On the southern end of Point Mugu State Park, the oft-crowded Sycamore Canyon Campground provides beautiful, shaded spots with easy access to the Pacific Ocean beaches, as well as access to the sprawling trail network in the State Park and the greater Santa Monica Mountains.
This region was hit hard by the 2013 Springs Fire, and the campground itself was damaged by mudslides following the fire, but the area is recovering nicely and most of Serrano Canyon itself was spared the worst of the fire damage. Hiking this trail not only takes you into a surprisingly quiet corner of this popular park, but it also gives you the chance to see both regions in fire recovery as well as how the region looked before the Springs Fire came to town.
The trek begins at the day-use parking area inside Sycamore Canyon Campground. Follow the paved campground road 0.2 mile north to the gated Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road.
Pass the gate and ignore the Scenic Trail on your left, staying on the Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road as it gently meanders through its namesake canyon.
When these photos were taken, it was in late 2015, a few years after the fire and when Southern California was still in a severe drought. Since then, we’ve had at least one solid year of above-average rainfall, and even here you can see that many of the plants were already bouncing back from the flames.
As you move further north in Big Sycamore Canyon, you’ll see more trees that were spared, as well as lots of native oaks that have already resprouted and begun to recover.
Stay straight at the junction with the Overlook Fire Road at 0.6 mile and the Fireline Trail at 1 mile.
At 1.3 miles, you’ll reach a three way junction where Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road continues to the north and the Serrano Canyon Trail branches off to the east. Say goodbye to the fire road for now and hop into Serrano Canyon — and get ready for what seems like an entirely different hike.
Here, the fire road is replaced by a more hiker-friendly single track trail. You’ll hop across the seasonal arroyo bed and continue further east into the canyon over the next 1.7 miles, where you’ll be met with interesting rock formations, narrowing canyon walls, and old-growth oak and sycamore trees hugging the banks of the arroyo.
Just before the 2 mile mark, keep to the right to stay in Serrano Canyon and avoid a use trail that dead-ends in a branching canyon to the north.
The trail starts to pick up a bit of elevation at this point as well. It’s nothing too bad, just a notable change from the previously flat fire road you were hiking in on.
The forest becomes much more dense here as well, which provides some lovely (and very welcome) shade, as well as a glimpse of how the canyon used to be … and how it will be again soon, given a few more seasons of adequate rainfall.
At 2.5 miles, you’ll pass an upturned pipe, then drop down into the wash itself at 2.6 miles, and at 2.7 miles the trail turns north near a major confluence in the arroyo beds where four branches of the wash converge into Serrano Canyon.
By this point, views to the east begin to open up, and you’ll also start to have views of the very prominent (and aptly named) Boney Mountain.
The trail rises up out of Serrano Canyon here, leaving you standing atop some of Point Mugu State Park’s most prime rolling grassland and oak scrub.
The trail makes a sharp turn toward the east at the 3 mile mark, where two different short spur trails will both take you to the Serrano Loop Trail. To follow this route, stay to the left on the Serrano Valley Trail, then head north toward a rusting pump from the region’s former ranch days. You’ll pass the pump at 3.2 miles and intersect with the Serrano Loop Trail at 3.4 miles.
You can complete the loop in either direction, but to follow this route, keep left and follow the loop clockwise.
The trail here can be a bit spotty — in some cases you’re on established single track on well-crafted trail routes, in others, you’re trudging across muddy routes that look like they’re old cattle paths. They’re all established trails, though, so if you’re following this description you don’t have to worry about trodding off into places you shouldn’t be.
The trail dips into the upper reaches of a branch of the Serrano Canyon arroyo and switchbacks at 3.7 miles before intersection with the northbound Serrano Valley Trail at the 4 mile mark. Stay to the right here to continue on the Serrano Loop Trail, which heads east, crests the high point of the trail, and then makes a sharp turn toward the south at 4.6 miles.
At the 5 mile mark, an established use trail cuts across an extended southeastern portion of the loop trail and will reconnect you with the Serrano Canyon Trail. Return back the way you came in.
The trail is in very good shape, although the lower stretches near the campground are recovering from recent fires and mudslides. As you enter the meadow section, you may be confused by use trails and old ranch roads, but most trails are well maintained and signed.
Camping is available at both Sycamore Canyon and just north at Thornhill Broome Beach. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially in the summer months. There is also a small hike-in campsite that tends to remain open even during busy periods. If you're looking to camp during the week, you'll have a much easier time landing a spot.
The trailhead begins in the Sycamore Canyon Campground at Point Mugu State Park, which sits off the Pacific Coast Highway south of the Point Mugu military facilities. The State Park has day use areas for parking that require fees, although there is also free parking along the PCH outside the park's entrance ... you'll just need to walk a bit further and dodge PCH traffic. The trailhead is about 22 miles south of Ventura and 33 miles west of Santa Monica.