Easy

Charmlee Wilderness Park

Distance 2.8 mi
Time 1.5 hrs
Elevation Gain 272 ft
Season Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Weather

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This loop trail is a short but beautiful hike in the Charmlee Wilderness Park, a 530 acre park on the coastal bluffs in Malibu. Beautiful grassy meadows, coastal scrub, and live oak are all highlights in this park, which also has some historic ranch ruins and a great little nature center on coastal California wildlife. There are many different trail options here, from very easy strolls to moderately longer adventures along the bluffs.

In 2018, the park was badly damaged in the Woolsey Fire and closed indefinitely. The following year, ownership of the park transferred from the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority to the City of Malibu. The park re-opened to the public in late 2020, and is now open from 8AM to Sunset, daily. More information can be found on the City of Malibu’s official site.

While the name may imply something larger than the park’s 530 acres and 9 total miles of trail, the Charmlee Wilderness Park is a great place to spend some time outside when you’re looking for amazing coastal views and long stretches of grassy meadow, or just don’t have time for a longer trail or drive to the trailhead. It’s one of the most picturesque areas in the Santa Monica Mountains and the perfect place to take beginning hikers for a taste of the region.

After parking at the lot, you can explore the small but excellent Nature Center to get some history of the area, or just head south on the Old Ranch Road, which starts out paved but very quickly turns into a beautiful oak and sycamore-shaded dirt road.

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In 450 feet, you’ll pass the Oak Grove Picnic Area, which is also the trail junction with the Botany Trail, a spur that loops around the southern borders of the park. It’s not signed, and easy to miss, but if you do – there’s a cutoff that leads south to the Botany Trail at about the 0.2 mile mark. The trails here lead through some great California coastal scrub which will be a brilliant green following winter rains:

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At the 0.8 mile mark, the Botany Trail has a junction with the Meadow Trail — a long (for this park at least) trail and fire road route that cuts through the center of the park and an impressive and expansive grassland. For now, ignore the meadow and continue southwest on what is now called the Fire Ecology Trail (although still not named or signed), leaving these views behind:

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This stretch of the trail meanders to the south, passing more of the rolling meadows and entering a small stretch of live oak woodland, which provides some nice shade and a pleasant contrast to the more open aspects of the rest of Charmlee. Shortly after this, the trail, above a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and then meets back up with the Meadow Ranch Trail at the site of an old reservoir at the 1.4 mile mark … which provides a great view of the entire meadow all in one piece.

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From the reservoir, ignore the main Meadow Ranch Trail unless you want to call it a day, and instead keep to the far left, heading northwest toward an old water pump. At the pump, you will see a faint trail heading off toward the ocean — this is the most rugged and overgrown stretch of trail (though still not very bad), and provides some great views of the Pacific as well as some runs through tall grass. Head down this route!

This is the part of the trail where you really want to do a tick check every few minutes … make sure your legs are secure before you hit the really tall grass, and be sure to do a quick visual once you’ve stepped back into the oak woodlands around the 2.1 mile mark.

After you’ve made it to the junction with the Meadow Woodland Trail, veer to the right and rejoin with the fire road, this time heading left back toward the trailhead.

At the intersection with the Old Ranch Road, be sure to take a quick left into the wooded area to check out the foundations of the old ranch house, then return down the Old Ranch Road to the trailhead and Nature Center.

… oh, and if you visit during the spring, you might get to see some amazing wildflowers on display at Charmlee Wilderness Park …

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Trail Conditions

Excellent for the most part. Trails are not always marked with signs or names, but they are very easy to spot in the surrounding meadowlands and difficult to lose unless you start wandering off on your own.

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How to Get There

From the South: From the 10 and CA-1 in Santa Monica, travel north on the PCH for 24.2 miles, passing Zuma and Robert Meyer Beaches. Turn right onto Encinal Canyon Road. The entrance to the park will be 3.8 miles down the road, on your left. Day-use fee required.

Driving Directions

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