Point Mugu State Park protects the 15,000 acres of rustic Santa Monica Mountain wilderness on the stretch between Oxnard and Malibu. With more than 70 miles of beautiful trail to explore, hikers will not want for options. However, there is one loop that absolutely cannot be missed. The strenuous, yet rewarding La Jolla Canyon Loop is an excellent way to experience the beauty of Point Mugu in full. While hikers can simply do the whole loop, the hike also provides a side trail that heads up Point Mugu's most famous landmark, Mugu Peak. From atop the state park's highest peak, hikers get panoramic views of the rolling Santa Monica Mountains as well as an overlook of the Pacific Ocean. With a 1,250 foot difference between the trailhead and Mugu Peak, the La Jolla Canyon Loop is difficult but it hosts what may be the best views in the Santa Monica Mountains.
|Trail Length:||11.5 miles||City/State:|| Malibu,
|Elevation:||1,250 feet gain
||County:||Los Angeles||Dogs Allowed:||Yes|
Driving north up Route 1 / Pacific Coast Highway, which is quite possibly one of the most scenic drives in the United States, take the turn for Thornhill Broome Beach nestled between signs for Sycamore Canyon and Point Mugu Beach. Just a short drive up an unnamed state park road, visitors will hit a parking lot. There will be restrooms and a few trailheads that take off from this parking lot. Be sure to down the La Jolla Canyon Trail located at a Yellow Gate and a fire road.
The serenity of nature is somewhat ruined along this first stretch of hike by the nearby road, but escaping the noise and seeing the rapidly expanding ocean view is motivation to press on with a vigorous pace. The first bit of trail wastes no time heading upwards after it leaves the fire road and turns into a trail of hard packed dirt. However, hikers should waste no time turning around trying to get a peak at the ocean, there will be plenty of that soon enough.
Eventually the trail curves around the south end of a ridge providing excellent views down at the beach to the east. From here the trail turns inland as it continues to travel along the ridge towards La Jolla Canyon. The trail will eventually dead end into yet another fire road. Hikers should take a left and enjoy the scenery of a new landscape, but sadly the ocean is obscured by tree line. Hikers should keep an eye on the horizon to the northeast as they traverse this long, lonely gravel fire road for the highest peaks in the Santa Monica Mountain Range. One of the particular highlights is the tallest point in the range, Sandstone Peak. In the west, the fan-shaped La Jolla Valley comes into view, sitting on top of the first destination of the hike, the La Jolla Canyon. Hikers will also notice the hard to miss Point Mugu Radar Station atop one of the mountains in the distance of the valley, one of the few human intrusions in the park.
About four and a half miles into the hike, the fire road comes to a four way intersection of other trails that lead through the park. Those taking the La Jolla Loop will want to keep left and set out across the much narrower trail that winds through grasslands of the valley. Finally the trail will leave this lonely mountain prairie and descend into the canyon below. Shortly inside the canyons beautiful parched rock walls, visitors will hear the unmistakeable sound of water. This time it is not the roar of the ocean that greeted them at the trailhead, but rather the La Jolla Falls. Water tumbles down 20 feet after being funneled through its mossy ledge. Just pass the falls; hikers have to come to a decision. The La Jolla Canyon Trail continues further into the canyon but it omits the ascent up Mugu Peak. Hikers that are up for the challenge should take the junction that connects to the La Jolla Valley fire road.
The trail traces the canyon for awhile before heading back into the grasslands of the valley. There will be a number of side trails including one that heads into the La Jolla Valley Hike-In Campground. There is a vault toilet in the campground but no drinking water. It is a fine place to camp for those that want to stargaze at night, but otherwise not a very scenic area. Just past the campground, hikers will hit another trail junction. Left heads into the La Jolla Canyon and, for those who have had second thoughts about their hike, provides a shorter circuit around the park. However, it still missed Mugu Peak. Hikers should stick to the fire road if they want to get the greatest benefit from the hike.
Soon the trail will thankfully head into a small riparian zone filled with tall oaks that provide shade. This may seem like a nice place to wander off trail and take a little break, but there is tons of poison oak off the trail, so wander off trail at your own risk. After hikers clear the forest, the trail turns left and runs along the La Jolla Canyon again. Yet another junction heads into the canyon, providing ample opportunity for hikers to change their minds if they suddenly tire, but those that want to see this through to the end will want to keep to the right.
From here the trail leaves the grasslands of the valley and begins to head up a ridge leading to Mugu's Saddle. Hikers will finally start to get peeks at the ocean below once again and the ridge is breezy enough to take a nice break. However, there is little in the way of shade here. Eventually, hikers will come to a trail that leads up Mugu Peak and will also shorten the hike by about a mile, but it eliminates some pristine ocean views that lay ahead. As visitors continue onward, the ocean gets more prominent in the distance and finally hikers will come to the Mugu Peak Trail that ascends the summit. The ascent trail is steep, but by taking the ridge trail all the way to the end the ascent is much shorter.
When hikers can spot the American flag waving in the air, they will know they are close. The lonely flag pole marks the summit so upon reaching it, take a break and enjoy the panoramic views from the overlook. Hikers can clearly see the vast blue Pacific Ocean and the cars speeding down the Pacific Coast Highway while behind them are the rolling hills of green that make up the rugged Santa Monica Mountains. There are also awesome views of some coastal wetlands as well as Point Mugu Naval Base where planes and helicopters frequently depart.
Towards the western edge of the summit is a trail that descends towards the ridge of La Jolla Canyon. From the summit it is about 2 miles to the parking lot, making the end of the hike much simpler. After the pleasant downhill stint from the summit and flat hiking along the canyon, hikers will cross a small stream, one of two that feed that La Jolla Falls. Head straight past a junction and through the grasslands. Finally, after a small downhill section, hikers are dropped off back at the trailhead and the parking lot.