Tuna Canyon Park preserves 1,255 beautiful acres in the mountains between Topanga and Malibu. Despite being relatively unknown and under-visited, the park delivers some of the grandest ocean views to be found anywhere in the Santa Monica Mountains. From ridges 1,500 feet above a silken Pacific Ocean, Tuna Canyon Park looks east toward Santa Monica Bay and west up the coast of Malibu. There are two main viewpoints in Tuna Canyon Park, found at the ends of Hearst Tank Motorway and Big Rock Lateral. From the main trailhead, it is 1.6 miles roundtrip to the east-facing viewpoint on Hearst Tank Motorway, and 3.8 miles roundtrip to the west-facing viewpoint on Big Rock Lateral. Take in both vistas on a combined 5.1 mile hike with 900 feet of elevation change, or really go big and check out a viewpoint on Budwood Motorway for a 6.2-mile expedition.
The trailhead for Tuna Canyon Park is barely marked (perhaps why it receives so few visitors), but can be found in the mountains between Malibu and Topanga on the outside of a bend in Tuna Canyon Road. Hike south down a dirt service road named Big Rock Motorway for 0.15 miles to an unmarked junction. Turn left to hike up Hearst Tank Motorway to the highest point in park at approximately 1,775 feet. Oaks along the bottom of this dirt service road are some of the only shade-providers in the park. Elsewhere, the sagebrush and chaparral allow for incredible open views.
Santa Monica Bay from the end of Hearst Tank Motorway
Halfway up the 275-foot ascent, the 2/3 of a mile long service road passes a saddle that looks down on the Pacific. From the saddle it is another 0.2 miles to a level spot on the top of the ridge. Walk to the right, to a point that looks south and west over Malibu. Get an eyeful and continue east to the end of the trail for a compelling panorama down the mountains toward Santa Monica Bay and inland toward downtown Los Angeles. To the northeast there is even a view of Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park. The higher peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains can be seen in the distance. On a clear day this is one of the best viewpoints anywhere in the range. To get you to linger even longer, some visitors have built a stone labyrinth at the end of the point.
Return down Hearst Tank Motorway to the junction with Big Rock Motorway and continue south to reach Big Rock Lateral. You will gain about 50 feet of elevation, passing a junction with Budwood Motorway, which break off to the left heading down to the Pacific.
For a short extension, you may head 0.55 miles down Budwood Motorway to a rise that offers views down a green canyon toward Santa Monica Bay. Hike a tenth of a mile to a 4-way split and head straight over a knoll, or turn right and wrap around the hill. The trails reunite and continue down the ridge for another 0.2 miles to a split. Straight ahead, a narrow trail continues down the canyon. Turn left to take in the view from a rise protruding into the canyon. The viewpoint lies straight south of Hearst Tank Motorway, providing a similar (though less grand) perspective. On the hike up Budwood Motorway, if you are heading back to the trailhead, you may head north through the 4-way junction, exploring a single track that passes a grove of eucalyptus. Turn left when you pass a broad oak tree to return to the main trail.
As you continue down Big Rock Motorwaypast the junction with Budwood Motorway toward Big Rock Lateral, a 180-degree view of the ocean spreads out below. The trail heads downhill and also looks west over Las Flores Canyon toward Saddle Peak, which looms above at 2,805 feet making it the 6th tallest summit in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Looking down Big Rock Motorway toward Saddle Peak
The views are nonstop as you drop 200 feet over 0.9 miles from Hearst Tank Motorway to a Y-junction with Big Rock Lateral. Turn right to progress down the mountainside, descending 400 feet over 3/4 of a mile to a landing that peers west over Las Flores Canyon. Cleared landings along Big Rock Lateral deliver knockout views up the winding Malibu coast. From this peaceful vantage high above the surf, the oceanfront below looks quiet and calm. Yes you have to hike back uphill after the trail dead-ends, but the view is worth it. It is 1.9 miles back to the trailhead on Tuna Canyon Road with 700 feet of elevation gain.
The bottom of Big Rock Lateral
From the junction at the top of Big Rock Lateral, Big Rock Motorway angles east a short distance to a holding tank on the ridge. The dirt trail meets a paved service road coming up from Big Rock Road. This is another access point to Tuna Canyon Park. Though the paved road is steep, it packs even more views of the Pacific. It is 0.6 miles from Big Rock Drive to the junction with Big Rock Lateral with 400 feet of elevation change. Those who don’t mind the climb, and aren’t worried about overdosing on ocean views, may wish to start their hike from Big Rock Drive.
No matter where you begin your hike or how many trails you explore, there is no fee or permit required to visit Tuna Canyon Park. Dogs and mountain bikes are welcome. The ocean views are extraordinary, so give Tuna a try!
Looking east across Santa Monica Bay
To get to the main trailhead: Drive 3.3 miles west of Topanga Canyon Road on PCH to Las Flores Canyon Road. Turn north and drive 3.4 miles up Las Flores Road to Rambla Pacifica Street. Turn right, drive 0.6 miles and make another right on Schueren Road. Drive 1.8 miles and turn right on Saddle Peak Road. After 3.2 miles, turn right on Tuna Canyon Road. Proceed one mile to the trailhead on the right at the outside of a bend in the road. The fireroad is obvious but unmarked. Beyond the trailhead Tuna Canyon Road becomes one-way down to PCH and can be used when leaving the park.
Trailhead address: Tuna Canyon Road & Hearst Tank Motorway, Topanga Canyon, CA 90290
Trailhead coordinates: 34.059538, -118.616345
To get to the Big Rock Drive trailhead: Drive 1.7 miles west of Topanga Canyon Road, and turn north off PCH onto Big Rock Drive, which carves up the mountain for another 1.7 miles. There is space for a few cars to park at the end of the road. The service road continues to the left.
Trailhead address: 20885 Big Rock Drive, Malibu, CA 90265
Trailhead coordinates: 34.04553, -118.624279
Use the map below to create your own directions:
|Saddle Peak from the Backbone Trail|
This 2-mile hike summits Saddle Peak, the 6th tallest summit in the Santa Monica Mountains.
This 2-mile visits the site of an old fire tower that still offers great views of the surrounding mountains.
This section of the Backbone Trail crosses fields of grains and forests of bays, climbing 1,500 feet over 3.8 miles to a small ocean view. Extend the hike to Topanga Lookout for an incredible perspective over the Santa Monica Mountains.
|Eagle Rock from Trippet Ranch|
This 4.5-mile loop takes Musch Trail and Eagle Springs Fire Road to visit an exceptional sandstone summit in Topanga State Park.
|More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains|
Explore other destinations in the range.