Grotto Hike Malibu Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Circle X Ranch Trail

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.

Circle X Ranch
The trail beneath Circle X Ranch and Exchange Peak

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.

Grotto Hike Malibu
The Grotto

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.

Grotto Trail Map
A map of the trail to the Grotto

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.

Click here to view the Circle X Ranch Trail Map courtesy of NPS

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 create your own directions:


View Los Angeles Hikes in a larger map
Photos

Grotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuNearing the GrottoGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch MalibuGrotto Circle X Ranch Malibu

These photos were taken in April of 2009. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Malibu HikeSandstone Peak
This 6.25-mile loop summits the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Malibu HikeTri Peaks
This 1.2-mile addition to the Sandstone Peak loop adds extra views to the hike (and some great views).
Malibu Springs TrailNicholas Flat via Malibu Springs Trail
This scenic 7-mile round trip hike ascends 1,425 feet to meadows and a pond on Nicholas Flat in Leo Carrillo State Park.
Point Mugu State Park hikeLa Jolla Canyon Loop
This 11.75-mile hike explores Point Mugu State Park on the west end of the Santa Monica Mountains, offering extraordinary ocean views.
Point Mugu State Park hikeLa Jolla Canyon Falls
This 1.5-mile hike visits a short seasonal waterfall in Point Mugu State Park (that is also a stop on the larger loop).
Malibu HikeMore trails in the Santa Monica Mountains
Explore beyond Circle X Ranch to other destinations in the range.
Similar Trail
Solstice Canyon hikeSolstice Canyon
This easy and level 2.6-mile out and back hike visits the ruins of a burned down ranch and a small waterfall.
Malibu HikeSanta Ynez Falls
This 2.5-mile follows a shaded creek to a gorge containing a short waterfall.
Malibu HikeEscondido Falls
This 3.8-mile out and back hike visits a 200 foot waterfall that is split into two tiers. The upper tier is 150 feet tall and stunning after a rainstorm.

11 Comments on The Grotto in the Santa Monica Mountains

  1. [...] More information: here; trip report here [...]

  2. Dalin says:

    Props for listing this hike. We took our 3 year olds, which was a bit of a stretch, but they loved the grotto (just not the climb back up). Fun day and sore feet tonight!

  3. Roxy says:

    Lets hike….

  4. Harry Pantelas says:

    Can you start the hike at Circle X take the Grotto trail and continue to hike to PCH.

  5. flyingscot75 says:

    Beautiful trail. Can’t understand why people leave cigarette butts, cans and plastic bottles along the side of the path.

  6. mary says:

    Is the Grotto hike well marked?

  7. […] For more on this hike and other great hikes check out […]

  8. john maddalo says:

    To get to the circle X ranch do we drive and or go thru mountain roads? Are there many curves on this road and or drive to the ranch?

    John

Ask a question or share your experience

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *