Distance (round-trip)

2.8 mi

Time

1.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

272 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

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 plenty of trail options in this park, ranging from easy to moderate, as well as some ranger-led hikes. Don’t overlook Charmlee!

Charmlee also offers several ranger and docent led hikes throughout the year, including Full Moon Hikes, astronomy hikes, bug nights, wildflower hikes, and even a twilight marshmallow-roasting hike. Call ahead at (310) 457-7247 or visit their web site to see what’s offered.

On a blustery Sunday afternoon, I made a last-minute trip out to Malibu to take advantage of the sunny and clear weather, and was not disappointed by Charmlee Wilderness Park.

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.

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 the park. 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 …

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Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





Historical Interest

Kid-Friendly

Potable Water

Views / Vista

Trail Map

11 Comments

jayeck

jayeck Jun 25, 2017 11:06

what a gem this place is! beautiful meadow surrounded by a stunning scenery of oak groves and ocean cliffs. hiked around for a couple hours before driving the 15 minutes down to fave beach. will definitely return!

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Vinscully411

Vinscully411 Jan 23, 2017 06:01

Charmlee is extremely Charmlee-ing. It's in DEEP malibu, almost to Mugu, but is worth the drive if you want a quick and beautiful hike. Last time I went there I had a conversation with Dutch tourists and I used Casey's directions to help them not get lost.

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Casey Schreiner Mar 19, 2015 09:03In reply to: Ridley

Glad you had a great time! Although the park is very beautiful year-round, this is definitely the best time to visit!

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Ridley Mar 18, 2015 17:03

Just hiked this very beautiful spot this morning. Easy trek with lots and lots of open lush meadows. Today there were all manner of wild flowers in bloom. The breezes off the ocean were delightful after this recent heat wave. There were moments I felt as if I were in Ireland. As Casey mentioned the signage is inadequate (and even confusing). But it would be hard to get lost if you stay on the trails (we used our compass). Trail was in good shape and mostly open with a few shady groves. Dog was in heaven. Bring $4.00 cash for parking. Overall, this was a great short hike--perfect if you need a quick hit of nature before getting on with the rest of your urban day.

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Pure Natural Diva Jul 6, 2014 22:07

Just got back from an amazing afternoon at Charmlee. This was a great choice. We live in the Valley and it was 100 degrees... so we knew we needed to get closer to Malibu for some palatable hiking temperatures! Sure enough it was a beautiful 85 at Charmlee, with shady spots and a lovely ocean breezes.
We loved it... and we'll be sure to visit some of the paths we missed another time.

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Astronomy Night at Charmlee | Modern Hiker Jan 15, 2010 14:01

[...] at 6:30, Charmlee Wilderness Park will host a free stargazing hike (parking is $4). The City of Malibu will provide a telescope, but [...]

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Tanja Jul 4, 2009 17:07

Glad we found the writeup on this location - Thanks! Just got back and we *thoroughly* enjoyed it. Came from Woodland Hills and took Mulholland to Encinal. A bit longer than taking the 101 freeway & windy, but had never driven in this area of the Santa Monica Mts. - really enjoyed it! Especially when we pulled over and were passed by 4 Ferrari, 3 Porsche and one Corvette - Vavoom! Took us a bit longer than the 90 minutes to walk most of the loop - as we made a lot more stops to accomodate one of our moms. Nice variety of terrain. Great views! And had a wonderful picnic under the oaks - lots of tables and a restroom. We might even go back for some of the nature concervancy tours/lectures that are offered. What a hidden treasure!

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Digital Aquarium Photography - Charmlee Wilderness Park Jun 7, 2009 18:06

[...] Hiker: https://modernhiker.com/2009/04/04/hiking-charmlee-wilderness-park/ Local Hikes: http://www.localhikes.com/Hikes/CharmleePark_4472.asp City of Malibu: [...]

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dagny Apr 24, 2009 09:04

I love the photo taken At the 0.8 mile mark, where the Botany Trail has a junction with the Meadow Trail. Is there anyway I could get permission to use the photo?

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Modern Hiker Apr 5, 2009 11:04In reply to: Kyle Bailey

Good catch, Kyle. I've updated the directions from the north.

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Kyle Bailey Apr 5, 2009 10:04

In your directions from the 101, I think you left out the turn from Decker Canyon Road (Westlake Blvd.) onto Encinal Canyon Road.

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