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 the cave walls, which are covered with curious carvings and graffiti. You can 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.
It is a short hike to Vanalden Cave, but there are a few unmarked junctions along the way, so you should know the directions before you go. Start up Vanalden Trail, a dirt trail begining from the south end of Vanalden Avenue in Tarzana. You will 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 reach 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 there are several holes in the ceiling of the cave that let in ample light for you to poke around and explore. There is a window on the side of the Vanalden Cave that you can crawl through if you like. The soft sandstone walls have been cut into or spray-painted over on almost every surface of the cave. There are numerous strange and humorous faces carved into the rock. Sadly, there is also a lot of liter on the ground around the cave as well.
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.
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 will come 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 will bend to the left, heading south up a hill for 0.05 miles. When you will 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, which does not seem to have a name, so let’s call it Vanalden Vista, presents a pretty astonishing perspective of the Santa Monica Mountains. There are canyons below Vanalden Vista to the east, south, and west followed by mountains that appear to be 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. Check out the photos below to see views in every direction from Vanalden Vista along with more shots of Vanalden Cave.
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 405 Freeway to exit 24 for Tampa Avenue (5 miles west of the 101 Freeway). 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)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Los Angeles trails and campgrounds.
|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.
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|
This 1.5-mile hike ventures up a ridge into the Santa Monica Mountains from the end of Winnetka Avenue in Woodland Hills.
This 3-mile hike in Summit Valley Edmund D. Edelman Park travels down a canyon on Viewridge Trail (also known Santa Maria Canyon Trail) to Summer Hill Ranch Road where there are sweeping views over Topanga and the Santa Monica Mountains from Canyon Overlook.
|Westridge Trail to San Vicente Mountain|
This 7.4-mile hike travels a scenic ridge between a Brentwood neighborhood and a summit that was once used as a Nike Missile site.
|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.
This 8.5-mile round trip hike follows a wide trail up the center of a sycamore-filled canyon.
A prominent lone-standing Live Oak along Sullivan Ridge makes a natural turnaround point and a 7.5 to 8.3 mile round trip hike.
This 3.85-mile loop descending from Sullivan Ridge Fire Road into Rustic Canyon, where hikers can visit abandoned buildings once occupied by Nazi sympathizers.
|More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains|
Explore other destinations in the range.
|Cave of Munits and Castle Peak|
This action-packed 2.1-mile loop has two great attractions, crossing an impressive cave to climb to a rocky peak with views over the San Fernando Valley.
This 3-mile out and back hike visits a talus cave in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
|Chumash Painted Cave|
This very short trail looks in on Native American rock art in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
|Gaviota Wind Caves|
This 2.5-mile hike just off the 101 Freeway visits wind-carved caves in Gaviota State Park with great ocean views.
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.