A 7.3 mile hike from the Pacific Palisades to a popular overlook in Topanga State Park. The first part of this hike – the Los Liones Trail – is one of the most lush riparian canyons I’ve seen in the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s gently graded, moderately shady, and definitely worth a look even if you have to fight crowds. Afterward, the trail meets up with the system of fire roads in Topanga State Park, and makes a relentless ascent to Parker Mesa (1525ft). On a clear day, you’ll get amazing views of the Santa Monica Bay, and often inland as far as the San Bernardino Mountains.

 

elevation profile of The Los Liones Trail to Parker Mesa

google earth profile of los liones trail to parker mesa

Parker Mesa is a popular overlook of the Pacific Coast in Topanga State Park, but most people reach it on fire roads from the Park’s western entrance. For a much better look at the varied landscapes inside Topanga State Park – and for a much more intense workout – this southern approach is a more interesting route.

The Los Liones Trail starts on Los Liones Drive in the Pacific Palisades at a clearly marked gate. This is a popular trail, but there’s plenty of free street parking, as well as two spillover lots near picnic areas and restrooms.

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The Los Liones Trail starts out inconspicuously enough, looking like just about any other coastal Southern California trail – but as the single-track route winds its way over several short hills and and through the scrub, it starts to take on a character all its own.

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Eventually, the trail gets shadier and incredibly lush. At parts, the entire canyon floor is covered in a carpet of ivy – it looks almost like kudzu – and I bet it’s an amazing place to hike during the spring blooms.

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The Los Liones Trail continues for 1.3 miles, gradually opening up to a small viewpoint at the junction with the East Topanga Fire Road.

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From here, you’ll probably be able to get some great views of the Santa Monica Bay, and perhaps even inland toward downtown, depending on the air quality.

Keep left at the junction to continue on the Fire Road, which now begins a long and seemingly arduous incline as it meanders north through the State Park. The gain is steady and steep in parts, but it’s manageable – about 600 feet in the next mile – and there are plenty of great views to go around. Still, I don’t know if I’d want to be doing this part of the trail on a hot summer day.

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This is the bulk of the trail, and since the terrain isn’t as varied as it was on the Los Liones Trail, it can seem a bit monotonous. If you want to add a bit of variety (and make the trail more strenuous), most of the small peaks and bumps do have use trails that march across the summits instead of avoiding them like the fire road.

Continue on the fire road until you reach a three-way junction at about 3.2 miles. Take the clearly marked fire road to Parker Mesa for another half mile as it heads west along a ridge. There are a few ups and downs here, but nothing too bad. You’ll also have some great views into the parks more rugged interior, but the main draw are the sights from Parker Mesa itself.

While the Mesa can seem crowded at times, you’ll always have something to look at in the distance. On this day, I could see from Santa Barbara Island all the way to the distant San Bernardinos. The day after a rain, the views would probably be even better.

When you’re done resting and soaking in the views, return back the way you came.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on January 4, 2010

46 Comments

  • Jon says:

    hey i wanna go on this hike, its mid august now, and its hot outdoors.
    do u think i can do this full hike in under 3 hours? i mean i walked 4 miles in an hour. and this is only 7.2 miles..
    what time of the day should i go?
    and im looking for a partner to join with me on this one, anyone?
    Thanks!

    • Jon,

      Unfortunately I can’t give personalized hiking tips – there are just too many variables. That said, while you walk at 4 miles an hour, hiking is very different. You’ll be going on steep inclines and often in full-sun. If you’re going at a very steady, very brisk pace you’ll usually end up with an average around 2.7-3 mph.

      This trail is close to the coast so it tends to stay a bit cooler than inland locations, but if it’s sunny out you’re still going to feel it. If you’re concerned about heat, avoid mid-day and go in the morning or late afternoon.

  • Vick says:

    Did this hike with my kids today and just wanted to thank the author of this piece for giving me a great idea of what to expect.

    As beginners or maybe intermediates, the steep parts of this hike are quite demanding. They get very steep and they will make your children whine, but the payoff is the great views and an almost entirely downhill return trip. Everyone had a feeling of accomplishment at the end.

    We took a bird book with us and had an exciting positive I.D. of a California Thrasher with its very cool looking long, thin, downward bending beak, plus a few encounters with some pretty blue Scrub Jays.

  • Mckenna Grace says:

    Thanks so much for all the info! LOVED this hike–the views were absolutely incredible. Loved your photos!

  • David says:

    This is a great hike that I did several times… before I got a dog. Now I can’t go back. Oh woe!

  • TASHA says:

    This lovely hike reminds me of the Calanques hikes near Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, France. The views are spectacular and the it’s a great distance, a little over 7 miles! There are no private beaches like the Calangues, but it is an amazing hike. I’ve done this hike on and off for 15 years, one of the best in Southern California.

  • Ady says:

    I dont know what mistake we made but ended up hiking closer to 10 miles. That said, one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve done in the LA area. Cheers!

    Here are the stats: http://runkeeper.com/user/adysan/activity/94003188?&channel=web.activity.shared.facebook.manual

  • Min says:

    Thank you for your review! I thought I had reached the end when I got to the first viewpoint. Luckily, I found your site on my phone and took the fire road to the very top, which was AMAZING! A country mix with Johnny Cash and Ryan Adams was a perfect soundtrack to the hike.

  • Ethan says:

    Hiked this trail last weekend. Great trail that depending on your pace is a fun long morning out, or a blistering work-out. Biggest recommendation – get on the trail early. At 8:15 am on the way up the trail was blissfully peaceful and I encountered only a handful of other people. By 10am on my way back down the trail was a lot busier, and now filled with both bikers (on the fire road) and lots of little kids (mostly doing the Los Liones -> fire road and back loop).

  • Chris Taylor says:

    Great looking hike. We plan to go there tomorrow. Thanks for the GPX file!

  • Kevin says:

    Hiked this today, April 16, 2011. I enjoyed the pre-fire road portion more because it was a bit hot but the whole hike was cool, great views as it was pretty clear. Was a bit crowded, but what can you expect on sat afternoon. This is only my second hike in the LA area, I enjoyed Echo Mtn + Inspiration Point more, but this one was pretty cool.

  • Akshai Runchal says:

    Hikes it yesterday (13 Feb 2011) but with a variation. Started off with a detour to the left from the main trail that has a steep but much shorter climb to the Parker Mesa. This way, it is a punishing hike but much quieter and better cardio. Saw a couple of rattlers on the trail that made it more interesting – both big ones; one must have been longer than 3 feet and 2 to 3 inch diameter. I have hiked the Santa Monica’s for more than 30 years and this was my first time in Los Liones. I ahve hiked many of the trails in the vicinity but a friend introduced me to this one. Truly amazing and thoroughly enjoyable. Highly recommended if you have 3 to 4 hours – and the day is nice.

  • Emilio says:

    Hey everyone, this hike is featured in the latest Norm’s restaurant tv commercial. Check it out on their website. http://www.normsrestaurants.com

  • CW says:

    Long time reader, first time commentator.

    I hiked (and ran portions of) this trail this morning in just under three hours. It was the first time I have hiked since moving to LA and I enjoyed it, especially the first half. The climb up the fire roads was harder that I expected and yes, monotonous! It was a great workout though. Coming down I missed the turn back to the Los Liones trail and started down another trail that goes next to some houses, but I knew I was lost pretty quickly, back-tracked, and found the trail.

    Sadly it was very hazy, so the views left something to be desired. It was very crowded too; I started at 8:20am and one the way down the Los Liones portion, I often had to step aside to let those coming up the trail pass, including people with dogs, which as you noted, are not supposed to be on this part of the trail. I’ll do it again, but will try to start even earlier in the morning.

    • Modern Hiker says:

      CW – welcome to the world of Los Angeles Hiking! :)

      Soon, you’ll be setting your alarm for much earlier weekend times than you EVER thought you’d be doing. Some of those trails can get pretty crowded, but they’re still worth the effort. Try re-hiking Los Liones right after a rain, or when we’ve had a little cool weather spell – should help clear up some of that haze for you!

  • Lanette says:

    I’ll give them a call to see if they have maps for the fireroad trails. Thank you for the additional information.

  • Lanette says:

    Is this a dog friendly park?

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Lanette, dogs are allowed ON LEASH ONLY and only on the fire road trails in Topanga State Park. So you wouldn’t be able to take your canine friend on the Los Liones Trail, but you could hike the fire road to Parker Mesa. Here’s the number for the Topanga Info center: 310-455-2465

  • A says:

    Trails are great even after the rain. Only several wet spots.

    Thank you Modern Hiker for this recommendation.

  • Drew says:

    Does anyone knows how the trails are after all the rain we have had?

  • Tom L says:

    I hiked it today for the first time — gorgeous weather and view. Very easy to park and follow the trail. I’ll do it again.

  • El NiƱo says:

    Awesome hike. Really easy and manageable. The perfect Sunday afternoon getaway !
    Thank you so much for posting all this priceless information to enable city dwellers to regain a bit of sanity…

  • brian says:

    Hiked this trail for the second time this year. This time we recorded our time, which was 2 hours 18 mintues. This is a great spot for the occasional hiker as it’s close to town and not very difficult. One bottle of water will do it for an 60 some degree day.

  • Dave says:

    This is an excellent little hike which I’ve come back to a few times due to the moderate elevation gain coupled with a convenient location. Get there early because it’s a crowded trail.

    Great writeup, and thanks for maintaining such an awesome website.

  • Chris says:

    This was a great hike, and highly recommended after a rainy day (or week). The trail wasn’t very busy, and the view was inspiring. Thanks for a great post and blog, looking forward to doing The Bridge To Nowhere soon.

  • Tyler says:

    Did this hike yesterday in the late afternoon and almost had the place to myself. Upside to going this late is I got some amazing views of the sunset. Downside is I had to hike 20 minutes back in the twilight/dark.

  • Brian says:

    Looks like a great hike. Great job on the pictures, just absolutely beautiful.

  • Andy M says:

    Not going to post this one on Everytrail?

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Andy,

      I’ll probably start posting stuff to EveryTrail again. I like their site a lot and the community is great – it’s just a bit tedious for me to reinput all of the same information in a different format. Everything you need to hike is all here already, though!

  • Flavia says:

    Awesome review! It’s my favorite hike to do too and a great “get back in shape” hike. It’s a hard one when you’re too out of shape; but all it takes a couple of weeks going there maybe 3 times total. Also, each time I go I see something different. My favorite is going in late Spring/ Summer at the end of the afternoon and frequently seeing the quail families with their chicks, but that’s mostly up above near the fire road.

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