Point Mugu State Park protects 15,000 acres of rustic wilderness on the west end of the Santa Monica Mountains between Oxnard and Malibu. More than 70 miles of trails explore this sprawling park, leaving hikers with options. An excellent way to experience Point Mugu State Park is to set out on a daunting and rewarding 11.75-mile loop. Start at the mouth of La Jolla Canyon just across Highway One from the Pacific Ocean. hike up the east side of the canyon on Ray Miller Trail, take Overlook Fire Road inland to La Jolla Valley Fire Road, cross a mountain valley toward Mugu Peak, then follow an ocean-side mountainside trail back into La Jolla Canyon just in time to pass over a short waterfall on the way back to the trailhead. If that sounds like a lot, it is. This is one heck of a hike!
There is 1,225 feet of elevation difference between the trailhead and the highpoint of the hike, Mugu Peak, a remarkable perch over the Pacific. The ocean views along this loop could easily be the very best in the Santa Monica Mountains. The mountains and grasslands inland from the coast also make for pleasant hiking.
From the La Jolla Canyon Day Use Area in Point Mugu State Park, locate Ray Miller Trail, which will be on the right as you look inland from the parking lot. Straight ahead, La Jolla Canyon Trail goes up canyon toward a seasonal waterfall. This will be the return route for the loop. To start, ascend the east ridge of the canyon on Ray Miller Trail, the western end of the Backbone Trail. The single track winds up the ridge, steadily gaining close to a thousand feet of elevation over 2.75 miles to a junction with Overlook Fire Road.
Crashing waves and passing motorcycles serenade the ascent, which is further motivated by expanding views of the canyon and coast. Just over a mile from the start, Ray Miller Trail curves around the south end of the ridge providing its first look down the beach to the east. The trail reaches the ridgeline, 2.25 miles from the start, and turns inland, straddling the ridge between La Jolla Canyon and Big Sycamore Canyon.
Enjoy luscious ocean and canyon views as you close out Ray Miller Trail and come to a T-junction with Overlook Fire Road. Turn left, taking the wide fire road north through new landscapes. Gaze northeast, across Sycamore Canyon and Serrano Valley toward the Boney Mountains, the highest peaks in the Santa Monica Range, including Sandstone Peak. The fan-shaped valley at the top of La Jolla Canyon comes into view to the west, surrounded by a rim of low peaks that curve around the upper lip of the valley. Atop one of the mountains to the west, you will see Point Mugu Radar Station, a hard-to-miss collection of communication satellites that is one of the few human intrusions in sight.
After ascending to 1,140 feet, the fire road turns to the left and winds down to a four-way intersection, 4.75 miles from the start. Just before the junction, Wood Canyon Vista Trail, also a segment of the Backbone Trail, breaks off to the right heading northeast for two miles to the fire road at the bottom of Sycamore Canyon. At the four-way junction, North Guadalasca Fire Road Trail continues straight, northwest up the ridge, while Wood Canyon Fire Road heads to the right, east into Sycamore Canyon.
To continue on the loop, turn left toward La Jolla Valley and set out across the grasslands. After 0.2 miles, find a junction on the left with La Jolla Canyon Trail, which descends through the canyon past La Jolla Canyon Falls to the trailhead. This trail can be used to abbreviate the hike to 7.35 miles, but that would omit Mugu Peak, so continue west on La Jolla Valley Fire Road.
More side trails split off in both directions. To the right are three short spurs for La Jolla Valley Hike-in Campground. The nine sites are spaced to offer privacy and may be reserved for $8 per person per night through the iron ranger in the parking lot at the bottom of La Jolla Canyon. The campground has a vault toilet for those in need, but no drinking water. Campfires are not allowed.
Just past the campground are two junctions on the left with single tracks heading into La Jolla Canyon. These are fingers of the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail, a shorter circuit through the park. Ignore all of the junctions and stick to La Jolla Valley Fire Road. The double-track road crosses a plank bridge and dwindles to a single-track, cutting west through grasslands that may be either green or golden depending on the season of your hike. You will cross a small riparian zone where coast live oaks provide welcome shade. Unfortunately, poison oak is underfoot, making this a bad place to break. The trail turns to the left parallel to the trees and comes to the last junction with La Jolla Valley Loop Trail (1.6 miles past the La Jolla Canyon Trail junction and 6.55 miles from the start of the hike).
Stay to the right through this junction and ascend the ridge to a saddle west of Mugu Peak, at an elevation of 900 feet. To the left, a single track heads for the summit. One could shorten this hike to 10.75 miles by heading over the peak here, but that would eliminate the immense ocean views just ahead. The trail below the peak, called Mugu Peak Trail, meets up with the track across the summit on the other side at a higher elevation. It is recommended to hike the full loop and approach the summit from the east for a short scenic ascent.
Straight ahead, Chumash Trail descends the steep south side of the saddle for 0.6 miles to another trailhead along PCH. The most defined trail, Mugu Peak Trail heads southeast across the waist of Mugu Peak. The ocean views are back, and they are stunning along this next portion of the hike. The single track takes a level course to a viewpoint along the eastern slope of the peak, 0.35 miles from the saddle. The landing soars above PCH and provides a panoramic perspective up and down the coast. Coastal wetlands to the west make a unique sight. Just past Mugu Lagoon is Point Mugu Naval Base where planes and helicopters can be seen taking off and landing.
The trail continues around the peak, gradually gaining elevation. One mile from the saddle (and 8.25 miles from the start of the hike), Mugu Peak Trail comes to a junction with a track heading up the summit of Mugu Peak. This point is 160 feet higher than the other end of the trail over the peak (at the saddle), making for an easier ascent with 200 feet of elevation to gain over a quarter mile – just enough to get your heart pumping on the way to the summit.
A high-flying American flag stands on the top of Mugu Peak. This round 1,266-foot peak is remarkably close to the ocean, and provides unobstructed 360-degree views along the coast and inland over La Jolla Valley. Old glory is well placed.
Beyond the summit spur, Mugu Peak Trail descends toward the western ridge of La Jolla Canyon (across from Ray Miller Trail). After curving inland and dropping 460 feet over 0.9 miles, the trail crosses a small creek and comes to a junction with La Jolla Valley Loop Trail. The creek is one of two streams that converge above La Jolla Canyon Falls. Though you are getting close, there is still 1 1/3 miles left to hike to the waterfall.
Pass a rusted out shed just before the junction, and turn right, joining the single-track La Jolla Valley Loop Trail as it wanders northeast over slopes of sage and brush for 0.85 miles to a junction with La Jolla Canyon Trail. Some uphill slopes come before to this final junction. Fortunately, once you get to the junction, the hike is all downhill to the trailhead. Turn right and descend the rocky wall of La Jolla Canyon, which is lined by bizarre looking vegetation, giant coreopis. The plant looks like fennel crossed with Joshua tree in a lab run by Dr. Seuss.
Switchbacks angle through a small grove of walnut trees to a confluence just above the falls. Have a look down the canyon from the top of the waterfall, then take the switchback to the left to the base of the falls. Pause below the mossy twenty-foot cascade before continuing down the canyon the final 0.75 miles to the trailhead.
There are several “wow” moments along the epic hike where the views are so incredible, they stop you in your tracks. This 11.75-mile hike can be shrunken to 11.1 miles by omitting the ascent to the summit of Mugu Peak and the walk out to the landing below. This grand trek will not disappoint, but if the distance is too great, consider these more manageable options:
- Hiking 1.5 miles round trip to La Jolla Canyon Falls
- Hiking 5.5 miles round trip up Ray Miller Trail
- Hiking 7.35 miles up Ray Miller Trail, across Overlook Fire Road, and down La Jolla Canyon Trail
- Hiking 6.5 miles round trip up Mugu Peak Trail to the summit
La Jolla Canyon Loop is largely sun-exposed, so pack plenty of water and sunscreen. No dogs are allowed. An $8 vehicle fee is charged to park at the trailhead. For those willing to hike a bit extra, free roadside parking can be found just outside the park along Pacific Coast Highway. No permit is required to day hike the amazing loop, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Los Angeles, take the 10 Freeway west through Santa Monica and follow PCH northwest for 34 miles through Malibu to Point Mugu State Park. Fifteen miles past the intersection with Kanan Dune Road and 1.5 miles past Sycamore Canyon, turn right into La Jolla Canyon Day Use Area. Proceed into the park to the parking lot on the left. From Oxnard, head southeast on PCH for ten miles and turn left into La Jolla Canyon Day Use Area.
Trailhead address: Pacific Coast Highway, Point Mugu State Park, Malibu, CA90265
Trailhead coordinates: 34.086245, -119.03676 (34° 05′ 10.48″N 119° 02′ 12.33″W)
This 6.5-mile hike ascends from the bottom of La Jolla Canyon to the top of a 1,266-foot peak, providing exceptional ocean and canyon views.
|La Jolla Canyon Falls|
This short hike visits the short seasonal waterfall 3/4 of a mile up La Jolla Canyon.
|Scenic and Overlook Trails Loop|
This 2.7 to 3.5-mile hike takes in tremendous ocean views above Big Sycamore Canyon in Point Mugu State Park.
This 6.25-mile loop summits the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.
This 3-mile out and back hike visits a remote grotto in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
|More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains|
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|Hermit Gulch Trail Trans-Catalina Trail Loop|
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|Zuma Canyon Narrows – Zuma Ridge Loop|
This partially off-trail trek crosses the narrow canyon between Zuma Canyon Trail and Edison Road. Hikers may return along the Zuma Ridge Trail to form a challenging 8-mile loop.
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|Sycamore Canyon Campground|
This 58-site campground in Point Mugu State Park sits at the mouth of a beachfront canyon and has access to trails through the west end of the Santa Monica Mountains.