It is pretty unusual to hike to a peak from a trailhead at a higher elevation. In the case of Mesa Peak, the lofty trailhead along Corral Canyon Road treats hikers to summit-worthy views right from the get-go. While the elevation profile is atypical, the hike along Mesa Peak Motorway to Mesa Peak in Malibu is quite enjoyable. Ocean overlooks appear all along the wide dirt road, which also passes some very impressive sandstone formations.
The hike from Corral Canyon Road to Mesa Peak is a 6.5-mile round trip with 465 feet of elevation change between the high and low points of the hike. Expect lots of ups and downs along this undulating route. The trail makes a rolling 250-foot ascent to the hike’s high point and then drops across a saddle and rises to another major crest before descending to the small summit of Mesa Peak.
The sweeping views over Malibu and the Pacific Ocean make Mesa Peak a worthwhile destination. Because there are similar views along Mesa Peak Motorway to those found at the summit, hikers could turn around early and still have an enjoyable outing. For a shorter 5.35-mile round trip hike with 375 feet of elevation change, stop at a crest on Mesa Peak Motorway before the last descent to Mesa Peak and follow a path up McAuley Peak, which has a prominent boulder that looks like a frog or a lizard’s head.
- For a tougher ascent to Mesa Peak, hike up the east end of Mesa Peak motorway from Piuma Trailhead to Mesa Peak.
Starting from Corral Canyon Road at an elevation of 1,985 feet, Mesa Peak Motorway ventures east across the top of a high ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains. Take a look down the upper reaches of Corral Canyon toward the coast of Malibu. At times, the road offers views north over Agoura and other parts of the Santa Monica Mountains. Begin by hiking 0.35 miles up Mesa Peak Motorway to a junction with the Backbone Trail. Turn right to stay on Mesa Peak Motorway, which is now also the Backbone Trail. You will be hiking through a garden of strangely-shaped sandstone rock formations.
Walk a short distance down Mesa Peak Motorway to a clearing on the left, under half a mile from Corral Canyon Road. Within the clearing, a spiral-shaped stone labyrinth has been assembled below pocked sandstone cliffs. You can walk in circles through the labyrinth or climb around on the boulders above the trail. Less disciplined hikers will be compelled to hop off trail to explore all the interesting rock formations along Mesa Peak Motorway. A path off the left side of the trail before this clearing goes toward a boulder with access to a graffiti-covered cave called Corral Canyon Cave or Jim Morrison Cave (for his reported visiting of the cave). Due to excessive vandalism, California State Parks closed access to the cave in May 2016.
Passing the clearing, Mesa Peak Motorway heads downhill alongside an unusual wall of sandstone before turning uphill again. To your right, broad views down Corral Canyon go all the way to the Pacific Ocean. After a mile of hiking, the road crosses a dip in the ridgeline and flips to the north side of the ridge. Mesa Peak Motorway passes a few oaks that provide rare shade along the hike. Look west off the saddle and spot a ring of spiky boulders that resemble a crown.
Continue up Mesa Peak Motorway to the highest point along the hike, which comes 1.55 miles from the start, at an elevation of 2,235 feet. There has been 250 feet of fairly gradual elevation change up to this point, but the road ahead has more dramatic highs and lows. Before heading downhill, enjoy a panoramic view to the north, looking out over Malibu Creek State Park and Agoura Hills. The pronounced cliffs of the Goat Buttes can be seen below. The route of Mulholland Highway along the north side of Malibu Creek State Park lies beyond that. Malibu Lake glistens to the northwest and Calabasas can be seen to the northeast. It is a big view on a clear day.
Mesa Peak Motorway heads downhill for the next 0.7 miles, sacrificing 375 feet of elevation as it plunges to 1,860 feet. As the ridge drops away, broad views open to the east down the trail toward Malibu Canyon. Rising on the other side, you’ll see Saddle Peak, which has pronounced sandstone stripes. At 1.95 miles from the start, pass a bench-shaped boulder on the right side of the trail. Have a seat if you wish and gaze down a green canyon toward the coast.
Cross the bottom of the saddle and head up a second major crest. A massive boulder juts out from the top of the crest, resembling a frog or a lizard’s head. This is McAuley Peak, named in honor of Milt McAuley, a champion of the Santa Monica Mountains, in 2015. Hike up Mesa Peak Motorway, getting closer and closer to, and eventually passing below, the large boulder.
At 2.55 miles from the start, reach a clearing at the second crest on Mesa Peak Motorway. A rusting holding tank stands on the far side of the clearing. From this crest, the trail descends to a junction with Puerco Motorway, which leads to Mesa Peak. A path to the right goes behind the tank and crosses a short rise that Mesa Peak Motorway wraps around. This is an easy spot to grab panoramic views above Mesa Peak. Additionally, a path doubling back on the left ascends for 1/8 of a mile to the top of McAuley Peak and the big, jutting boulder (that resembled a frog or a lizard’s head from the other side). Hiking up to the boulder on McAuley Peak adds about a quarter mile round trip to your hike, offering panoramic views that rival those found on Mesa Peak. If you set McAuley Peak as your turnaround point, the hike would be 5.35 miles round trip.
Continuing down Mesa Peak Motorway, the road wraps around the east side of the bump on the ridge and delivers nice views over Malibu Canyon on the east end of Mesa Peak Motorway. Come to a junction after another 0.2 miles (2.75 miles from the start). Mesa Peak Motorway proceeds to the left. Puerco Motorway descends to the right toward Mesa Peak. If you somehow pass this junction, there is another junction with an eastern branch of Puerco Motorway another 0.05 miles down Mesa Peak Motorway. From there, Mesa Peak Motorway descends 2.7 miles to Piuma Trailhead on Malibu Canyon Road.
Turn down Puerco Motorway. The not-so-prominent summit of Mesa Peak lies to the south, actually at a lower elevation across a shallow dip in a ridge. The western and eastern forks of Puerco Motorway unite after a tenth of a mile (bear right). A short way down the wide dirt road, and just over three miles from the start, pass a state park boundary sign, letting you know that you are exiting Malibu Creek State Park, which preserves Mesa Peak Motorway and the top of Puerco Motorway.
There are big ocean views from Puerco Motorway, gazing southwest down Corral Canyon toward the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean where Point Dume extends from the coastline. Across Corral Canyon, Corral Canyon Road is visible running along the top of the opposing ridge. Beyond that rises the 2,824-foot radio tower-covered crown of Castro Peak.
Pass through a fence after 0.45 miles on Puerco Motorway (3.2 miles from Corral Canyon Road). The small summit of Mesa Peak lies just ahead. Walk a few hundred feet, leave Puerco Motorway, and take the path to the right up the bump that is the summit of Mesa Peak. A small building sits on the 1,844-foot summit along with a solar panel.
The top of Mesa Peak is 3.25 miles from Corral Canyon Road. Standing on the summit, you may feel compelled to walk down a footpath to a low point just to the south that offers a mighty view over the Pacific Ocean. You can look west over Corral Canyon, south over Puerco Canyon, southeast over Malibu Canyon and east toward Saddle Peak. This lower perch adds 0.15 miles round trip to the 6.5-mile hike to Mesa Peak.
When you’re through being mesmerized with the view from Mesa Peak, hike back the way you came. On the way back, you’ll descend 75 to the saddle on Puerco Motorway. Ascend from there back to Mesa Peak Motorway and up to the crest by the metal holding tank, gaining 205 feet. Cross the crest and descend 115 feet to the bottom of the next saddle. Make the big climb of 375 feet to the high point of Mesa Peak Motorway and then descend 250 feet back to Corral Canyon Road, crossing a few gentler dips.
This rollercoaster of a hike is an atypical approach to a subtle summit in the Santa Monica Mountains. There are sweeping views for most of Mesa Peak Motorway thanks to the high elevation of the trailhead and the closeness to the coast. Those wishing to hike farther on the Backbone Trail may continue west across Upper Solstice Canyon toward Castro Crest. No fee or permit is required to hike to Mesa Peak. Dogs are not allowed, but bikes are welcome on Mesa Peak Motorway, so get out and enjoy!
The basic directions for this hike to Mesa Peak are:
- Hike west from Corral Canyon Road on Mesa Peak Motorway (0 miles)
- Bear right to stay on Mesa Peak Motorway through a junction with the Backbone Trail (0.35 miles)
- pass a clearing on the left below sandstone outcroppings (0.5 miles)
- Come to a clearing by a rusting tank (2.55 miles)
- Venture up a path to the left to the top of McAuley Peak – adding an extra quarter mile round trip
- Proceed down Mesa Peak Motorway to a western junction with Puerto Motorway and turn right (2.75 miles)
- Bear right as the western fork joins an eastern fork of Puerto Motorway and proceed south (2.85 miles)
- Leave Puerco Motorway on a short path up to the summit (3.25 miles)
- Optionally: Continue past the summit down a short path to a point with great ocean views (3.33 miles)
To get to the trailhead: Take PCH to Malibu and turn inland on Corral Canyon Road, which is 2.3 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road and Pepperdine University. There is a 76 Gas Station at the intersection. Drive past the entrance to Solstice Canyon Park and take Corral Canyon Road for 5 miles up into the mountains to the start of Mesa Peak Motorway, which is on the right. If you reach the end of the pavement, you need to turn around and drive back about a quarter mile. There is parking along the sides of Corral Canyon Road.
Trailhead address: 301 Corral Canyon Road, Malibu, CA 90265
Trailhead coordinates: 34.079, -118.75556 (34° 04′ 44.40″N 118° 45′ 20.01″W)
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