This is the second installment in a four-part series on hiking in the Malibu area. Installments appear in the first edition of each month.
The sheer abundance and proximity of hiking trails in and around Malibu make it a unique urban area when it comes to outdoor recreational opportunities. In fact, according to the National Park Service, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area — comprising 153,075 acres — is the world’s largest urban national park. It includes five area codes and 26 zip codes. Before trading the flip-flops for hiking boots, there are a few things to consider before heading out to explore nature’s playground.
While things like proper footwear and water may seem obvious, a surprising number of people underestimate the heat and difficulty of the footing when setting out on a hike. The offshore breeze may keep temperatures fairly cool along the ocean, but it’s a different story up in the mountains, and even in the hills that rise up directly along the Pacific. The breeze diminishes quickly away from the shore and many of the hiking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains offer little in the way of shade. While this presents a great opportunity in the winter to get a little sun and warm up away from the windy shore, temperatures during the summer can soar in the hills, making water, a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses must-haves for any outing.
A great piece of gear in the hiker’s arsenal is a backpack with a water pouch built in. The extra space in these packs allows for hats, glasses, sunscreen, binoculars, clothing, a flashlight, a collapsible bowl if there’s a pooch and snacks to be brought along.
While the trails in the park are very well maintained, weather and erosion can make the going tough when it comes to footing. Small and large rocks, water troughs and uneven ground make sturdy hiking boots or trail sneakers a necessity (think about Malibu Canyon Road after rain). Here, too, pricing varies according to brand. A good pair of hiking boots with ankle support generally runs from $60 to $200, while trail sneakers (with or without ankle support) usually cost between $80 and $230.
Leaving Without a Trace
The rules for hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains are fairly straightforward and are designed to preserve the natural state of the land. Packing out litter (namely, dog waste bags, water bottles and wrappers) is crucial to preserving the pristine landscape. Many hiking areas make this easy by supplying garbage cans and bags for dog waste.
While the recent drought may be coming to an end, fire is still a real risk in this arid climate. Anything that could potentially spark a fire should be left at home and building fires and/or smoking within the parks is strictly forbidden.
Lastly, vandalism in the trail system is a big concern for the parks, especially graffiti, and the National Park Service, along with other agencies, spends countless hours removing paint from structures and rocks. There is even a movement to curb the building of rock sculptures. As with garbage and flammable materials, a visit to this wilderness should only be evidenced by footprints.
Hiking in the park is a relatively safe undertaking if common sense prevails. Sticking to the trails, which are generally well marked, diminishes the chances of encounters with rattlesnakes, poison oak and ticks, which lurk in the brush. As for bigger threats, like mountain lions or coyotes, attacks are extremely rare. If confronted, the National Park Service website advises: “Make yourself as large as possible by standing tall and holding out your arms. Pick up children to appear larger. Do not run or make any sudden moves.”
For all of the reasons above, keeping dogs on leashes is paramount, especially because of the coyotes, which frequently target dogs.
When it comes to navigating the Santa Monica Mountains, trail signs are just one way to keep from getting lost. A great back-up plan is to take a picture of the park map at the trailhead before heading in. Cell service is spotty at best, but having a good map to consult can mean the difference between an intended one-hour jaunt and an all-day walkabout.
With the right equipment, a little bit of preparation and common sense, hiking the trails in the Malibu area delivers a powerful recreational punch. The breathtaking landscapes and serenity of the mountains offer a great escape from the daily grind while getting some serious exercise. By respecting this sanctuary and treading lightly, we can preserve these oases for years to come.