Simply named The Grotto, this narrow bolder-filled canyon with small talus caves covering a creek in the mountains makes a fun destination for a short hike. From the Circle X Ranch Visitor Center in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area on the west side of Malibu, it is 3.5-mile round trip to the Grotto with 500 feet of elevation loss.
From the main parking area for Circle X Ranch, walk down the access road to a small group campsite and pick up the single track trail to the Grotto, which descends into a verdant canyon. Along the way, the trail passes in and out of shade as it follows a small creek down the mountain. Wildflowers are plentiful in the spring.
The trail comes to a sudden end as the creek, the West Fork of the Arroyo Sequit, passes through and beneath large rocks. Continue downstream, passing over the rocks. The water can be seen between the boulders some ten feet below. There are a couple openings where you can get down between the rocks and explore the grotto. Continuing over the rocks, to the point where the creek exits the narrow part of the canyon. The hike ends here. There is a short waterfall at the base of the grotto, where water tumbles off a rock like a showerhead, dropping twelve feet into an enclosed pool. Here a ring of shallow water around a tall boulder creates a tube-like semi-circular cave.
The grotto is a great spot for young and old to explore. The back of the grotto is dark and a bit mysterious. Gollum could easily reside here.
After enjoying the grotto, hike back up the same trail. This is one of those backwards hikes where you do the uphill hiking on the way out, so you will now be gaining 500 feet of elevation to return to the trailhead. Dogs are permitted along the trail, but not allowed over the last 1/8 mile through the grotto itself. No fee or permit is required, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: Take PCH to the far west end of Malibu. Turn north up Yerba Buena Road (alongside Neptune’s Net Restaurant) and drive up Yerba Buena Road for 5.5 miles until you arrive at the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station (on the right). Park here and follow the signs to the trailhead.
Trailhead address: 12896 Yerba Buena Road, Malibu, CA 90265
Trailhead coordinates: 34.109292, -118.937438 (34° 06′ 33.45″N 118° 56′ 14.77″W)
Use the map below to view the trail and get directions:
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This 1.2-mile addition to the Sandstone Peak loop adds extra views to the hike (and some great views).
|Nicholas Flat via Malibu Springs Trail|
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|La Jolla Canyon Loop|
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|La Jolla Canyon Falls|
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|More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains|
Explore beyond Circle X Ranch to other destinations in the range.
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|Santa Ynez Falls|
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