you head out
  • Wildfires are common in the mountains and canyons- if you hike these areas, avoid lighting fires or if you do, light them in the designated places
  • Carry enough water, food, and other supplies
  • Carry enough sunscreen
  • Identify and look out for poison oak, especially in canyons
  • Keep your distance from wild animals if you spot some. Especially rattlesnakes.

What you Need to Know about when Hiking in Malibu

By now, you have probably decided the right time/season for your hike in Malibu and gone through the safety measures. Still, there are a few other things I thought you should know:

  • Most of the hiking trails in Malibu require no permit. However, it is always good to check with the relevant office to avoid being inconvenienced.
  • Most trails provide parking at a fee- usually from $10 for a number of hours.
  • As I mentioned earlier, most trails in Malibu are not highly elevated. Mostly, you will only need your normal hiking gear. However, if you are hiking a rocky trail, check beforehand to prepare the right gear for rock climbing.
  • Dogs and horses are allowed on some trails, but not on all of them. If you plan to bring yours, check this beforehand.

The Best Hikes in Malibu

1. Escondido Canyon Trail

Trail Length: 4.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
Time: 2-3 hours
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Directions: Click here

Hiking in Malibu is a chance to see some of Los Angeles’ most iconic waterfalls. The Escondido Canyon Trail is one of the hikes that take you to the Escondido Falls. It starts off the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and heads towards the 200 feet-high Escondido waterfall.

The trail begins in Winding Way, a road that goes uphill in the midst of Malibu’s grand residences. After about 200 feet, you enter the Escondido Canyon Park. This is a forested area that is open to the public. The paths here are unpaved but well marked.

This trail offers some good spots for taking photos, so don’t forget to carry your camera. There are a magnificent creek and some wildflowers that make the trail really beautiful.

Dogs are allowed on the trail, though they must be on a leash. Bikers are also allowed, so be on the lookout. 

Reaching the summit can be difficult when the trail is wet. Rainfall is experienced in January and February. The best time to complete the trail would be May through October when the creek has a low water level and the paths are dry.

2. Rising Sun‐ Solstice Canyon Loop

Trail Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Time: 2 hour
Elevation Gain: 400 feet 
Directions: Click here

The Solstice Canyon is home to some of the best hiking trails in Malibu. Depending on your skill, you will find trails of all difficulty levels- from easy to hard. One of the unique things about these trails is that almost all of them pass through wooded areas. 

The Rising Sun trail is probably the most challenging trail in this canyon. It alternates between hilly and flat grounds. The hike also moves along the side of the canyon, allowing hikers to enjoy an excellent view of the ocean.

During the start of the year, when it’s usually rainy, the Solstice waterfall forms. This perennial waterfall is popular with picnicking families. The spot is surrounded by tropical vegetation plus birds, lizards, and the occasional alligators. 

The waterfall is also near the ruins of a 1950’s house known as the Tropical Terrace. All these attractions and the fact that the trail is near the beach makes it popular with weekend hikers. 

Understandably, parking is limited so try to get there by public means. There are restrooms and water fountains along the trail. Dogs are allowed but they must be leashed. Also, you are expected to clean after your dog.

3. Calabasas Peak Trail

Trail Length: 4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
Directions: Click here

Hiking the Calabasas Peak Trail is one of the top things to do in Malibu. The peak is at an elevation of 2,163 feet above the sea level. At this height and the low-lying surroundings, hikers get a panoramic view of the Malibu area.

At the top, you can see the Red Rock Canyon, Cold Creek Canyon, and Old Topanga Canyon. You will also enjoy a beautiful view of the San Fernando Valley and a slight view of the Pacific Ocean on the horizon.   

This hike starts at the Calabasas Peak Motorway and winds up the Calabasas Peak. The trail’s elevation gain is fairly low, with the first 3 miles only rising for about 400 feet. In the last mile, however, the climb gets a bit steep with an elevation of about 500 feet.   

In the usual California landscape, the trail passes through bushes and sandstone formations. Both hikers and bikers usually rest along the shaded parts of the trail. And you should be observant of who you meet. Why? Calabasas Peak Trail is very popular with Hollywood celebrities.

Wear light clothes and remember to carry plenty of water. The trek is hot with exposed sandy paths. A wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen will also go a long way in shielding you from the sun.

4. M*A*S*H Trail

Trail Length: 4.75 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 2 ½ hours
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Directions: Click here

Are you a fan of Hollywood productions? If so, then in Malibu, you can walk on the set of one of Hollywood’s greatest TV productions MASH. The show ran from 1972 to 1983. Now, the grounds make one of the best hikes in Malibu.

Located in the Malibu Creek State Park, the trail takes you through preserved movie props (movie settings) and other attractions along the trail. The landscape was made to resemble Korea with other shows creating film sets that look like Mexico’s landscapes. It has since become a great tourist attraction.

From the parking area to the old MASH set, the trail elevates by just 200 feet. This makes it an easy hike even for kids. The hike is well-trafficked with visitors from America, Asia, and Europe flocking to relive the show’s greatest moments. 

For a quiet time, be done with your hike before noon. The area is dry and hot so carry lots of water to keep you hydrated. Wear a pair of light hiking boots to walk easily on the rocky paths. 

Caution: The area is prone to strong winds and wildfires, the most recent being the 2018 Woolsey Fire; so don’t go dropping burning cigarettes along the trail.

5. Point Dume Cove Hike

Trail Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 1-1 ½ hours
Elevation Gain: 347 feet
Directions: Click here

This is an out and back trail near Malibu and right by The Pacific Ocean. The trail follows a dome-shaped headland that extends into the water. White sandy beaches and pristine waters surround Point Dume, making this among the most iconic hikes in Malibu.

The trail starts at the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and towards the ocean at the Santa Monica Bay. Also known as a promontory, this headland is under the protection of California State Parks

From vantage points on the trail, you can watch as whales migrate from the shores of Malibu. For their own protection, they stay close to the beach where there are fewer predators. The best time to observe this natural phenomenon is from December to May.  

Point Dume Cove Hike is also a scenic trail that leads you to two of the area’s best beaches. There is also a flat boardwalk that leads to a viewing platform, overlooking the bay. Stairs curved on the ground take hikers down to the beach. Here, you will find beautiful tide pools of seawater.

No fee is required to hike on this trail but a 2-hour parking fee is charged for those with vehicles. That said, you are not supposed to walk-off from the clearly marked trail- for your own safety. Also, dogs are not allowed on this hike.

6. Eagle Rock Loop Trail

Photo by Neeson Hsu

Trail Length: about 7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 3 – 3 ½ hours
Elevation Gain: 850 feet
Directions: Click here

Topanga State Park is one of the popular hiking destinations near Malibu. This scenic park receives mountain bikers, joggers, and hikers all year round. One of its most iconic physical features is the Eagle Rock, a sandstone outcrop that overlooks the valleys below.

The hike starts at the Trippet Ranch, the headquarters of the park. Access is granted free of charge from 8 am till sunset. The parking is, however, charged a fee of $10 but you can forego the charge by parking off the pavement on Entrada Road.  

Along the trail are beautiful flowers but with very limited shade. For best views of The Pacific, it’s best to attempt the trail during the dry season. When it rains the area gets foggy with reduced visibility. Rain also comes with muddy and slippery paths.

The trail can also get a bit windy and chilly. Arm yourself with warm clothes and ensure that you are done by evening when the cold increases. 

Tip: Most beginners reach the Eagle Rock and turn back to the ranch covering about 3.8 miles. If you want a better challenge, it’s also possible to trek past the rock and complete the loop to cover about 7 miles.

7. Paramount Ranch Loop Trail

Trail Length: 4 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 150 feet
Directions: Click here

Just like the MASH trail, Paramount Ranch Loop is another of the most visited hikes in Malibu. The ranch is part of the National Park Service preserve and is made of well-maintained film and television sets of the Paramount Pictures studio.

One of the park’s famous attractions is the Western Town. This is a prop of entire buildings showcasing houses, banks, and shops. The town is modeled after the 1950s to the present day urban architecture. 

This trail is near Agoura Hills, California, giving it a forest setting with clean air and shaded paths. The ground still retains its rough appearance from intense horseback riding that is common with western movies. 

Unfortunately, most of the sets were burnt down in the 2018 Woosley Fire. The management continues to rebuild most of the props. Some of the film’s old sets include props from Sandra Bullock’s The Lake House, and Bob Hope’s Caught in The Draft (1941). 

The trail is kid-friendly and you are free to bring your dog as long as it is leashed. You can visit the park after the 8 am opening time, any time of the year. Not much gear is needed on this hike except for hiking boots or a great pair of trainers, and of course proper clothing.

8. Charmlee Wilderness Park Loop Hike

Photo by claumoho 

Trail Length: 3.25 miles
Difficulty:  Easy to Moderate
Time: 1 ½ – 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 260 feet 
Directions: Click here

Charmlee Wilderness Park offers an amazing hike in Malibu. Located in Western Malibu, the park overlooks the Pacific Ocean with a great view of the beaches below. In total, the park is about 1 sq.mi in an area with 8 interconnected trails. 

Of all the trails in the park, the 3.25 mile-loop is the most iconic with its trail passing through the inside and the edges of the park. The park is managed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority who charge parking at $4. 

Dogs are allowed in the park with the trail having well-paved paths and clear signs for direction. The loop takes you through a large meadow before you reach the edge. It takes just 15 minutes to walk from the entrance to the ocean overlook. 

Tip: The best time to visit the park is during the evenings. There are few visitors at this time and you get a chance to watch the sunset over the Pacific. Also, the whole park gets lit by the sun’s orange glow that is truly breathtaking. 

Evenings are also perfect to watch cloud formations over Malibu- the feeling can only be described as being ‘on top of the world’.

9. Backbone Trail (BBT)

Trail Length: 67 miles
Difficulty: Hard
Time: 5 – 7 days
Elevation Gain: 13,000 feet 
Directions: Click here

How would it feel to hike across the Santa Monica Mountains? The trail is located near Malibu and it comes with lush plants and beautiful flowers. It’s rated as hard with an elevation gain of about 13,000 feet.

The trail starts near the westernmost end of the Point Mugu State Park, almost at the sea level. It then climbs to 3,111 feet to the Sandstone Peak, the highest point of the trail. From there it continues up and down the mountains to reach the Pacific Palisades in Will Rogers State Park.

The trail forms part of the main attractions of the Santa Monica National Recreation Area. No fees are charged to hikers to access the trail and visitors are also allowed to camp in the tails of several campsites.

Dogs are not allowed, though horseback riding is totally acceptable. Generally, the trail is not crowded and is safe to hike throughout the year. Bikers, however, can only access about 47 miles of the entire trail, and only when it’s dry.

Coyotes, mule deers, snakes, and hawks are common on the trail. For this trail, do carry all your hiking gear including boots and climbing tools. Expect some steep climbs and slippery and overgrown paths along the trail.

10. Santa Ynez Falls Trail

best hikes in malibu

Trail Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Time: 1 – 1½  hours
Elevation Gain: 250 feet
Directions: Click here

Hiking in Malibu would be incomplete without climbing up to the Santa Ynez Falls. This is an 18 feet-high cascading waterfall inside the Topanga State Park. Although it’s a small waterfall, it attracts lots of hikers.

The trail meanders through a canyon with streams and rugged paths along the way. Passing over the streams is easy during the dry season but during the rainy season, you may face some challenges. 

Generally, almost no gear is required during the hike. However, there is also a small section just before the falls where you will have to do some simple rock climbing. Here, you need to wear good hiking boots to avoid slipping on the wet rocks. A hiking stick will also go a long way in helping you to stay on the trail.

The canyon is also wooded with overgrown wild plants on the sides of the trail. Be on the lookout for poison oak plants that can give you a rash if they come in contact with your skin. You can avoid this by wearing light hiking gloves. 

There are also ticks in the area but the good thing is that there are trailhead signs that indicate the areas to avoid. My advice is, stick to the trail and avoid wandering off, especially in the wooded areas.

Final Thoughts

If you are a follower of world news, the thought of wildfires and their devastating effects may scare your dream Malibu tour away. However, not every part of malibu has been affected and with proper precautions, you can still remain safe even in the areas associated with the fires.

Away from the fires, the above guide is a good indication that your hiking adventure in Malibu is worth it. One of the greatest hiking experiences is just a plane ticket away.

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