A picturesque, shaded canyon hike. A popular, well-maintained trail with opportunities for less-traveled spurs. Highlights include a small waterfall, the oldest still-standing stone building in Malibu, and the ruins of a burned-down mansion.
- Distance: 6 miles. A full trek down the Deer Valley Loop would have made this trek just over 7 miles. If you’re just going to Tropical Terrace and back, it’s only 3.2 miles roundtrip.
- Elevation Gain: About 800 feet.
- Time: Just over 2 hours, with plenty of time for heat-breaks and water-splashing.
- Trail Condition: Excellent. The Solstice Canyon Trail is mostly paved road and fire road, while the other trails are single-track trails. The Rising Sun and Sosotmo Trails are less-traveled than the paved road, and offer more privacy. The Sosotmo Trail has a few overgrown areas, and the Deer Valley Loop Trail can be a bit tricky to follow in parts.
- How To Get There: Take the Pacific Coast Highway north toward Malibu. Turn right onto
Carbon Corral Canyon Road (just before a gas station), and you’ll see the entrance to the park on your left.
- Map It
- Shaded canyon trail that runs along a stream.
- Well-preserved remains of a burned down mansion, and several other buildings.
- Constantly flowing waterfall, as well as another seasonal waterfall down the Dry Canyon Trail.
- On Flickr.
So I woke up on Labor Day to another 100+ degree forecast for the San Gabriels. Every day for the past week and a half, enormous thunderclouds had formed over my usual stomping grounds, sparking off a few small wildfires in the process. But there were my hiking boots, sitting by my bed collecting dust. And not the good kind of residual trail dirt dust, but the bad "it’s been too hot to go hiking for the past two months" dust.
So, to compromise, I laced up, packed up, and headed west – toward the (slightly) cooler coastal canyons of Malibu.
Solstice Canyon is a unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and was one of the first trails I did in L.A. back when I first started hiking, and it was just as nice as I remembered it being.
Just a quick turn off the Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu, the entrance to Solstice is just a few hundred feet away from the crowded beaches (especially on Labor Day), but it feels a world away. A short road winds its way through a few hills and over a small stream to a moderately-sized parking lot, with plenty of picnic areas, an amphitheater, and some bathrooms. There is an overflow lot closer to the PCH, but at the time of writing, it was fenced off for construction.
At the north end of the parking lot, you are presented with your trail options – you can either take an easy stroll down the paved Solstice Canyon Trail, heading straight in, or you can climb a staircase and dirt path that leads to the more rugged, more exposed, more secluded Rising Sun Trail. I figured, hey – it’s almost a hundred degrees out … I’ll do the tougher, sunnier route first.
Just a few hundred feet up the trail, and you’ll start to get some great views of the coast … and a little bit of the parking lot you just crawled out of. Not the most awe-inspiring vistas, but it’s a pleasant view of the Pacific — which, depending on how hot it is when you’re hiking, might seem a lot more alluring than the trail you’re on at the time.
The Rising Sun Trail ascends the eastern edge of Solstice Canyon along a well-defined, wide trail. There are long stretches of climbing, but nothing steep enough to turn people back to the paved trail. There is, however, very little shade on this stretch of the trail — so if it’s crazy hot out, be prepared to sweat.
With the combination of sun and heat, I certainly was. In fact, I’d go on record as saying it’s the most I’ve ever sweat on the trail — which definitely puts it in contention for the most I’ve ever sweat in my life. It was so bad, the sunscreen I’d applied was pooling in streaks all over my body, and sweat was literally dripping off of my face, arms, and legs. I probably smelled like garbage. But luckily, there were plenty of fragrant chaparral and California bay trees to mask me while the trail ascended above the canyon.
Eventually, you’ll reach the crest and be able to peer down into Solstice Canyon again. We’ve had an extremely parched year so far in Southern California, and most of the brush is a bit paler than I remember it being last year. However, there is a small stream that constantly runs through the canyon, and a brilliant band of green hugging both banks. Now that everything else is so thirsty, the watered areas really stand out in the scenery.
As the trail begins its descent back down into the canyon, observant hikers will notice a brick chimney peeking out from some of the greenery. More observant hikers will notice the palms and other non-native plants still thriving in the area. These are the first remnants of the "Tropical Terrace" house you’ll be able to see from the Rising Sun Trail.
After a quick descent, you’ll reach the stream — and it will be difficult to dunk your head in to cool off. But there’s more exploring to be had — if you stay on the east bank of the stream and climb up a few ruined steps, you’ll reach a the beautiful ruins of a statuary. To the south, it’s empty, but to the north, a Virgin Mary statue remains, complete with pinecone offering dish. It’s quite a peaceful spot for a short rest.
After getting your share of meditation, your attentions will most likely turn toward the sound of rushing water coming from your immediate north — which would be the beckoning call of a small, two-tiered waterfall … which other people have probably already found their way to, too.
Crowded or not, this is one of the nicest easily-accessible waterfalls. It’s covered in shade, has a few shallow pools for foot-soaking, and is generally less crowded than the San Gabriels’ Switzer Falls. It’s also fantastic relief after the sauna of the Rising Sun Trail.
After you’re done cooling off, you can scramble up above the waterfall, or backtrack a bit and explore the ruins of the Tropical Terrace House. Despite burning down in 1982, the ruins are fairly well preserved. There are still several walls and chimneys standing, and you can still make out some of the stoves and furniture.
If you haven’t had enough hiking after this, you can take a trip up the Sostomo Trail, which winds its way north of the Tropical Terrace House past some cactus patches, crosses the stream a few more times, and meets up with the Deer Valley Loop Trail. There’s even a few more ruins, for those of you who haven’t quite had your fill yet.
This trail, as it’s a dead-end side spur, is very lightly traveled. I only saw one other person on this leg of the trip. As I mentioned, this stretch of trail has all of the great qualities of the main Solstice Canyon Trail, only without the pavement and population, and in smaller amounts. It’s well worth a few extra footsteps if you’re aching for a bit of solitude.
Eventually the trail meets up with the Deer Valley Loop, a 1.3 mile round trip that provides some great aerial views of the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, if you take the trail south first, it sort of disintegrates in a meadow with no clear path. It was this, combined with the heat and my rapidly draining water supplies, that I decided to call it a day and head back down to the main trail.
But I hear it’s nice up there.
Either way, you can get a nice perspective on the canyon from Sostomo.
On your way back to the parking lot, the Solstice Canyon Trail switches from pavement to dirt road a few times, and hugs the banks of the Solstice Canyon Creek. This is a very easy stretch of trail with plenty of shade and ample opportunities to hop off the path and splash around in the water a bit — just watch out for poison oak.
And if you’re down for a little bit of history on the way out, you’ll pass an enormous, gnarled tree on the west side of the trail, marked with a small plaque. This is the ‘Keller Family Oak,’ named for ‘Don Mateo’ Keller, and Irish immigrant who owned 13,300 acres of Malibu and Topanga after the Mexican-American War. His family’s stone residence is across the river, and is believed to be the oldest existing stone building in Malibu.
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