Vanalden Cave near Tarzana is one of the most unusual sandstone formations in the Santa Monica Mountains and is quite easy to hike to. Vanalden Cave is a sandstone den about 25 feet tall, 25 feet wide, and 50 feet deep. The roof of the cave is only a few feet thick with a few holes that, like skylights, illuminate cave walls covered with curious carvings and graffiti.
Hike 0.6 miles round trip to Vanalden Cave for a short excursion with 100 feet of elevation change or extend the hike to 1.55 miles round trip with 350 feet of elevation change to reach a nearby vista point on Vanalden Trail that provides a panoramic amphitheater-like view of the Santa Monica Mountains.
The short hike to Vanalden Cave has a few unmarked junctions along the way, so know the directions before you go.
Start up Vanalden Trail, a dirt trail beginning from the south end of Vanalden Avenue in Tarzana. Reach a split in the trail after 0.15 miles. Vanalden Trail continues up the mountainside to the right (this is the route to the vista point that you can visit after the cave). To get to Vanalden Cave, turn left at the split.
The dirt track enters an oak grove and descends to a large oak at another trail split, 0.05 miles from Vanaladen Trail. A trail breaking off to the right heads to the top of Vanalden Cave. Straight past the tree, you can drop into a ravine and turn right to hike up to the mouth of Vanalden Cave. A steep path alongside the cave allows you to connect the upper and lower trails to explore all sides of Vanalden Cave.
By either route, it is only a few hundred feet from the oak tree to Vanalden Cave. The mouth of the cave is shaped like an arch. The interior looks black as a midnight sky, until you step inside and see that holes in the ceiling of the cave let in ample light for you to poke around and explore.
Unlike most caves, Vanalden Cave is only covered on top by a few feet of rock. A path along the edge of a ledge extends to the top of Vanalden Cave where you can look down through the holes into the shadows below. You can crawl through a window on the side of Vanalden Cave too.
The soft sandstone walls of Vanalden Cave have been cut into or spray-painted over on almost every surface of the cave. Numerous strange and humorous faces are carved into the rock. Sadly, a lot of liter is spread on the ground around Vanalden Cave too, detracting a bit from this awesome natural feature.
After checking out Vanalden Cave from all sides, you can hike back the way you came (0.6 miles round trip) or continue up Vanalden Trail to a panoramic view of the Santa Monica Mountains (1.55 miles total round trip).
Backtrack down past the oak tree and out to the original trail split. This time, take the main fork and continue up Vanalden Trail. Just above the split, stay to the left past a path that breaks off to the right. Vanalden Trail comes to a junction with an unpaved section of Mulholland Drive after 1/8 of a mile. You could turn right or left here and hike deep into the Santa Monica Mountains, but for a great nearby view you should continue straight across Mulholland Drive up Vanalden Trail.
The dirt single track bends to the left, heading south up a hill for 0.05 miles. When you meet a paved LADWP Service Road, turn right and follow the road past Corbin Tank, walking 0.07 miles to the end of the pavement where a dirt single track continues toward the now evident vista point.
It’s just under a quarter mile from the pavement to the vista point. Stay left through one last obvious junction, passing a path that cuts off the small vista summit and continues down Vanalden Trail. The viewpoint does not seem to have a name so let’s call it Vanalden Vista.
Vanalden Vista presents a pretty astonishing perspective of the Santa Monica Mountains. Canyons below Vanalden Vista roll out to the east, south, and west, followed by mountains that appear in the shape of a ring from this vantage. The vista point presents an amphitheater-like panorama of the Santa Monica Mountains that is truly sweeping.
Vanalden Trail turns west and drops from the vista point to Santa Maria Road in Topanga. If you are mountain biking, or in the mood for a longer hike, you could descend to Santa Maria Road and then loop back up to Mulholland Drive west of Vanalden Trail in Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park. Even without that longer venture, the short extension from Vanalden Cave to Vanalden Vista is well worth the effort.
Take it all in and return the way you came for a 1.55 mile round trip hike to Vanalden Cave and Vanalden Vista. Dogs and mountain bikes are permitted on Vanalden Trail. No fee or permit is required to hike to Vanalden Cave, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: Take the 101 Freeway to exit 24 for Tampa Avenue (5 miles west of Interstate 405). Turn south at the bottom of the ramp and drive one block down Tampa Avenue to Ventura Boulevard. Turn left on Ventura Boulevard, drive three blocks, and turn right at the first traffic light onto Vanalden Avenue. Drive three miles south to the end of Vanalden Avenue where the trail begins. Free street parking is available from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Trailhead address: 3630 Vanalden Avenue, Tarzana, CA 91356
Trailhead coordinates: 34.134666, -118.563017 (34° 08′ 04.79″N 118° 33′ 46.86″W)
|Hub Junction from Reseda Boulevard |
This 5.3 to 5.45-mile hike from the edge of the San Fernando Valley goes through Topanga State Park to a scenic junction at the crossroads of the Eastern Santa Monica Mountains. Extend the trek to 6.85 miles round trip by summiting Temescal Peak or to 7.95 miles round trip by taking a loop to Eagle Rock.
|Caballero Canyon Trail |
This 3.4-mile round trip hike ascends a canyon on the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains with views over the San Fernando Valley.
|Corbin Canyon |
This 2.05-mile hike offers an easy stroll along the bottom of a canyon on the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains near Tarzana and Woodland Hills.
|Winnetka Ridge Trail |
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|Viewridge Trail |
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|Westridge Trail to San Vicente Mountain |
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|Mulholland Drive to San Vicente Mountain |
This 2-mile hike approaches the peak from the east and offers views to the north and south en route to the old Nike Missile site.
|Upper Canyonback Trail |
This 3 mile hike descends Canyonback Ridge from Mulholland Drive to the Mountain Gate Country Club Estates.
|Sullivan Canyon |
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|Sullivan Ridge |
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|Murphy Ranch |
This 3.85-mile loop descending from Sullivan Ridge Fire Road into Rustic Canyon, where hikers can visit abandoned buildings that had unusual occupants.
|More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains |
Explore other destinations in the range.
|Cave of Munits and Castle Peak |
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|The Grotto |
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|Chumash Painted Cave |
This very short trail looks in on Native American rock art in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
|Gaviota Wind Caves |
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|Bronson Cave |
This short easy hike visits a man-made cave recognizable as the Batcave from the 1960s Batman TV series and hundreds of other locations on TV and film.