Skull Rock Topanga State Park skull rock palisades highlands

Skull Rock sits on the shoulders of Temescal Ridge north of Temescal Gateway Park, delivering broad views over Santa Monica Bay. The head-shaped sandstone formation can be reach as an extension of Temescal Canyon Loop, bringing the hike to 3.8 miles. Skull Rock can also be reached via trailheads further up Temescal Ridge. The nearest trailhead, located in the Palisades Highlands, provides a scenic 1.5-mile hike with 225 feet of elevation gain.

Skull Rock is perched an elevation of 1,500 feet and the trailhead is at approximately 1,550 feet, but this is not a gradual downhill hike because in the between, the trail rises to 1,725 feet. The hike climbs to the spine of Temescal Ridge from the west, before dropping down to Skull Rock.

The makeup of the trail at the start is rather unique. A concrete road switches up a steep slope composed of numerous drainage ditches. As you leave the affluent development off Palisades Drive, views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding mountains expand. After 0.2 miles, the concrete ends and there is dirt to tread on for the duration.

Temescal Ridge Trail to Skull Rock
Temescal Ridge Trail at the junction with the Palisades Highlands Access Trail

A quarter mile from the start, Palisades Highlands Access Trail reaches Temescal Ridge Trail. Turn right and proceed half a mile to Skull Rock. About halfway down the ridge, the trail swings to the right and descends to the destination. At the same time, a single track continues straight over a small rise, rejoining the trail on the other side.

Skull Rock occupies a landing with great views down the ridge toward Santa Monica Bay. There are footpaths breaking off to the right toward the top of the outcropping. Make your way across the landing, or continue down the trail to see Skull Rock from below. Brief off-trail scrambling will bring you up to (and possibly inside) the unique sandstone formation. Nearby outcroppings are fun to explore as well.

Skull Rock
Skull Rock

Expansive ocean and canyon views make this a very charming short trek. Find a rock to sit on for a while, before hiking back up the ridge and down Palisades Highlands Access Trail for a 1.5-mile out and back hike.

To extend the hike: Continue up Temescal Ridge Trail to Green Peak (0.85 miles further), or Temescal Peak (2.65 miles further), or even deeper into Topanga State Park to places like Eagle Rock. Skull Rock is most often visited from below as a side trip on Temescal Canyon Loop. Temescal Ridge Trail above Skull Rock sees far fewer visitors and provides surprisingly secluded hiking. Dogs are not allowed on this hike, and Mountain bikes are not allowed on Temescal Ridge below the Palisades Highlands Access Trail junction. No fee or permit is required to visit Skull Rock, so get out and enjoy!

To get to the trailhead: From Sunset Boulevard, half a mile east of PCH, head north on Palisades Drive. After 3.3 miles, continue straight on Chastain Parkway for another half a mile. Turn right on Via Las Palmas, and drive two short blocks up to the trailhead parking on the left. The trail will be on the right.

Trailhead address: Via Las Palmas, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Trailhead coordinates: 34.07631, -118.546204

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These photos were taken in March of 2011 and July of 2013. Click to enlarge.
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