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 farther up Temescal Ridge. The nearest trailhead, located in the Palisades Highlands, provides a scenic 1.5-mile hike with 275 feet of elevation gain.

Skull Rock is perched an elevation of 1,400 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 1,675 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 farther), or Temescal Peak (2.65 miles farther), 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, -118.5462 (34° 04′ 34.71″N 118° 32′ 46.3″W)

Trail Map
View Santa Monica Mountains in a larger map
Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding Los Angeles trails and campgrounds.


Skull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull RockSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hikeSkull Rock hike

These photos were taken in March of 2011 and July of 2013. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Temescal Ridge hike Temescal Peak
This 5.8 to 7.6-mile hike ascends Temescal Ridge to a summit with sweeping views over Topanga State Park and the Santa Monica Mountains.
Temescal Canyon hike Temescal Canyon
This 2.6-mile loop offers a variety of scenery and decent exercise, despite its relative brevity.
Rivas Canyon hike Rivas Canyon
This 2.1-mile (one way) trail crosses a lush secluded canyon connecting Temescal Gateway Park to Will Rogers State Park.
Santa Ynez Falls Santa Ynez Falls
This 2.5-mile follows a shaded creek to a gorge containing a short waterfall.
Eagle Rock Hike from Santa Ynez Canyon Eagle Rock from Santa Ynez Canyon
This 7.4-mile hike takes the long route from a canyon in the Pacific Palisades up to the panoramic sandstone summit.
Parker Mesa Overlook Trail Parker Mesa Overlook
This steep out-and-back hike rewards the effort with excellent views of the Pacific Ocean.
Los Liones Trail Los Liones Trail
This hike visits a lust canyon with ocean views, a potential start of the hike to Parker Mesa Overlook.
malibu trails More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains
Explore other destinations in the range.
Similar Trails
Topanga Lookout Malibu hike Topanga Lookout
This 2-mile visits the site of an old fire tower that still offers great views of the surrounding mountains.
saddle peak malibu Saddle Peak from the Backbone Trail
This 2-mile hike approaches Saddle Peak from the east.
runyon canyon hike hollywood Runyon Canyon
Tour Hollywood's most popular dog park on loops of various lengths, offering good exercise and views over Los Angeles.
Lizards mouth Trail Lizard's Mouth in Santa Barbara
This half-mile hike visits a unique rock formation with amazing views over Santa Barbara and the Pacific.

Ask a question or share your experience

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Go the extra miles...
Submit a rating of this hike to go with your comment. Contribute to the average trail rating.

2 Comments on Skull Rock in the Santa Monica Mountains

  1. Cameron Taylor wrote:

    I visited skull rock this past weekend (2/14/15) and came across two rather large honeycombs filled with bees. We came across them when we hit camel rock and eagle rock and turned left to wade through brush to get to skull rock. One was about halfway to skull rock, on our right hand side, affixed to the large boulder. The other was on our right hand side, when facing and scaling skull rock. They were avoidable, but worth mentioning so anyone with allergies stick to the mail trails. Also, we came across a rattle snake on this path, so please be mindful and do not bring your dogs!