This moderately graded fire road ascent just outside Topanga Village provides some amazing views of the interior of the Santa Monica Mountains – especially if you get to see the marine layer flowing over the peaks closest to the coast. This dog-friendly hike has enough of an incline to get your legs working but isn’t tough enough to scare off new hikers. There’s a lot of geology on display here – and opportunities to extend the hike if you feel like spending more time outside.
If you’re looking for hiking near Topanga, odds are you’re going to end up in Topanga State Park. And while there are some incredible hikes there, they can often get on the crowded side.
With that in mind, some friends and I headed to Red Rock Canyon Park off Old Topanga Canyon Road (NOT to be confused with Red Rock Canyon STATE Park, which may come up in Google searches but is much further away.
Heading down Red Rock Road is a pretty amazing L.A. experience – some of the houses along the road are clearly old hippie communies from the 60s, while others are more recent treehouse-mansions built by the super-rich. As you drive down the winding, narrow road (and especially after it turns into a dirt road), you can be forgiven for thinking you’re somewhere that is definitely NOT Los Angeles.
There’s a gate at the end of the road with a small parking area, some outhouses, and an iron ranger. If the lot is full, you’ll have to wait for someone to come back to their car or backtrack a bit to a small spillover lot back down Red Rock Road. When we arrived on a Saturday morning, there weren’t that many people around – but on our way out a few people had decided to spend their birthdays picnicking there and parking was in much shorter supply.
When you’re ready to hit the trail, walk past the gate and start up the fire road under the shade of some large and beautiful oak trees.
If you’re more peak-focused when you start hiking, you can also save this area for exploration on the way back to the trailhead – you may appreciate the shade more then.
At 0.4 miles, you’ll cross a junction with the Red Rock Trail, a short route that takes you up closer to more of the tinted rock formations that give the park its name.
If you stay on the fire road headed toward Calabasas Peak, you’ll pass a picnic area and more beautiful scenery as the road meanders around a bend.
After you pass the half-mile mark, the road starts to pick up some noticeable elevation gain – but that’s less an effect of the gain itself and more an effect of you having it relatively easy for the past half-mile.
In another 0.6 miles, the road reaches a junction with the Calabasas Peak Motorway – another one of the many dirt roads that cris-cross the Santa Monica Mountains. From here, you’ll have some beautiful vantage points of the interior range and the canyon you just rose out of:
At the junction, turn right to continue on the fire road toward Calabasas Peak.
At about the 2.08 mile mark, you’ll reach a prominent peak overlooking the valley and much of the fire road you just traversed. This is not Calabasas Peak – although it’s very, very close.
Continue on the fire road and keep your eyes peeled for this faint use-trail leaving a ridge on the western side of the road. This is your trail to Calabasas Peak.
Soak in the views, then return back the way you came.
He has also been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press, as well as in documentaries for Columbia Sportswear and the OTIS College of Art and Design.
Casey is currently writing a book on day hikes in Los Angeles for Mountaineers Books.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on July 12, 2013