Climbing & Hiking Trails - 11 min read

10 Best Hiking Trails in Santa Monica, CA (Bring Your Dog!)

Nicole Abbott

Nicole Abbott, Updated September 26, 2022

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If you’re looking to go hiking in California, Santa Monica has some of the top hiking trails that are perfect for hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, and more! The trails range anywhere from family-friend to challenging steep inclines.

The Santa Monica area has warm-to-hot summers, warm winters, and semi-rainfall which make perfect conditions for hiking. The Santa Monica mountain area has over one hundred and fifty-four acres and over six hundred trails for hikers to enjoy. The area is one of the largest National Parks in the United States and the world! Here are our top ten trails in the Santa Monica area.

10 Top Hiking Trails in Santa Monica (for Biking & with Waterfalls)

1. Rocky Oats Park

Credit: National Park Service


Rocky Oats Park trail is a great trail to use as a warm-up hike before you venture onto the Santa Monica mountains. One of the downsides to this trail is that it’s near two major roads, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet, you’ll probably want to select another trail.

When venturing on the Rocky Oats trail, you’ll get a glimpse of all of the sights the Park has to offer. The trail features a pond and provides the perfect habitat for its wildlife. While taking your easy hike, you’ll notice the pond provides drinking water for coyotes, bobcats, squirrels, deer, and raccoons. You’ll also be able to see plants such as willow and cattail while the birds stick their landings in the water.

This trail is great for hiking, mountain biking, trail running, horseback riding, picnics, birdwatching, and dog walking. Based on reviews, visitors love this gorgeous spot because of its nature and beautiful views.

Difficulty: Beginner
Distance: 2 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 150 feet

2. Sara Wan Trailhead

Credit: Modern Hiker


You’ll find that the Sara Wan Trailhead will give you easy access to Corral Canyon. This trail will provide parking, picnic tables, restrooms, educational signs, seating areas, and an operational beach during seasonal months. Parking for this trail is twelve dollars, however, you can still take the public bus as it is located right at the entrance.

Sara Wan is two-point-five miles long and takes you through the wilderness to Puerco Canyon. Here you’ll be able to have gorgeous ocean and mountain views. While on your hike, you’ll pass through sage scrub of the coast, coastal grassland, coastal live oak, and willow trees so it is important to wear shoes that have traction because some of these areas are steep.

Based on reviews, visitors have raved about the gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. It is also very family-friendly if you plan on bringing the kids along! It gets plenty of sunlight so make sure to bring sun protection and a camera.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.5 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 537 Feet

Related Read: Best Time To Visit California

3. Runyon Canyon

Credit: Los Angeles Times

Next on the list is Runyon Canyon. Runyon Canyon is one of the most popular hiking trails in the area. There is a one hundred and thirty-acre dog park among the trail at the eastward end of Santa Monica that will give hikers an amazing view.

If you’re looking for a quiet place to hike, you’ll probably want to sit this one out. Runyon Canyon is a crowded hiking spot so you’ll want to adjust your expectations. The majority of trails at this spot are widely paved, dirt paths. There are some single paths, but they’ll be on the steeper side and less maintained.

The hike will begin at the top entrance at Fuller Avenue, just to the North of Hollywood Blvd. Depending on where you begin, your hike can last anywhere from fifteen minutes to a couple of hours. Based on reviews, visitors love the scenery and downtown skyline of this location. They also love the different hiking options that are categorized into skill levels.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 2.7 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 748 Feet

4. Skull Rock

Credit: National Park Service

Skull Rock sits to the north of Temescal Gateway Park and will give you gorgeous views of Santa Monica bay. The start of the trail is a rather unique one. The road is concrete and goes up a steep slope that consists of drainage ditches. The best part about Skull Rock is that you can pick what kind of trail you want to do. Do you want a quick loop, run up the ridge, or a full-day trail?

These trails are open all year long, but worth noting that there are no dogs allowed, so you’ll have to keep your furry friends at home. The best time to hike these trails is late in the day when the sun dips low. Watch out for the stop sign cameras that are located in Temescal Canyon. You can also pay for parking, or choose free parking on the street (if you can find one.)

Based on reviews, hikers have rated this as one of the top relaxing trails and views of the Pacific Ocean. However, many have vented their frustration as some visitors do not obey the “no dogs” rule.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1,141 Feet

Related Read: 35 Best Camping Spots in San Diego

5. Backbone Trail

Credit: National Park Service

The Backbone Trails are one of the hidden challenging gems in the Santa Monica area. It follows the spine of the Santa Monica mountains and will display a variety of landscapes. You’ll come across rolling meadows and wooded canyon areas that roll into volcanic cliffs on the westward side. You’ll have a large view of the ocean and endless ridges.

This trail has limited camping opportunities so it makes it somewhat tough to complete on a multi-day hike. On average, this trail may take thirty hours and twelve minutes to complete. You’ll be able to go backpacking, birding, and even have plenty of space for yourself.

These trails aren’t crowded, so if you like peace and quiet this is right down your alley. Visitors have rated this one of their top hikes. They love that the trails are well-maintained and clearly marked.

Difficulty: Challenging
Distance: 65 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 13,000 Feet

6. Cheeseboro Canyon Trail

Credit: National Park Service


The Cheeseboro Canyon trail has 1.33 miles of flat trails that will direct you to the different valleys. You will be able to connect to other trails that have small, medium, and large loops. Not only are you allowed to hike in this area, but you can go biking and horseback riding.

Don’t want to leave your dogs at home? Don’t worry, this trail is pet-friendly, as long as they are leashed. Another benefit is the free parking. Other things to note are there are two toilets in the parking area, you’ll have to bring your own water, and cell service is limited depending on location.

Based on reviews, visitors love that these trails are covered in beautiful mustard flowers. Paired with the blue sky, this makes for a relaxing trail to take on.

Difficulty:
 Easy
Distance: 0.5 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 54 Feet

Related Read: 15 Best California Beaches for Families

7. Mishe Mokwa Trail to Split Rock

Credit: Shutterstock


On your way, you’ll notice that the Mishe Mokwa Trail is the first trail off of Little Sycamore Canyon Road. While traveling along this trail, you’ll come across areas that require some light rock climbing as you’re on your way to Split Rock. Don’t fret, these are moderate climbing walls so you shouldn’t have a hard time.

As you arrive at Split Rock, there is a large rock that is split into several different places. Here you will see there is a picnic table in the area if you need to stop for a break. As you keep on with your hike, you’ll notice that this trail gains elevation as you come around the hillsides of Boney Mountain.

During your hike, you’ll also be able to catch some glimpses of the Triunfo Valley. As you leave out of the Split Rock area, you’ll reach the highest point and see a pyramid-shaped rock called Egyptian Rock. This is one of the more beautiful hikes in Santa Monica because of its breathtaking views.

Based on reviews, visitors say to bring plenty of water and snacks. They also have said it’s best to start this hike early as during the summer it can become extremely hot during the day.

Difficulty: Intermediate-Beginners
Distance: 6.1 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1,656 Feet

8. Mugu Peak Trail

Credit: Stav is Lost


If you think this trail is an easy one because of its distance, think again. The hike up is challenging and climbs about twelve hundred feet about a mile in. If you are up for the challenge, you won’t be disappointed with the views. This trail was used by the native Chumash people for over seven thousand years.

The Mugu Peak trail is located off the coast of Pacific Highway in Mugu State Park. When seeking out this trail, keep an eye out for a place to park because it doesn’t have any signs. The parking lot is a dirt lot and decent size for crowded days.

This trail is a short hike so you won’t need a lot of gear. Make sure to wear good shoes for the dirt and rock-paved trails. Depending on the day, the weather can either be foggy or clear skies depending on the same. Based on reviews, visitors make this their go-to hiking spot if they have a busy day planned.

Difficulty: Challenging
Distance: 2.8 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 1,200 Feet

Related Read: 15 Best Beaches in Southern California for Families

9. Escondido Falls

Credit: Shutterstock

Escondido Falls is one of the most gorgeous falls in the Los Angeles area. The 3.8 mile hike to the falls starts just off Pacific Coast Highway and goes about another three-quarter of a mile ahead. After around two hundred feet, you’ll come to a downward road that leads to an open park. The total length of this hike is about an hour and forty-five minutes.

As you follow the signs on the dirt path, you’ll descend through a field of flowers and through a small creek. As you continue along your hike, the trail will widen leaving plenty of space for you and other hikers. This trail is open all year long and is dog-friendly as long as they are on a leash. You’ll also want to plan ahead for twelve-dollar parking.

Based on reviews, visitors aren’t fond of the twelve-dollar parking fee, but can’t get enough of the views the falls have to offer. They’ve recommended you wear a decent pair of shoes with traction as they may become slippery.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.8 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 400 Feet

10. Malibu Creek Rock Pool

Credit: Shutterstock

The Malibu Creek trail is one of the most family-friendly hikes you’ll take if you want to plan a day out with the family. This easy hike will lead you to a rock pool where you can either swim or cliff-jump if you’re a daredevil. The trail starts off at the parking lot and up past oak trees where you’ll be able to view the Santa Monica mountains.

If you want to avoid the crowds at the rock pool, you’ll want to plan this hike earlier in the day as it becomes a popular spot later on. You’ll be able to find additional extensions to this trail that include the Grassland trail and Century Lake. The Malibu Creek trail is mainly for those who love a water landscape. Parking is three dollars per hour.

Based on reviews, visitors love the inclines of this hike, the ability to go rock climbing, and the convenience of bringing their family on this easy hike.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 150 Feet

Important Reminders:
  • Check the parks hours of operation for your preferred trail as each one may vary.
  • Call ahead or look online to see if a particular park has free parking or if there is a fee to park.
  • Want to bring your dog? Make sure dogs are allowed and if they have to be leashed during your hike.
  • Check the weather before your hike and always wear weather-appropriate clothing.

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