While relatively short, Cistern Trail and Lookout Trail offer some of the very best views of Malibu Creek State Park. By entering the park at the middle of Crags Road (the main trail across the park), these less-used trails offer quick access to many of Malibu Creek’s major hiking destinations. Cistern Trail is just a quarter mile from end to end, meeting the middle of the 0.9-mile-long Lookout Trail. Cistern Trail and the east half of Lookout Trail are immensely scenic, overlooking the Goat Buttes on their descent to Crags Road. The west end of Lookout Trail crosses through a mixture of grasslands and chaparral to a junction with Cage Creek Trail, which descends a quarter mile to Crags Road. The west end of Lookout Trail also joins Yearling Trail, which continues west and connects to Lake Vista Trail (overlooking Malibu Lake). There are a number of possible hikes beginning from Cistern Trail. The short loop to Century Lake is 2.05 miles long, while a hike to the MASH site is 3.6 miles round trip with 425 feet of elevation change.
The trailhead for Cistern Trail is located on Mulholland Highway, 1.8 miles west of Las Virgenes Road. The start of the trail is not obviously marked (see the directions below), but roadside parking is ample. Follow the dirt single track up a short rise to a large cement platform. (A former cistern, perhaps?) The trail curves to the right, heading south down a ridgeline into the park. To the east are fine views across Malibu Creek State Park toward Saddle Peak and Calabasas Peak. There are westward views as well, of Castro Peak and more of the Santa Monica Mountains. Directly ahead of the trail, the iconic Goat Buttes stand out from the surrounding green peaks.
Hiking down Cistern Trail
Cistern Trail makes a scenic, relatively steep descent, dropping 125 feet over a quarter mile. The short-but-sweet Cistern Trail comes to a T-junction with Lookout Trail. To the left, Lookout Trail descends 0.47 miles to Crags Road. To the right, Lookout Trail progresses 0.43 miles to Cage Creek Trail. This trail’s descent to Crags Road is shaded by tall brush and overhanging trees, which block out much of the scenery. On the other hand, the east half of Lookout Trail offers grand views on its descent to Crags Road and is the best way to go. If you are hiking both ends of Lookout Trail as a loop, head east first.
The east half of Lookout Trail is quite picturesque, offering an inspiring vantage of the beautiful rock formation, the Goat Buttes. The single track descends 255 feet to Crags Road, meeting the principal trail through Malibu Creek State Park just east of Century Lake.
Looking down on the east half of Lookout Trail, Century Lake, and the Goat Buttes from Cistern Trail
A 0.15-mile spur trail goes down to picnic tables along the murky waters of Century Lake. This is a relaxing retreat, and there are plenty of nearby areas to explore in the park. Farther east down Crags Road, Rock Pool is half a mile away. Up the road to the west, the site where the MASH television show was filmed is 1.1 miles away.
A quarter-mile to the west, Cage Creek Trail leaves Crags Road and heads back up the hill toward Mulholland Highway. This is a pleasant quarter-mile track that switches up an overgrown slope. At the bottom of Cage Creek Trail, avoid the footpath breaking up the ridge to the left and stick to the actual trail alongside the creek. Cage Creek Trail passes through a dense thicket, and climbs 145 feet to a junction with the west end of Lookout Trail.
Looking west from the west end of Lookout Trail
To the right, Lookout Trail ascends another 150 feet to the bottom of Cistern Trail. To the left, Yearling Trail continues west toward Reagan Ranch and Lake Vista Drive. Yearling Trail connects to Deer Leg Trail, which meets up with Lake Vista Trail, a single track to an vista point over Malibu Lake.
To return to the trailhead, turn right on Lookout Trail and hike the remaining 0.68 miles to the top of Cistern Trail. Cistern Trail is a less popular but highly enjoyable entry point to Malibu Creek State Park. The views of the Goat Buttes on the descent to Century Lake are quite impressive. If you are looking for new trails to explore in the park, give Cistern Trail, Lookout Trail, and Cage Creek Trail a try. No fee or permit is required to enter Malibu Creek State Park via Cistern Trail, so get out and enjoy.
Sun setting over the Goat Buttes
To get to the trailhead: From Las Virgenes Canyon Road near the main entrance of Malibu Creek State Park, head west on Mulholland Highway for 1.8 miles. The trailhead is on the south side of the road, just east of a dirt turnout. The trail sign is set back from the road, making it difficult to spot. Just west of Cistern Trail is another trailhead on the north side of the road for Phantom Trail. This trail sign is easier to spot. Turn around when you see it, and the start of Cistern Trail will be apparent on the south side of the road.
Trailhead address: 27800 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills, CA 91301
Trailhead coordinates: 34.105305, -118.731889 (34° 06′ 19.09″N 118° 43′ 54.80″W)
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|Lake Vista Trail|
This 4.1-mile hike beginning from Cistern Trail crosses the west end of Malibu Creek State Park and climbs to a scenic view over Malibu Lake.
|Grassland Trail to Crags Road and Rock Pool|
This easy 3-mile hike enters Malibu Creek State Park on South Grassland Trail, then forms a loop around Crags Road to visit Rock Pool, a popular park retreat.
This hike visits the site where the exteriors of the television show MASH were filmed, a 4.75-mile trek from the park entrance.
|Lost Cabin Trail|
This 1.5-mile round trip extension to the MASH set hike dead-ends in a mountain canyon at the site of a now nonexistent cabin.
This 4.75-mile hike climbs 500 feet over a scenic mountain between Liberty Canyon and Las Virgenes Canyon.
|Malibu Creek Traverse|
This adventure hike explores the C-shaped gorge between Rock Pool and Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park.
This segment of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area includes Western Town, an outdoor set cast as frontier towns in TV and film since the 1950s. There are also several miles of hiking trails to explore.
|Mesa Peak from Corral Canyon Road|
This 6.5-mile hike travels along a ridge adorned with sandstone outcroppings to approach a peak with ocean views over Malibu. Shorten the outing to 5.35 miles round trip by stopping at a crest above Mesa Peak with a prominent boulder.
|Mesa Peak from Malibu Canyon Road (Piuma Trailhead)|
This 6.5-mile round trip hike ascends 1,375 feet up the Backbone Trail from Malibu Creek State Park to a subtle summit with substantial ocean views.
|More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains|
Explore other destinations in the range.
|Malibu Creek State Park|
The year-round campground has 63 sites with picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, coin showers, and a dump station.