A pleasant loop through the low mountains and wide grasslands of northern Point Mugu State Park. This route features a seasonal waterfall, cabin ruins, and great spring wildflower blooms — and while I hiked just under 11 and a half miles, there are plenty of alternate, shorter routes.

This area of Point Mugu State Park is at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area — a loose patchwork of public lands owned carved into state parks, county parks, and National Park Service territory. There is some privately-owned land scattered throughout, but for the most part, it’s basically an open, free, sparsely traveled National Park. It’s one of L.A.’s best little secrets.

While the southern La Jolla Canyon is part of the State Park, the northern end of Big Sycamore Canyon is part of the NPS’ Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa unit — the main differences you’ll probably notice are the good parking, abundant signs, and clean bathrooms.

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From the trailhead, follow a very short .3 mile path from the parking lot to a small pond and recreated Chumash village. On the weekends, the Satwiwa Culture Center is staffed with Native American rangers, and is a worthwhile stop if you’ve got some time — but if you want to get right to the hiking, cross the fire road and head straight for the wide open meadow.

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There is a network of wide, established trails running through the meadow, and depending on how green the grass is or how much is blooming, you may want to wander around for a bit. When I was there, the grass was very clearly turning from green to gold …

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… but on an earlier hike — in a much wetter year — everything was bathed in green.

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There were still plenty of blooming wildflowers this weekend, though — especially some very prominent buckwheat flowers.

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After you leave the meadow, you’ll officially be out of National Park Service land, and into Point Mugu State Park’s Boney Mountain Wilderness. Stay on the Old Boney Trail as it travels down the northernmost walls of Upper Sycamore Canyon. There’s a seasonal stream that runs through this part of the canyon, and you’ll notice the tree cover growing thicker as you approach the canyon floor.

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At the junction with the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail, continue on the Old Boney Trail farther into the canyon. If you’re hiking during the wet season, you’ll cross a small, flowing stream on your way up — if so, it’s worth it to take the very short side trail to the base of a small, tiered waterfall. It’s shady the entire way, and there are several huge boulders that make for nice “sittin’ and relaxin’” spots. If it’s dry, you can try you hand at scrambling to the top — just watch out for poison oak.

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After you’re done chilling out in the shade, continue back on the Old Boney Trail, and say hello to the sunshine — most of the rest of your time here will be spent in full or near-full sun. The wide, well-maintained trail makes some long switchbacks as it ascends one of the long ridges north of Boney Mountain. The trails are much wider than single-track, and the high grass is kept far away from hikers’ legs. So still make the occasional tick check, but you don’t have to freak out about it.

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As the trail gains in elevation, you’ll eventually start to get some sweeping vistas of the landscape below. If you look to the northwest, you can see the high meadows you walked through at the start of the trail — as well as the sprawling housing developments that seem to inch threatening close to the park.

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Just under a mile from the waterfall trail, another side trail marked “Old Cabin Site” splits off from the Old Boney Trail. This short 0.3 mile trip takes you to the site of Richard Ely Danielson, Jr.’s cabin. As for the cabin itself, only the chimney remains –

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– but right nearby is a very serene stone and wrought-iron monument to the man who donated a large chunk of his ranch for preservation as parkland.

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There are a lot of nasty thistles in the area, so watch where you’re stepping.

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This route skirts very close to Boney Mountain, but never actually ascends its summit … but if you’re dying to get to a mountaintop and don’t mind going on some rough trail, look for a small but well-worn path that keeps going beyond the monument:

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This is an unofficial trail — unmaintained and unmarked on topographical maps. I’ve done a small part of it (and will probably have to go back to mark the rest of it, now), but it’s a rough, eroded, no-nonsense ascent that climbs its way south until it reaches the summit of Tri-Peaks. It’s doable, but if you’re going to make an attempt, you’re going at your own risk.

If you’re not summit hungry, turn back the way you came and return to the Old Boney Trail — keeping your eyes open for brilliant gazania blooms hiding in the underbrush.

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When you continue the ascent on the Old Boney Trail, you’ll know when you’ve reached the spot where most hikers turn and head back to the parking lot. Until now, the trails have been clear and wide, but now they’ll get rugged and overgrown.

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Now is when you’re going to want to start making regular tick checks. I noticed a few hanging out in the grass, but never got any on my legs — so you probably don’t have to obsess about it, but it never hurts to err on the side of safety. Plus, while you stop to admire the increasing definition of your calves, you can get some rather impressive views of Boney Mountain as it watches over the enormous valley below.

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The very short section right after you get back on the Old Boney Trail is the worst ascent of this entire loop, but thankfully you won’t be dealing with the incline for too long. Your highest elevation — just over 1800 feet — is almost directly to the west of the Danielson Monument. The next six miles or so are predominantly downhill.

About a mile and a half after trudging along the ridges of the Old Boney Trail, you will reach a marked junction with the Fossil Trail. If you want to shave a few miles and hours off your hiking expedition, turn onto the Fossil. It will take you back to the Sycamore Canyon Fire Road and a junction with the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail – both of which will take you back to where you started.

You can also spot dozens of fossilized shells lining the path. You didn’t think a trail called Fossil would be without them, did you?

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Skip the Fossil turn-off and continue south on the Old Boney Trail. The route continues for another 2.1 miles along some open ridges until it intersects with the Blue Canyon stretch of the Backbone Trail.

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Turn west here and head down the canyon, which will slowly grow thick with trees (and shade!) as it parallels a seasonal stream. If it’s hot out, this will provide a welcome respite from the rest of the trail so far, which has been mostly in open chaparral.

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After an easy 0.8 mile descent, you’ll pass a rusted barbed-wire fence that marks the former boundary of the Danielson Ranch.

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At the site of some former ranch buildings is the Danielson multi-use area — a group and equestrian campsite. When I hiked through, there were a handful of large tents and horse trailers, and several SUVs.

When you hike through the camp, you’ll come across the paved Sycamore Canyon Fire Road. Hang a right to hitch north.

Now, if you’re like me, the only thing you like less than hiking on fire roads is hiking on paved fire roads. If you want, you can stay on the pavement for just over three miles and get back to the trailhead.

But you don’t want that.

You want to stay on the fire road for just a few hundred yards, and then cut across a small path on the west side of the road that takes you back into the meadows. This path does travel south, and you’ll probably feel like you’re going in the wrong direction — but in under a tenth of a mile you’ll see a sign for the Sin Nombre Trail — part of a pair of trails that parallel the fire road at just a slightly longer distance. Your soles will thank you for getting off the road.

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This is a lovely stretch of single-track trail through thigh and waist high grasses that not only provides better views of the Sycamore Canyon valley than the road, but is also infinitely more peaceful.

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When I was there, I kept hearing this low, dull roar coming from all around me — a sound like a distant motorcycle or airplane. After a few minutes of wondering where all the bikers were, I realized it was just the collective buzz from the flying insects scattered around the valley. Not exactly the greatest of “Wow, nature” moments, but I’ll take it.

The Sin Nombre Trail continues across the valley floor before turning west and meeting up with the paved Ranch Center Road. Cross the road and rejoin the beaten path on the Hidden Pond Trail for more wide meadows and views of the mountains overhead.

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… just watch out for snakes. I spotted a small coiled one right by the start of the trail, but it kept its distance and didn’t bother me … even though I instinctively yelped as soon as I saw it.

It’s 1.2 miles on the Hidden Pond Trail until it returns to the Fire Road, after crossing a wash that wiped out part of the trail’s former path. After that, it’s another 1.4 miles on pavement back to the trailhead.

Just make sure you stop to take a look at the trash can overlooking Sycamore Canyon. If the Park Service hasn’t removed it, you’ll find some fairly entertaining graffiti.

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Note: This park was badly burned in the Springs Fire of May, 2013 – but quickly reopened just a few weeks later. Most of the trails are open although some may be closed due to erosion or for other safety reasons – so be sure to check with the park staff before you head out.

And if you think being burned has diminished the park’s beauty, you’re sorely mistaken. This is a great opportunity to get some first-hand experience with fire ecology. Hopefully, the wildflower show this spring will be spectacular. Click here for my experience hiking through the burned section of the park just after it reopened.

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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 May 8, 2008

21 Comments

  • audrianna says:

    Hey!!! Thanks for compiling this. It’s super informative! :) I haven’t been in like 10 years and my young adult group from my church, is going tomorrow morning.

  • Mbt says:

    Great site:) I have some friends visiting who are requesting a mountainous hike. However we’ll only have about 2hours max to hike. Does sycamore offer shorter clear routes? Thanks:)

  • Ginetta says:

    I was trying to upload the gpx file on my Android to use it with an app called Traxx Outdoors and I keep getting an error message. Any idea why?

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Ginetta – I had a little bit of some weirdness when checking the download. Try clicking the GPX button on this page and SAVE AS, making sure the extension is a .gpx (I was getting something about there being an additional .txt extension that I’ll look into). With that, the track and waypoints open up fine on my end.

  • Alexis says:

    We did this hike 7/29/2012. I would agree with a comment before that the instructions were hard to follow with all of the descriptions of side trails, flowers etc. It would be helpful to add the end or beginning just to include the basic instructions. Also, there were two points this trail got confusing. The intersection after the Fossil turn off is marked Danielson Multi Use Area, so it would be helpful to include that. Also once we got to the fire road we never found the turnoff. The one where it may have been was labeled “beach” so we did not take it thinking it would go to the beach. By the time we eventually saw some other trailheads along the road we did not have a good enough map to know which trail to use to get back on track. The road is definitely killer on the feet.

    Overall, a good hike, and we came in at over 14 miles!

  • GarcMon says:

    this looks gorgeous! do you know if dogs are allowed, either on or off leash?

  • rick says:

    I am coming back to California from Pennsylvania. I was at Edwards AFB for a few years, and it is time to visit the in-laws. I want to take my wife on an overnight hike. Since it will be January, would you recommend this hike (sycamore canyon) or do you have a better one somewhere I have not found yet? Temps down to the mid 30′s would be okay for my wife. I love your website and if I ever get to live in Southern California again, I would use this resource for every hike! Great Job!!!

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Rick, this would be a great hike that fits all your needs – there are group camp sites in the middle of the park (which this route passes through) and I believe you can reserve some camp sites in the southern end of the park near the beach on ReserveAmerica. It may get chilly and a bit damp near the coast, but I bet the sunset would be worth it!

  • Tim says:

    Hey Kosa, feel free to give me a shout if you want to get out. I am a Brit washed up in LA

    Tim

  • christopher says:

    Kosa,

    This is a very safe hike, I wouldn’t worry about anything here. You can always check the Meet-Up (google, meet-up hiking groups) groups; there are tons in the LA area which are always doing hikes. Enjoy!!

  • Kosa says:

    I’m in LA for a few months from Australia and would love to do this hike but I wonder how safe it is to do it alone? I’d love to find a hiking buddy… any suggestions as to where I can look for one or a group of hikers to join?

  • Derek says:

    Hiked this loop over the weekend – after you reach the point where most hikers turn around and head back, as is mentioned in the narrative above, the trail becomes quite overgrown and will involve walking through stretches of arm-pit high grasses. Luckily, I didn’t spot any ticks (either in the grass or on me), but I did have to stoop to move under the lower hanging branches. Once you’re on the single track trail after passing “Dan Camp,” be sure to keep your eyes peeled for mountain bikers storming down the trail! All in all it’s a fun hike with a lot of diversity in scenery and trail condition.

  • Andy says:

    Did this hike over the weekend– it’s excellent (though not as scenic as some of the others). A couple observations:

    - The Old Boney Trail past the Fossil Trail turnoff is extremely overgrown in places (other places are clear and wide; very weird). It’s not impassible, but it is covered in tall grass and shrubs; and if you’re over 6ft, you’ll be bending over a lot. So be prepared for bushwhacking.

    - The Sin Nombre trail seems to be almost exclusively a mountain biker trail, judging from the lack of footprints and the number of times I had to dive out of the way of bikers.

    - What’s not mentioned here is that last half mile or so up the fire road, which after many miles up and down the mountain, probably qualifies as a “leg buster.”

    Despite all that (or because of it), I had a great time. The hike works just as well under a heavy marine layer, with the added benefit of very few other hikers.

  • Christopher says:

    Sorry, the above should say Serrano Trail, NOT Serrato

  • Christopher Gleason says:

    ModernHiker: Wonderful site! Kudos for all the hard work you’ve done. New to California & I’ve been running rampant thru the SM Mtns so far; this is the best hike I’ve done in these mountains! I did the hike a bit different as after stopping for lunch at Danielson Multi Use Area I backtracked & took the Serrato Trail (?) which is truly worth the effort as it takes you thru wonderful scenery; grasslands, rolling green hills, snow-capped mountains, just exquisite! At some point you come to an intersection with a trail which will take you to Tri-Peaks/Yerba Buena Road but I stayed on Serrato and was eventually spit out on the Big Syc Canyon Trail further down. I wish I had taken the time to investigate how far I was from the water (next time). Also, on the way back I followed what you did, but skipped Hidden Pond, instead following the fire road (yuck) with the hopes of meeting up with the Upper Sycamore to get home & success! My question is, if you took the Hidden Pond would it spit you out to far up the Big Syc Trail to catch the Upper Syc? I can’t recommend this hike enough, I will be back to explore some more! Cheers.

  • Monica says:

    Hiked this on a spectacular Sunday – blue skies, warm weather and mild breezes. I’ll definitely be coming back, but this is the last time I rely on Modern Hiker directions. Probably my own fault to not use a true map, but the vague instructions kept us confused and frustrated nearly the entire way. Even the name of the street that Rancho Sierra Vista is located on wasn’t named. Other than that it was a perfect day.

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Monica,

      Sorry you guys got lost. I try to include links to Google Maps with an end point, so you can at least visualize where you’re headed. Sometimes those don’t even work though, because Google occasionally likes to send you through locked gates and over fire roads when it doesn’t know better. I tried to clarify the directions a bit, but Lynn Road does take you right to the north entrance of the park. Where’d you guys end up?

  • brian says:

    A buddy and I hiked this last Saturday. It was my second time hiking Sycamore and as I remembered from last year, being surrounded by the beauty of the Serrano Valley grassland was the highlight. Taking Serrano Canyon Trail, we intended to take the valley loop, but ended up at a fence and had lost the trail. Backtracking to the trail we headed toward the Old Boney Trail (marked at the split with an arrow indicating Backbone Trail) to Blue Canyon Trail to the Fire Road and back. Some tips: wear hiking pants in the Spring as parts of the trail are thick with flora, expect bugs (we found ticks and had plenty of bites) and wear sunscreen! In total we mapped our hike at 13 miles give or take.

  • Tod Mesirow says:

    hello. I enjoy your website/blog. we hiked up from the PCH side – there’s a parking lot across from the Navy firing range, just as Route 1 heads south and the park starts on the left. on Google Earth there’s an image labeled “chumash trail” with a shot from the hill looking west. it’s pretty steep at the beginning, but levels off, and provides a great view. the sign in the parking lot says it’s 1.2 miles up, but it felt further. there were only 8 or so other hikers on the trail, and it was an amazingly clear crisp day.

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