Murphy Ranch Rustic Canyon Sullivan Ridge Hike

In the 1930s Nazi sympathizers built a refuge in the Pacific Palisades. Herr Schmidt, Winona and Norman Stephens, and their followers occupied a self-contained stronghold in what is now Rustic Canyon between Sullivan Ridge and Will Rodgers State Park. Murphy Ranch was designed to serve as a hold out for fans of the Third Reich waiting for America to fall to the Nazis. Instead, the ranch was raided by U.S. authorities and closed in 1941. The abandoned buildings were transformed into an artists’ colony in the 60s and 70s, but were abandoned after the Mandeville Canyon Fire in 1978. Today the grounds of Murphy Ranch are uninhabited, dilapidated, covered in graffiti, and open to hikers. While much of the history is lost, several structures remain, along with long cement staircases that still link Murphy Ranch to Sullivan Ridge Fire Road, providing a 3.85-mile hike with 325 feet of elevation gain.

Murphy Ranch Rustic Canyon
Looking up Rustic Canyon

This hike begins at the residential end of Sullivan Ridge Fire Road, but the ruins may also be reached by hiking up Rustic Canyon from Will Rogers State Historic Park. From the street parking at the intersection of Capri Drive and Casale Road, begin walking up Sullivan Ridge Fire Road toward a gate 0.4 miles from the start at the entrance of Topanga State Park. To the west there is a partial ocean view over the Pacific palisades. The view to the north up Rustic Canyon continues to improve as you hike another 2/3 of a mile up the wide paved fire road.

Murphy Ranch Rustic Canyon
Looking down the stairs into Rustic Canyon

A gap in the chain link fence on the left side of the road leads to the top of an endless-looking staircase heading down the steep wall of the canyon. Turn left here and begin the dizzying descent to Murphy Ranch. (If you miss this set of stairs, there will be another staircase 0.15 miles up the road alongside an abandoned water tower.)

Murphy Ranch Rustic Canyon
Looking up the stairs

The narrow concrete steps drop 200 feet over 0.1 miles down a lush slope that was once terraced and irrigated to harvest nut, fruit, and olive trees for the reclusive Nazis. When the string of 500+ steps finally comes to an end, turn left and follow the wide road down to the bottom of Rustic Canyon. The road turns up the canyon, passing through coast live oaks and sycamores that hide the crumbling ruins of Murphy Ranch.

A third of a mile from the bottom of the stairs, you will reach a large concrete building covered in spray paint. Step inside this haunting hollow structure that once housed a robust diesel generator and fuel tank.

Murphy Ranch Rustic Canyon
The graffiti-covered power building

Around the power building there are raised gardens, and more concrete steps, all remnants of the $4 million invested in Murphy Ranch by Winona and Norman Stephens. The owners were convinced by their Nazi pal Herr Schmidt that when Europe inevitably fell to Germany, America would be reduced to anarchy, and the National Socialist Party would need a self-sustaining stronghold in the mountains outside Los Angeles to survive the fall and plot the American takeover. History proved to be a bit different. Authorities monitoring the ranch raided the facility shortly after the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, arresting Schmidt and others for espionage. A radio capable of communicating with Germany may have been confiscated as well. Many of the specifics of this blight on Los Angeles history have been lost to time, but the ruins remain for hikers to explore.

Continue north up the road to a collapsed steel structure that served as a machine shed and garage. This is the last major building from the ranch. The Stephens had commissioned famed African-American architect Paul Williams (who designed the homestead now in ruins in Solstice Canyon) to build a four-story mansion within the canyon, but those plans were never executed. Elements of the bizarre retreat that were built have been left to decay by the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation.

Beyond the machine shed, a single track continues up the canyon toward Camp Josepho. A third of a mile up, there is a connection trail heading west for 3/4 of a mile up to the Backbone Trail in Will Rogers State Park. This trail is useful for those hiking into Rustic Canyon from Will Rogers State Park, and wanting to form a look through the canyon. Beyond this junction, there is a meeting with a paved road heading up to Sullivan Ridge Fire Road. This is an alternative return route to the one described below.

Murphy Ranch Rustic Canyon
The collapsed machine shed and garage

To leave Rustic Canyon, return to the power building and begin hiking up the steps to the right. After a short climb, the stairs reach the road coming down from Sullivan Ridge Fire Road. Turn left and ascend 180 feet over 0.4 miles. The road crosses a grove of sycamores and passes an immense water tank before reaching a stone gate that was once the grand entrance to Murphy Ranch. Step through the crumbling stone wall alongside the gate to return to Sullivan Ridge Fire Road.

Not far below the tank, there is a split in the road with another old paved track coming up from Rustic Canyon north of the ruins. To hike up this trail instead, continue up the canyon past the machine shed for 0.41 miles on Rustic Canyon Trail, a little-used single track that follows the creek past a few more old foundations through a dense woods. The trail passes a large white barn and a junction with a trail heading up to the Backbone Trail, before coming to the bottom of the old paved road. To the left, a single track continues up the canyon for 0.37 miles over a few creek crossings before coming to an end at Camp Josepho. The wide paved road turns to the right and climbs out of the canyon, meeting the other road coming up from Murphy Ranch before reaching Sullivan Ridge Fire Road.

Sullivan Ridge Trail
The gate to Murphy Ranch

Turn right on Sullivan Ridge Fire Road and hike 1.6 miles back down Sullivan Ridge Fire Road to return to the start for a 3.85-mile lollipop loop with 325 feet of elevation between the low and high points of the trek. Alternatively, you can stretch the hike to 4.25 by hiking north a bit further up the fire road to a junction with a single-track that travels along the top of Sullivan Ridge. Turn right and take the ridge-top trail back to the start. Sullivan Ridge continues north for several miles, eventually connecting with Mulholland Drive to allow extended hikes in the Big Wild of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Before its demise, Murphy Ranch was said to attract dozens of local sympathizers who performed military drills during weekend gatherings. Today you can walk the grounds with less devious intentions, exploring this beautiful canyon with an ugly past. No fee or permit is required to visit Murphy Ranch from Sullivan Ridge Fire Road, so get out and take a look.

To get to the trailhead: From Sunset Boulevard, 3 miles west of the 405, turn north at the light onto Capri Drive. After 1/3 mile continue through the traffic circle, remaining on Capri Drive for another 1/3 mile until it comes to and end at Casale Road. Sullivan Ridge Fire road begins to the left. Find street parking to the right or on an adjacent road.

Trailhead address: Capri Drive & Casale Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Trailhead coordinates: 34.061097, -118.504121

Use the map below to create your own directions:

View Murphy Ranch GPS in a larger map
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Photos

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These photos were taken in August of 2010. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Rustic Canyon hike Will RogersRustic Canyon’s Murphy Ranch from Will Rogers State Historic Park
This 4 to 5-mile adventure visits the ruins of a commune built by Nazi sympathizers in a canyon east of the park.
Inspiration Point hike Will RogersInspiration Point
This easy 2.25-mile loop in Will Rogers State Historic Park leads to an overlook with views from Santa Monica Bay to downtown LA.
Sullivan ridge hikeSullivan Ridge
A prominent lone-standing Live Oak along Sullivan Ridge makes a natural turnaround point and a 7.5 to 8.3 mile round trip hike.
Sullivan Canyon TrailSullivan Canyon
This 8.5-mile round trip hike follows a wide trail up the center of a sycamore-filled canyon.
Westridge TrailWestridge Trail to San Vicente Mountain
This 7.4-mile hike travels a scenic ridge between a Brentwood neighborhood and a summit that was once used as a Nike Missile site.
Santa Monica Mountains hikesMore trails in the Santa Monica Mountains
Explore other destinations in the range.

29 Comments on Rustic Canyon’s Nazi Ruins “Murphy Ranch” in the Santa Monica Mountains

  1. Is this trail actually inside either of the state parks? Or is it just near to them, and accessible from them? The reason I ask is that we want to do this hike with our dog, but state parks don’t allow dogs on their trails. Thank you.

    • Steven Vieira says:

      I did the hike a year ago with my dog. Tons of fun. Took him off leash after we were inside the gates bc the fire road was heavily trafficed with bike riders going pretty fast. Lots to explore and its definitely creepy at certain points. The stair cases turn into a massive butt workout. Fun place. Bring lots of water.

    • Cynthia says:

      I’ve taken dogs a few times, and once you get past the fire road nobody will know they are there. Watch out for the wildlife and other off-leash dogs though. Also, on the fire roads tons of people have dogs, so while I don’t know if they are allowed nobody seems to mind.

  2. hikespeak says:

    That’s a good question. The long answer is that the ruins are owned by the City of Los Angeles. The city would like to donate the land to the state to be incorporated into Topanga State Park, but the state won’t accept the land until the old buildings are demolished. So… Dogs are permitted on Sullivan Ridge Fire Road, and on the city property dogs might be OK, but dogs and bikes are not allowed on the trails between the road and the ruins in Topanga State Park, and they are not allowed on the Will Rogers trails either.

    Sorry!

  3. Karen says:

    I did this walk before and loved it. I never knew this existed. Very interesting history. I love doing stairwalks so much that I blog about the walks. You can check out this site on http://www.stairwalkinginla.wordpress.com. Go to Giant Steps walk #42 to read about this stairwalk.

  4. [...] The place smelled of paint fumes when we walked inside.  A short distance up from the shell is a mass of steel that was the machine shed and garage.  You can read more about the history in the Charles Flemings’ book Secret stairs and at http://www.hikespeak.com/trails/rustic-canyon-murphy-ranch-nazi-ruins/. [...]

  5. [...] Gagne How about a hike to the ruins of a compound built by Nazi sympathizers? http://www.hikespeak.com/trails/… pretty untraditionalThis answer .Please specify the necessary improvements. Edit Link Text [...]

  6. [...] You can find a nice map indicating the location of the various landmarks here. [...]

  7. [...] where the heck they built this. It is awesome. Disclaimer: taking out the Nazi angle of course. Murphy Ranch Trail | Los Angeles | Hikespeak.com [...]

  8. [...] first heard about this hike in January 2011, from Hikespeak.com, while looking for dog-friendly hikes up in the Santa Monica area.  Jeff and I were immediately [...]

  9. [...] Murphy Ranch - Hikespeak, photos, directions, history [...]

  10. [...] you’d like to do the hike yourself, grab some water and follow these directions. Otherwise, check out some more photos after the [...]

  11. Arman T says:

    What are the chances of running in to snakes or any other wild life?

    • Nikki says:

      Went today, was a great hike… the stairs up are a killer though!
      Dogs there, lots of them, on and off leash. No other animals just the usual birds, lizards, insects, etc.
      I highly recommend it… bring a snack or picnic and LOTS of water.

  12. scott says:

    The southern Pacific rattlesnake is found throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, including this area. Dogs should be strictly monitored as a bite can be fatal to your pet, dependent on the venom load received as well as how fast you are successful in seeking medical attention.

    Pay close attention to your surroundings, look where you hike, rest and picnic. Rattlesnakes mean no harm but will defend themselves if threatened. Meanwhile, enjoy this beautiful area but know you are in a wild area and home to countless other fascinating critters, too.

  13. We shot an awesome Freerunning and Parkour video here, Hiking to it with all of the cinema gear was hell though!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4hoSbeKdes

    tinyURL.com/UNFOUND

  14. [...] the ruins can be accessed on a hike through Rustic Canyon.  My second hike to Murphy Ranch could not have been more different than the first.  In Los [...]

  15. [...] couple of months ago, I went hiking with a girlfriend up at Murphy Ranch Trail in the Santa Monica mountains. Hiking was on my summer bucket list and I’d heard stories [...]

  16. […] locate the Ranch, exploring the eery buildings and admiring the artwork that now fills the walls.  Click here to learn more about Rustic Canyon and take a field trip to check it […]

  17. CAROL HUMPHREY says:

    I visit Pacific Palisades all the time and has never seen this place, can some please provide me directions from long beach to Los Angeles Rustic Canyon’s Nazi Ruins “Murphy Ranch” in the Santa Monica Mountains
    Thanks

  18. pac pal hiker says:

    Please respect the area around the Murphy Ranch and report anyone who is tagging or vandalizing the area to LAPD or local security patrol officers immediately. This a great jewel in the Santa Monica Mountains that is starting to be over-run by vandalism.

  19. Stephen Delgado says:

    I went today (April 8, 2014) and everything from the stairs was blocked off with NEW barbed wire. But the steps I was traveling down were wooden, not concrete. I realize now that I might have taken a wrong path.

  20. […] taken on the way to Murphy Ranch in Los Angeles, […]

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