A moderately challenging 4.6 mile loop trail in the Pacific Palisades. This route takes you on the popular Temescal Canyon Trail to Temescal Falls (really just a small cascade, most often only a trickle). From there, the hike makes a strong but shaded ascent up to the ridge and to Skull Rock, a cool little rock formation with some excellent views of the Pacific Coast and inland (on clear days). This is a great, slightly-more-than-casual workout hike with lots of great options to extend your trip to a full-day hike, too!

The Santa Monica Mountains are not lacking in trails with beautiful ocean views, but Temescal Canyon is definitely one of the more popular ones. Maybe it’s the easy parking, or the fact that you can really do whatever kind of hike you’d like here – a quick loop, a trail-run up to the ridge, or a full-day trek deep into the mountain ranges – but Temescal is definitely an L.A. hike worth knowing about.

A word of warning, though – because this trail is so popular and because you can do some very easy routes here … and because it’s also located so close to some excessively wealthy areas of Los Angeles – don’t be surprised if you see people in yoga pants and expensive tops strolling in the woods with Starbucks cups while talking on their phones. I honestly think I may have passed three or four people in the lower stretches of the Canyon who were wearing perfume or cologne. Another hiker I passed was playing her workout music from speakers (what is WITH that?). If that sort of stuff bothers you, then I’d suggest heading to a trail further in the mountains, or just hiking quickly through the lower Canyon – those types thin out quite a bit once you start approaching the ridge.

OK, that said – this hike starts out in the southwestern corner of the western parking area. If you’ve decided to park inside the park’s lots, just keep heading in that direction. If you parked on the street, this is on the north side of Sunset just west of the park’s entrance. Look for a large green metal gate near a metal debris dam, just below a small information kiosk. The hike starts here:

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 3
This un-mapped (on official park maps) trail is the Sunset Trail. It just skirts the west side of the park’s other parking areas and access road, saving you a little bit of pavement-pounding and getting you right into the woods.

Head down the short descent and hop across the small bridge, enjoying the shade and fragrant blooms along the way.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 5
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 6

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 7

This section of trail doesn’t have any signs on it, and there are a LOT of little spur routes heading to the stream and to the parking areas. If you’re heading north into the park, just keep staying to the left at the junctions and you’ll make it, although all the trails will get you to the Canyon entrance one way or another. It’s about 0.4 miles to the main Temescal trail junction.

When you get there, you’ll see a lot of signs. The Temescal Canyon Trail is to your right, while the Temescal Ridge Trail enters Topanga State Park and makes an ascent to your left. The Temescal Canyon Trail stays relatively flat for a little while before making a steep but shaded ascent to the Ridge, while the Ridge Trail makes a more gradual ascent but spends more time in the direct sun. Feel free to take whichever direction strikes your fancy, but on my trek I went to the right and headed further into Temescal Canyon.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 11
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 12

This clear, well-maintained trail stays relatively flat for the next 0.3 miles as it skirts another large debris dam and some camp buildings. When you come to a small stretch of pavement near an old cement structure, just cross the road and continue in the same direction. The trail’s a bit faint, but it’s still there.

At the 0.7 mile mark, you’ll hit the edge of Temescal Gateway Park and the southern boundary of Topanga State Park. If you’re hiking with a dog, you’ll have to turn around here (Topanga is notorious for ticketing dog-owners). Otherwise, continue into the Canyon, where the trail becomes significantly more rugged.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 14
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 15

You’ll spend the next 0.8 miles dodging trail boulders and finally starting to climb a bit. You’ll be surrounded by green but don’t forget to take a moment every now and then to turn back for some great views down the canyon.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 16
At the 1.5 mile mark, you’ll hit Temescal “Falls.” Do not think this is an actual waterfall, because it’s not. It’s just a small cascade next to some lovely shaded areas with a nice bridge crossing it. Maybe during the rain it looks like an actual waterfall, but I’d have to see it to believe it. Instead, just enjoy the area for what it is – and maybe take a few minutes to have some fun scrambling along the boulders.

When you’ve had your fill, cross the bridge and continue on the Temescal Canyon Trail as it makes a steady climb up to the ridge.

The incline is slightly steeper here than it is on the other route, but it’s still manageable. And the good news is, most of this route is very well shaded, so if you’re doing the hike on a sunny day you won’t sweat out half your body weight along the way!

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 20
Unfortunately, because the trail is so shaded, there really isn’t much to look at while you’re making this climb up. It’s only 0.4 miles until the trail reaches its junction with the Temescal Ridge Trail. Here, ignore the junction to your left and keep heading straight to join the Ridge Trail. This trail continues the climb upward but at a much easier incline. It will loop over Temescal Canyon once (with a really nice view of your entrance route) before hitting the main ridge and following that north. As you hike in this direction, you’ll also get your first views of Skull Rock.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 21
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 22

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 25

It’s 0.8 miles from the trail junction to Skull Rock – it’s pretty easy to spot from the trail. There will be a short but very apparent use-trail you can use to scramble through a bit of chaparral to the rock itself, and once you get there you can climb on, over, underneath, or even next to the rock if you want – the view from the top (or from nearby, smaller rock structures) is pretty amazing.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 30
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 26

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 27

When you’re done soaking in the views and scrambling, backtrack to the Temescal Ridge Trail junction (at about the 2.8 mile mark), then keep to the right to stay on the Ridge Trail. You’ll pass the junction with the Bienveneda Trail just a few yards further – ignore that one and stay on the Ridge Trail as it starts its descent. If you get confused, don’t worry – the trail signs will tell you which route takes you back to Sunset Blvd. The trail starts out in the sun with some really nice views of the coast and toward the city, but there are sporadic sections of shade along the way.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 34
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 35

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 33

It’s 1.4 miles back down to the junction with the Sunset Trail. Ignore all the side-trails (and the fancy houses that are really too big for anyone to need) and return back to the trailhead the way you came in.

And if you parked in the parking lot – WATCH OUT FOR THAT STOP SIGN CAMERA!

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest112Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someonePrint this page

Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Modern Hiker
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's work on the site has appeared in regional and national publications, including the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, the Associated Press, CNN, New York Magazine, High Country News, and others. He has broken several national news stories about outdoor vandalism and policies and his first book "Day Hiking Los Angeles" is available for pre-order.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categorised in: , ,

This post was written by Casey Schreiner on February 1, 2013


  • adshrinkJeff says:

    Is it 2.5 hours total or each way? Hoping to go tomorrow depending on the weather.

  • Just did this trail as directed. I came down the Ridge Trail, and I would say that the beginning of it is indeed a fairly steep ascent. It does level out and become more gradual with some ups and downs along the way to be less demanding, but the beginning is steep. I know this because my knees coming down said so. The Canyon Trail is also steep but it starts out gradual and then kicks into gear. And when I say steep, I mean I had to stop and breathe a couple of times. :-). It is beautiful at the top. I will definitely be going back.

  • Marc says:

    Just did this hike yesterday and followed your directions. I guess we’re not as experienced as we thought as we found the Ridge Trail a bit more challenging than we expected but getting up there is so worth it. Enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the ocean, then when back down in the dark with views of the illuminated city. Oh, and the parking lot was buzzing with FBI agents for some reason lol. Awesome hike, looking forward to hitting another one soon, thanks for this website ;)

  • Elise Fisher says:

    I am in town visiting and staying in Pasadena. I would like to get a good hike in and then catch the sunset. I won’t be able to get to Malibu until a little after 1. I was looking at Skull Rock but was wondering if you had a suggestions for a decent hike that could be followed by a good view of the sunset. Your blogs have been very helpful! Thank you!!

    • If you’re looking for coastal sunset views, there are lots of options. The Los Liones Trail is right nearby and also has great coastal views, or you can head a bit further into the Santa Monica Mountains and explore from there. Corral Canyon and Charmlee are also quick routes with beautiful ocean views.

  • Beau Ryan says:

    He’s not kidding about the stop sign camera, I just got my ticket in the mail…

  • geekhiker says:

    Never understood a lot of L.A. “hikers”, with their yoga pants and coffee in hand. And the music thing really blows my mind. Okay, I kinda get it if you’re trail running, because a lot of people like music for pacing, but still…

    But I have to ask: give the warnings about the camera, did ModernHiker get caught?

  • Skyhiker says:

    Funny about the stop sign camera. I didn’t even notice it when I visited. Also funny to hear about the non-waterfall. I went in late summer, and assumed it was only because of the season that I saw no water.
    Temescal Canyon and Ridge Trails
    Tescal Canyon to Will Rogers via Rivas Trail

Join the Discussion