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.

Solstice Canyon is a unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It was one of the first trails I did in L.A. back when I first started hiking, and coming back for a return trip was just as nice as I’d remembered.

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 sometimes crowded beaches, 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. This is a popular trail, and there is an overflow lot closer to the PCH. If you’ve got extra time (or don’t have a car), this is one of the most easily accessible hikes from Metro – the bus stop for Metro Bus 534 is just a few hundred feet south of park entrance – and will save you the hassle of fighting for a parking spot.

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. If you’re up for a bit of a workout, head up the stairs to the Rising Sun Trail.

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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.

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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 get worried about. There is, however, very little shade on this stretch of the trail — so if it’s hot out, be prepared to sweat.

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As you ascend (especially in the spring or after a rain) be sure to pay attention to the fragrant chaparral and California bay trees lining the trail as you ascend.

Eventually, you’ll reach the crest and be able to peer down into Solstice Canyon again. When I hiked this, we had an extremely parched year so far in Southern California, and most of the brush was pale and dried out. However, there is a small stream that constantly runs through the canyon and a brilliant band of green hugging both banks. Because everything else was so thirsty, the watered areas really stood out in the scenery.

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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.

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You’ll reach the stream after a quick descent — and it will be difficult to resist dunking 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.

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After getting your share of meditation your attentions will most likely turn toward the sound of rushing water coming from your immediate north. Just around the corner from the house is a small, multi-tiered waterfall with plenty of boulders to scramble around on.

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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.

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From here, you can just return to the trailhead via the paved path. But if you’re in the mood for more mileage, look for the junction with the Deer Valley Loop Trail just south of the ruins of the house. This trail is much less-traveled and isn’t in quite as good of a condition as the trails you’ve hiked on so far, but it’s a nice, more rugged option in the park that will help get you away from the crowds a bit.

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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 made me decide to call it a day and head back down to the main trail when I hiked … but I hear it’s nice up there.

Either way, you can get a nice perspective on the canyon from Sostomo.

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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.

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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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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors, Casey is also a seasoned television producer.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."
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on September 5, 2007

47 Comments

  • Modern Hiker says:

    JC, I clocked the distance from the trailhead to the Terrace and back as 3.2 miles (that’s using both the paved canyon trail and the Rising Sun Trail). If you’re just doing the Rising Sun, it’s going to be *very slightly* longer than that, but not by much.

  • JC says:

    How many mile total is it if we start at the Rising Sun Trail to Tropical Terrace to the Solstice Canyon trail?

  • JC says:

    Hey guys, I’m curious on if this is really 6 miles. I found this link and it says 3 miles. http://www.localhikes.com/Hikes/SolsticeCanyon_4472.asp

    I would definitely like to see the ruins and waterfalls and anything beyond that is just extra. We are trying to do both Solstice Canyon and Escondido Falls in one day. =)

    • Modern Hiker says:

      JC,

      I haven’t done that route in a while, but if you compare the tracks you’ll see that I went a bit further off the ‘standard loop’ that most people do. This is a fairly short trail if you don’t do the extra stuff.

  • Goexplorin says:

    Thanks for recommending this hike! I am always interested in checking out old ruins. I posted some text and pictures on my blog: http://itsamagicalworldolbuddy.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/solstice-canyon-ruins/

  • Derek says:

    Hiked this trail yesterday; Started up the Rising Sun and then hiked up to and completed the Deer Valley Loop. The DV Loop is easier to follow when you take the slight right at the junction on the Sostomo Trail, and gives a pretty good view of your descent to the mansion’s remains on the Rising Sun trail from the other side of the canyon. Glad I brought plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug spray! It was overall a great hike and if I were in better shape I’d have taken the Rising Sun trail back to the start :/

  • Ji Kwon says:

    Wonderful trail. After you reach the waterfall you can go further up. In fact the trail after the waterfall is why i go to solstice canyon. It is mostly shaded and you do need to use your hands to climb. Definitely not for people out of shape since there are a few spots where you need to pull yourself and whatever you are carrying over big rocks. Just follow the stream all the way up. There will be several waterfalls along the way. Near the end you lose sight of the stream and it is just big rocks. At the end there is a rope that someone left to climb around a 40 foot cliff. Supposedly there is a waterfall up the rope. Haven’t tried climbing the rope because it looked too strenuous. Watched two other hikers climb the rope with no equipment and gloves. In fact these two people went all the way up with no water no equipment and no shoes!!! We were watching in awe as they went perpendicular to the floor and went up fist over fist for a period of 10-15 minutes. I would estimate the trail to go on about 1.5 miles after you reach the waterfall. It is pretty strenuous and i recommend that people wear gloves. Also, you definitely need some bandages and ointment. Out of the four times i have gone on this trail (the one after waterfall) 3 times we needed bandages to patch up small lacerations. DEFINITELY NOT FOR KIDS OR ELDERS OR PEOPLE NOT IN SHAPE!!! But if you are looking for something that is between serious rock climbing and just walking uphill this is just great especially since it is shaded.

  • Hector says:

    Hi guys! I went hiking up here and my friends and I went into this small cave near the waterfall and we kept going up and up but we saw the sun setting so we decided to head down. Just out of curiosity what’s beyond the waterfall are you allowed to go past that and keep going up?

  • Skip Skippapa says:

    I was on the Deer Valley Loop April 15 and found the wildflowers overgrowing the adjacent trail leading to it. I also found the trail confusing and never actually did the loop. I simply turned around at the “turn around” on the GPX provided here.

    It looks like the less popular trails in the State and National Parks are not being maintained. If snakes are on those trails overgrown with wildflowers, they might be very difficult to see.

    • Modern Hiker says:

      I revisited this hike this weekend and couldn’t find the little statue garden anywhere. Anyone know if the statues have been removed?

      • JC says:

        I was there in July. I couldn’t find the Virgin Mary statues either. I thought I had looked everywhere too…

      • BH says:

        Hiked the whole loop this weekend. Found the statues on the East side of the creek like you mentioned. The path is kinda hidden but it’s just where the Rising Sun trail crosses the creek. Looks like someone vandalized the Mary statue since she was missing half her head, shame.

  • Heidi says:

    A friend and I just did this hike today. We added on the Deer Valley Loop, which was a bit confusing but luckily we found our way back. We’d advise wearing long pants this time of year, as the prickly plants scratched our legs throughout most of the hike. Also beware of snakes. After remarking that it was funny we hadn’t come across any snakes on our hikes, my friend spotted our first out in the wildflowers of the Deer Valley Loop. We came across two more on the main trail back to the parking lot. Also, bring plenty of water. Even overcast and cloudy, it gets hotter than you’d think.

  • Jen says:

    Just did this today. The wildflowers are beautiful and it’s really green right now.

  • Rene Castro says:

    Check out this video I created for the day.

    http://youtu.be/fe14-o_C5y4

  • Rene Castro says:

    Just took this hike on May 21, 2011 with my wife. We had a wonderful time. The weather was absolutely perfect and we rewarded with tons of spring flowers in bloom. A very rewarding hike and very easy to find.

  • MrMoose says:

    Great, great, hike. The best thing about this hike is it lets you choose your own distance and pace. I came here a few days ago, and it was absolutely gorgeous, the ruins, the waterfall, everything. I came in on the fire road and headed up to the ruins and waterfall first. As I walked around the ruins of the old Tropical Terrace House, I could only imagine living in such a beautiful piece of architecture, this man definitely got what he wanted, and I’m almost jealous of never seeing his house in all of its glory. I continued on to the waterfall, which again, was beautiful. I decided to head back and take the Sostomo Trail, this will take you up and around to another fireplace, it’s a little difficult to tell where the house would have been, since it’s kind of on a ledge, but I kept trucking, and came upon another abandoned structure. I always take a minute and think about the hard work that went into building a house in the middle of nowhere, and how they had to lug cement, bricks, furniture, etc., they really knew how to live though. I came upon the Deer Valley Loop, and what a beautiful loop it is. The views are amazing and this is a must do, if you’ve come this far, there’s no reason not too. Again, as others have stated, I can see where the loop could get a little confusing, just go North first, and on your way back down it will make a little more sense. As I headed back down I decided to do a little scrambling down the waterfalls, instead of taking the Sostomo Trail. I finally made it back to the Tropical Terrace House. My only regret is failing to do the Rising Sun Trail, but I guess there’s always next time. The Sostomo Trail is a little overgrown right now, so I would advise pants if you plan on taking it as I’m sure this happens every Spring. It’s no surprise this has become a favorite among hikers, it has a lot to offer, so get out there and enjoy it!

  • Christopher says:

    This is a nice easy hike, a great initiation for the not quite there yet hiker. I recommend taking the Sostomo to Deer Valley Loop as there are some great views along the Deer Valley Loop & lots of wildlife to be spotted!

  • Hello,

    My name is Rodrigo and I am from Brazil. I lived in LA for one year and never knew about all these hikes. Last december I came back for a month and your blog helped me a lot to find out all those places. I’ve made at least 5 hikes based on your posts. Thank you so much! I have a blog (in portuguese) where I post my photos. Check it out the ones I took on Solstice Canyon: http://www.rodrigojunqueira.com.br/solstice-canyon.

    Bye,
    Rod

  • jaime darling says:

    Is is possible to get to the waterfalls without doing the super hot & longer portion of the trail. I am six months pregnant and will also be hiking with my 2.5 yr old child. Can we get there on the easy shaded path? Thx !

  • Skip Skippapa says:

    Great views, lots of photo opportunities, easy hike.
    Thank you Modern Hiker for letting me know about it.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/skipapa123?feature=mhum

  • Audrey says:

    Michelle – they definitely do NOT allow dogs off-leash on Solstice Canyon hike… my friend actually got ticketed by a park ranger for letting her small dog off leash! :( Awesome hike though. :)

  • michelle says:

    thanks for doing this. good stuff. do you know if they allow dogs off leash here? we have 3 yellow labs so finding shaded hiking with water so they can swim is ideal but i feel is impossible to find. any suggestions would be welcome. thanks.

  • El NiƱo says:

    A very nice, relaxing hike. Thank you for your outstanding blog and encouraging all of us urbanites to get out there in nature. Keep up the good work !

  • pat wang says:

    My wife and I went hiking early this morning and we have to say this is so far the best trail we’ve been to. We ended up spending more than an hour at the waterfall absorbing all the beauties around it.

  • stacey says:

    has anyone done solstice canyon in november? thanks as always for the great review, modern hiker!

  • shaun says:

    did this one today as per your site’s suggestions. sweet ruins (i love ruins) and some nice views (i love views).

  • Jennifer says:

    Love this blog, very useful! I’ve just started exploring local hikes and needed a good starting point.

    Gonna try this hike next weekend with a group, looking forward to it based on your description.

  • Jessica says:

    Did this hike last weekend. The full 8-9 mile double loop, including Solstice, Rising Sun, Sostomo and Deer Valley. Was worried about getting lost on the Deer Valley Trail, which was reported as tricky here as well as on localhikes.com. Followed someone else’s advice and took the trail north first (a right when you hit the Deer Valley Trail fork from the Sostomo Trail). No problems after that. Aside from some spots in in the San Gabriels, this is definitely one of my new favorites.

  • Ray says:

    Worth noting if you are silly like me: In the article the directions say to turn onto Carbon Canyon, but it should say Corral Canyon.

  • Bendz says:

    Hi

    Nice places. Good snaps.

    :-)
    Meditation

  • Frank says:

    Beautiful hike! Man, you find the coolest places to go. Sounds very, very extremely hot, though. When you’re ready for some ferns and trees, head up to Portland :0)

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