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.
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.
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 …
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. The looping section of trail between the water pump and the Meadow Woodland Trail is the only partially overgrown area on this loop, and it's the only place I had a bunch of ticks try to hitch a ride with me. Be sure to wear long pants with tucked-in socks, and check for ticks frequently if you're hiking through tall grasses.
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.