Malibu Grotto Hike

It is often said that in life it is important to take pleasure in not only the destination, but also in the journey itself. The Malibu Grotto Trail is one of the rare opportunities when both journey and destination are equally invigorating.

Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Malibu Grotto Trail is pure pleasure and offers sweeping scenery from the drive to the destination. From Santa Monica the journey begins northward on the Pacific Coast Highway, where scenic views of the coastline ease the tension of even the heaviest weekend traffic. Roughly one mile after passing over the Ventura County line, take a right on the perilously narrow Yerba Buena Road and continue for 5.4 miles as it snakes its way up the canyon. Endless double-apex turns and a sheer, 100-plus foot drop just feet from the driver's side window ensure that hikers arrive at the trailhead with blood pumping, ready to hike. The Circle X Ranch and Ranger station clearly mark the beginning of the Malibu Grotto Trail and free parking is offered.

As the path descends steadily downward, the maintained footpath is shaded and offers many lookout points to take in the lush green landscape of the canyon floor. High above the trail, a sandstone peak over three thousand feet tall watches omnipotently over the canyon, while the sweet aroma of coastal sage and other dry-weather shrubbery hangs lightly in the air below.

After the dry reddish-brown rocky slopes of the upper section have been successfully navigated, hikers are transported through two inviting, house-on-the-prairie-style meadows and then onto the fern-studded valley floor. An underground stream, which feeds the grotto, peaks through the moist topsoil every so often, and keeps this portion of the hike considerably cool.

Once colossal rock formations begin to dominate the scenery, the grotto is within reach. This last section of the hike, however, requires a little more effort. Prepare to get dirty and do a little rock climbing or misstep into foot-deep icy-cold water. However, like many past explorers who overcame perils to reap reward, you too will not be disappointed. House-sized rock formations soon open up to reveal a naturally occurring rock-walled grotto-pool (playmates not included) perfect for dipping a toe or, if careless, an entire foot.

After cooling off by the grotto, head back up the same path. The first mile or so is fairly strenuous, however, the clean, crisp mountain air is a refreshing respite from the usual carbon-tainted Los Angeles oxygen, so soak it up.