Distance (round-trip)

4.6 mi


2.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

1135 ft




The hike in Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock is a moderately challenging 4.6 mile loop trail in the Pacific Palisades. This route takes you on the popular Temescal Canyon Trail to Temescal Falls (really just a small cascade, most often only a trickle). From there, the hike makes a strong but shaded ascent up to the ridge and to Skull Rock, a cool little rock formation with some excellent views of the Pacific Coast and inland (on clear days). This is a great, slightly-more-than-casual workout hike with lots of great options to extend your trip to a full-day hike, too!

The Santa Monica Mountains are not lacking in trails with beautiful ocean views, but Temescal Canyon is definitely one of the more popular ones. Maybe it’s the easy parking, or the fact that you can really do whatever kind of hike you’d like here – a quick loop, a trail-run up to the ridge, or a full-day trek deep into the mountain ranges – but Temescal is definitely an L.A. hike worth knowing about.

A word of warning, though – because this trail is so popular and because you can do some very easy routes here … and because it’s also located so close to some excessively wealthy areas of Los Angeles – don’t be surprised if you see people in yoga pants and expensive tops strolling in the woods with Starbucks cups while talking on their phones. I honestly think I may have passed three or four people in the lower stretches of the Canyon who were wearing perfume or cologne. Another hiker I passed was playing her workout music from speakers (what is WITH that?). If that sort of stuff bothers you, then I’d suggest heading to a trail further in the mountains, or just hiking quickly through the lower Canyon – those types thin out quite a bit once you start approaching the ridge.

OK, that said – this hike starts out in the southwestern corner of the western parking area. If you’ve decided to park inside the park’s lots, just keep heading in that direction. If you parked on the street, this is on the north side of Sunset just west of the park’s entrance. Look for a large green metal gate near a metal debris dam, just below a small information kiosk. The hike starts here:

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 3
This un-mapped (on official park maps) trail is the Sunset Trail. It just skirts the west side of the park’s other parking areas and access road, saving you a little bit of pavement-pounding and getting you right into the woods.

Head down the short descent and hop across the small bridge, enjoying the shade and fragrant blooms along the way.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 5
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 6

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 7

This section of trail doesn’t have any signs on it, and there are a LOT of little spur routes heading to the stream and to the parking areas. If you’re heading north into the park, just keep staying to the left at the junctions and you’ll make it, although all the trails will get you to the Canyon entrance one way or another. It’s about 0.4 miles to the main Temescal trail junction.

When you get there, you’ll see a lot of signs. The Temescal Canyon Trail is to your right, while the Temescal Ridge Trail enters Topanga State Park and makes an ascent to your left. The Temescal Canyon Trail stays relatively flat for a little while before making a steep but shaded ascent to the Ridge, while the Ridge Trail makes a more gradual ascent but spends more time in the direct sun. Feel free to take whichever direction strikes your fancy, but on my trek I went to the right and headed further into Temescal Canyon.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 11
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 12

This clear, well-maintained trail stays relatively flat for the next 0.3 miles as it skirts another large debris dam and some camp buildings. When you come to a small stretch of pavement near an old cement structure, just cross the road and continue in the same direction. The trail’s a bit faint, but it’s still there.

At the 0.7 mile mark, you’ll hit the edge of Temescal Gateway Park and the southern boundary of Topanga State Park. If you’re hiking with a dog, you’ll have to turn around here (Topanga is notorious for ticketing dog-owners). Otherwise, continue into the Canyon, where the trail becomes significantly more rugged.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 14
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 15

You’ll spend the next 0.8 miles dodging trail boulders and finally starting to climb a bit. You’ll be surrounded by green but don’t forget to take a moment every now and then to turn back for some great views down the canyon.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 16
At the 1.5 mile mark, you’ll hit Temescal “Falls.” Do not think this is an actual waterfall, because it’s not. It’s just a small cascade next to some lovely shaded areas with a nice bridge crossing it. Maybe during the rain it looks like an actual waterfall, but I’d have to see it to believe it. Instead, just enjoy the area for what it is – and maybe take a few minutes to have some fun scrambling along the boulders.

When you’ve had your fill, cross the bridge and continue on the Temescal Canyon Trail as it makes a steady climb up to the ridge.

The incline is slightly steeper here than it is on the other route, but it’s still manageable. And the good news is, most of this route is very well shaded, so if you’re doing the hike on a sunny day you won’t sweat out half your body weight along the way!

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 20
Unfortunately, because the trail is so shaded, there really isn’t much to look at while you’re making this climb up. It’s only 0.4 miles until the trail reaches its junction with the Temescal Ridge Trail. Here, ignore the junction to your left and keep heading straight to join the Ridge Trail. This trail continues the climb upward but at a much easier incline. It will loop over Temescal Canyon once (with a really nice view of your entrance route) before hitting the main ridge and following that north. As you hike in this direction, you’ll also get your first views of Skull Rock.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 21
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 22

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 25

It’s 0.8 miles from the trail junction to Skull Rock – it’s pretty easy to spot from the trail. There will be a short but very apparent use-trail you can use to scramble through a bit of chaparral to the rock itself, and once you get there you can climb on, over, underneath, or even next to the rock if you want – the view from the top (or from nearby, smaller rock structures) is pretty amazing.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 30
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 26

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 27

When you’re done soaking in the views and scrambling, backtrack to the Temescal Ridge Trail junction (at about the 2.8 mile mark), then keep to the right to stay on the Ridge Trail. You’ll pass the junction with the Bienveneda Trail just a few yards further – ignore that one and stay on the Ridge Trail as it starts its descent. If you get confused, don’t worry – the trail signs will tell you which route takes you back to Sunset Blvd. The trail starts out in the sun with some really nice views of the coast and toward the city, but there are sporadic sections of shade along the way.

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 34
Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 35

Temescal Canyon to Skull Rock 33

It’s 1.4 miles back down to the junction with the Sunset Trail. Ignore all the side-trails (and the fancy houses that are really too big for anyone to need) and return back to the trailhead the way you came in.

And if you parked in the parking lot – WATCH OUT FOR THAT STOP SIGN CAMERA!

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

Historical Interest


Multi-Use Trail


Views / Vista

Water Features

Trail Map


Mia Dec 7, 2020 10:12

I hike/run this trail on a regular basis for exercise and yes there are lots of folks who are "casual" walkers on this trail. Funny and accurate description! I've actually seen some modeling shoots on the trail. LOL I had no idea about Skull Rock though! I always thought the fork in the trail lead to a longer trail but will definitely try to get to the rock next time. One caveat though! I just went yesterday for the first time since February 2020 and now that there are COVID restrictions it was BUSY and unfortunately 1 in every 6 person I passed was not wearing a mask. I know it's the outdoors and some people still don't care about wearing masks but I'm just letting people know to be cautious of that.

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Casey Schreiner Dec 16, 2019 08:12In reply to: Pepe Arean

Sounds like the path less taken brought you on a fun little adventure! Thanks for sharing!

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Pepe Arean Dec 15, 2019 20:12

Did this hike today, it was super fun!
Our route was a bit different: Early on at the above-mentioned "stretch of pavement near an old cement structure" we mistakenly turned left/west instead of continuing up Temescal Canyon Trail.
This led us up a narrow, overgrown, steep, unmarked path with lots of scrambling. In one particularly steep part there was even a rope tied to a tree that we had to use to climb up. It was very fun, it felt like we had found our own secret path up the canyon. But it was also a little risky, and definitely not for beginners. We were lucky the rope was in good shape!
The path eventually spit us out onto Temescal Ridge Trail. From there we continued up to a nice viewpoint, and up to Skull Rock. I wish I'd had gloves to climb the rope to the top of Skull Rock, I did not dare attempt the climb without them.
We went down Temescal Canyon Trail to the tiny waterfall and made our way back.
We had a couple of interesting musical encounters along the way. We kept passing an old man who sang at the top of his lungs nonstop while he slowly hiked down the trail. His repertoire included "God Bless America" and "Loch Lomond" among other folksy tunes. He gave off powerful WW2/Americana vibes.
We also met a man blowing on an antelope horn. He had set down some corn and water nearby, and when he blew his horn, bluebirds flew down to eat and drink. He claimed he had been doing this for many years, effectively training the birds to find him whenever he blew his horn. Fancy that!

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ridleyzip Sep 23, 2017 16:09

Living in LA, I have always liked this "close to home" hike. Hiked it today as a matter of fact. I enjoy seeing the ocean from several vistas, the moments when the trail is through woods, and tracking the vegetation seasonal shifts. Trails are in fairly good shape, but I do watch my footing in some areas. Over the years it has become pretty crowded with trail runners, and people playing music or having loud conversations (often featuring how they are being wronged by some situation in life). Because I like a quiet hike, I try to get on the trail very early (6:30 or 7:00 am) to avoid this. I have had success parking outside the park along the road.

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ginareilly Mar 25, 2017 12:03

I just finished hiking to Skull Rock today (03/25/17), the parking adjacent to the trail heads is NOW $10.00, not cash only and will take a debit/credit card. Another tip to share, be sure you know where you're going on the trails, not everyone hiking the trails are familiar with the area. Safety in numbers!

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Casey Schreiner May 15, 2015 17:05In reply to: adshrinkJeff

All times and distances are round trip unless otherwise noted. Have a great hike - you'll have some beautiful views with the recently-cleared skies!

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adshrinkJeff May 15, 2015 17:05

Is it 2.5 hours total or each way? Hoping to go tomorrow depending on the weather.

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Laurie McQuay Apr 26, 2015 18:04

Just did this trail as directed. I came down the Ridge Trail, and I would say that the beginning of it is indeed a fairly steep ascent. It does level out and become more gradual with some ups and downs along the way to be less demanding, but the beginning is steep. I know this because my knees coming down said so. The Canyon Trail is also steep but it starts out gradual and then kicks into gear. And when I say steep, I mean I had to stop and breathe a couple of times. :-). It is beautiful at the top. I will definitely be going back.

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Marc Jan 25, 2015 09:01

Just did this hike yesterday and followed your directions. I guess we're not as experienced as we thought as we found the Ridge Trail a bit more challenging than we expected but getting up there is so worth it. Enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the ocean, then when back down in the dark with views of the illuminated city. Oh, and the parking lot was buzzing with FBI agents for some reason lol. Awesome hike, looking forward to hitting another one soon, thanks for this website ;)

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Casey Schreiner Jan 5, 2015 18:01In reply to:

If you're looking for coastal sunset views, there are lots of options. The Los Liones Trail is right nearby and also has great coastal views, or you can head a bit further into the Santa Monica Mountains and explore from there. Corral Canyon and Charmlee are also quick routes with beautiful ocean views.

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