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-mile round trip to the Grotto with 475 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. A couple openings offer passages down between the rocks to explore the hidden parts of the Grotto. Continuing over the rocks, to the point where the creek exits the narrow part of the canyon. The hike ends here. A short waterfall at the base of the grotto has water tumbling 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 475 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!
Woolsey Fire Update: Trails around Circle X Ranch have reopened following the November 2018 Woolsey Fire. Check the NPS Circle X Ranch webpage for more information.
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: 34.10995, -118.9373 (34° 06′ 35.8″N 118° 56′ 14.3″W)
|Sandstone Peak |
This 6.25-mile loop summits the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.
|Tri Peaks |
This 1.2-mile addition to the Sandstone Peak loop adds extra views to the hike (and some great views).
|Arroyo Sequit |
This 2.05-mile loop winds around the upper reaches of a canyon carved by the East Fork of Arroyo Sequit and has grand views of the Santa Monica Mountains.
|Nicholas 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.
|Nicholas Flat Trail - Willow Creek Trail Loop |
This 2.05-mile loop in Leo Carrillo State Park wraps around a coastal ridge and tops out at an ocean vista with broad views.
|Nicholas Flat via Nicholas Flat Trail |
This scenic 7 to 7.6-mile hike ventures from the coast in Leo Carrillo State Park up into the mountains to a grassy flat with a small pond.
|La 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.
|La 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).
|More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains |
Explore beyond Circle X Ranch to other destinations in the range.
|Solstice Canyon |
This easy and level 2.6-mile out and back hike visits the ruins of a burned down ranch and a small waterfall.
|Santa Ynez Falls |
This 2.5-mile follows a shaded creek to a gorge containing a short waterfall.
|Escondido 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.