And the Trail Award Goes To…

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At this time of year, the Ray Miller Trail in Point Mugu State Park not only offers stunning coastal views, but a dazzling array of flowers on the way up.

This is the fourth installment in a four-part series on outdoor recreation in the Malibu area. Installments appear in the first edition Of each month.

With the award season at an end, we decided to jump in with one more — a “best of’ in hiking in the Malibu area. Whether search- ing for an easy stroll in the wilderness with the kids or a more strenuous outing that offers sweeping views of the Pacific, we’ve unscientifically collected top picks and honorable mentions (and we promise we have the right envelopes).

Best ocean views: What makes hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains so special is their proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Spectacular views of the water abound, making it difficult to choose one path over another. With a beautiful 15-minute drive north on PCH, Point Mugu State Park edges out the competition. In addition to the scenic drive, hikers can make their way up the Ray Miller Trail at Point Mugu for unparalleled views up and down the coast. The trail is a steady, 2.7-mile switchback climb that offers increasingly expansive ocean vistas with each gain in elevation. And, during the blooming season, the trail is surrounded by hillsides of orange, white, yellow and blue flowers.

Honorable Mention: Practically every other trail in the system. Most of the hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, especially climbing hikes, provides incredible ocean views.

Highest climb: Sandstone Peak, at 3,111 feet, is the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. The peak can be summited in a three-mile there- and-back hike, or a great five-plus mile loop by using the Mishe Mowka Trail. The trailhead is on Yerba Buena Road at Circle X Ranch.

Easiest hike: If you’re looking for a flatter hike that still seems miles from civilization, check out the short loop at the Peter Strauss Ranch, which is less than a half a milc. The ranch is located off Mulholland Highway and, according to its website, “Oak woodlands, a seasonal creek, easy trails, a lawn area and an amphitheater provide a wonderful location for visitors of all ages to have fun outdoors.”During the summer, concerts and other activities are offered.

Honorable Mention: Rocky Oaks Park, located on Mulholland Highway west of the Kanan intersection, features gentle hikes around a human-made pond.

Best water feature: With the Pacific Ocean making its presence known throughout the trail system, and drought-like conditions much of the year, water features are often overlooked. When it does rain, grab the waterproof boots and head to Escondido Falls to hear the roar of the waterfall. The falls are accessed by hiking up Winding Way Road off of PCH. Caution: This is a very popular trail and can get crowded.

Honorable Mention: The small waterfall behind the old ranch at Solstice Canyon is a popular pick.

Most romantic trek: With wide fire roads allowing hikers to walk side-by-side, Tuna Canyon Park has it all. A small hike up to the summit (enough to show off your fitness, but not so much as to render you a sweaty mess) is rewarded with stunning views of the Santa Monica Bay, a bench and even a labyrinth.

Best biodiversity: The trail network in the 8,000-acre Malibu Creek State Park, the self-proclaimed “Yosemite of Southern California,” is a great example of the rare Mediterranean climate, so rare that the Santa Monica Mountains are one of only five places on Earth that can claim this unique climate. According to the park’s website, “There are 15 miles of streamside trail through oak and sycamore woodlands and chaparral-covered slopes.” To boot, there’s a large volcanic swimming hole.

Honorable Mention: Zuma and Trancas Canyons offer beautiful canyon and creek hikes with spectacular views.

Best hike for out-of-towners: Impress your visiting friends with a trip to Paramount Ranch or the set of M*A*S*H. The M*A*S*H hike is a 2.5-mile, out-and-back from the parking lots in Malibu Creek State Park. The famed TV show was shot at this location and remnants from the set exist today. The Paramount Ranch, a few miles away, is home to a Westworld, which was used for many TV shows and movies over the years. It’s an easy stroll through the town, and longer hikes depart from there.

Honorable Mention: The Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park deserves a nod, but not top honors because of its relative distance from Malibu.

Best wildlife: For marine life, nothing beats a stroll on the beach. During whale migration season, the huge animals can be seen playing and feeding offshore, making a trip to Point Dume a rewarding one. Climb up to the point and watch out for not only whales, but dolphins and sea lions, too. The birds found along the coast are also a treat: Pelicans, plovers, sea gulls and cormorants are common and provide diving, wheeling and running delights.

Lifetime achievement award: The Backbone Trail, 50 years in the making, is arguably the crown jewel of the Santa Monica Mountains trail system. The trail stretches 67 miles from Point Mugu State Park to Will Rogers State Park and offers something for everyone.