The never-ending sunshine, tall palm trees, and unique dry deserts of Southern California make it a beautiful place to visit, and of course, the beaches are on just about everyone’s bucket list.
Malibu, CA, is well-known for its beach culture and excellent surfing, but you might be surprised to know Malibu is also home to some of the best hiking in Southern California.
While hiking in the deserts of California will undoubtedly showcase unique and exciting landscapes as in the famous Joshua Tree National Park, hiking near the ocean during the summer months can be much more comfortable thanks to the pleasant ocean breezes. Not to mention, as you gain elevation, you will be rewarded with some of the best panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean you will find anywhere, hands down.
4 Hikes in Malibu For Every Hiking Ability
With many great trails in Malibu to choose from, these are the top 4 Malibu hiking trails you shouldn’t miss. They cover varying levels of difficulty and terrain, so there is something for every hiking ability.
In addition to the best hiking trails in Malibu, we’ve also included a few additional post-hike suggestions of things to do in Malibu.
Escondido Canyon Trail to Escondido Falls
- Distance: 3.7 miles
- Time: ~2 hours
- Terrain: Mostly flat with some rocky hills
- Difficulty: Moderate
As the name suggests, the Escondido Falls hike leads to a stunning waterfall – it depends on the time of year though. If you hike this trail in the middle of summer, the falls are likely to be dried up.
One of the most popular hikes in Malibu, we suggest an early morning start. Not only will you beat the crowds and heat, but you will grab one of the few free parking spots (which usually fill before noon).
The parking is on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Winding Way. To get to the official trailhead, you have to walk through Winding Way Road, past many beautiful Malibu mansions, until you get to the sign marking the trailhead.
The trail itself is fairly easy, with trees offering shade along the mostly-flat path. About 1-mile into the hike, you will come to your first waterfall, which is steep and has a small pool on the bottom. To continue on, follow the rocky trail to the right (carefully – as the rocks can slide under your feet!).
The falls become more impressive the further you hike, with the third waterfall being the most spectacular at approximately 150 feet high. The pools are quite shallow, so swimming is not really possible, but it’s a great place to stop and cool off.
Los Liones to Parker Mesa Overlook
- Distance: 7.8 miles
- Time: ~4 hours
- Terrain: Lots of hills; some shade
- Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
If you are looking for breathtaking views of Malibu and the Pacific Ocean, then this is your hike.
Los Liones is fairly popular and draws a bit of a crowd on weekends. Luckily the hike is 8 miles roundtrip and the number of people thin out the further you go.
The hike begins under shady tree-lined trails as you ascend on the route. A little bit over 1 mile into the hike, you will come to a bench with 180 degrees Pacific Ocean views. A lovely spot for a rest, a drink of water. You can see a long stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Malibu from here, but this is not the end of the hike.
Continue winding up the trail, which, depending on the time of year might be dry brush or might be lush green (typically in February). Though the trail starts in shade, this quickly turns to sunny uphill terrain as you leave the forest area. There are several amazing viewpoints as you gain elevation.
Parking is free if you begin at the Los Liones trailhead. This hike holds a Moderate to Difficult rating as it can be customized with various offshoots, and the sun can be intense.
The Zuma Ridge Hike
- Distance: 5.4 miles
- Time: 2 hours
- Terrain: Hills and dry brush
- Difficulty: Moderate
Because Zuma Trail is a bit farther north of Los Angeles than most of the other Malibu hikes, this trail tends to be less crowded. You’ll enjoy peace and quiet while you break a sweat and take in the ocean and mountainous scenery.
The trail offers free parking, which can be reached by taking the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to Busch Drive. The parking lot is at the end of Busch on the right side of the road. Be sure to follow the path marked “Zuma Ridge Trail” as you have two trail options when you begin.
There is an often-missed lookout spot offering 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean which can be found about half a mile into the hike. The unmarked path to the lookout can be spotted by keeping your eyes on the ground and watching for the mostly-cleared path on the left-hand side of the trail. The view is incredible and makes you understand why Malibu is a world-famous destination.
The Zuma Ridge trail is an out and back hike totaling 5.4 miles, but there are additional offshoots if you want a longer trek. Dogs and horses are allowed on the trail and there are no restrooms. This hike is in full sun much of the time, so a hat is a great idea.
The MASH Hike
- Distance: 4.85 miles
- Time: 2 hours
- Terrain: Mostly flat with some hills
- Difficulty: Easy
Last but not least, one of my absolute favorite hikes. Malibu Creek State Park lies somewhat inland, on the border of Malibu and Calabasas. Though I’ve never even watched the show, the MASH hike is a great experience.
First of all, the hike itself offers enough shade so that even on an inland hike, you can stay relatively comfortable. There are sun-drenched rolling hills too, but with several stretches of shade, you will never overheat.
The trail itself is well-trodden. The shaded areas offer a very wide trail for traffic moving in both directions while the hilly areas are a bit narrower. Midway through this out and back trail, you have reached a filming location for MASH – complete with set and show paraphernalia that has been left behind since the 1980’s.
A placard points out several locations of significance and rusted old trucks remain on site. There are even picnic tables near the set site, making it a great location to stop and eat a packed lunch before turning back.
Parking is free from Mulholland Highway and the start of the trail is inconspicuous – look for a break in the wooden fence to mark the path.
After your hike of choice, a great lunch or dinner stop on the pier, called Malibu Farm, serves fresh and local organic food directly over the water.
The best sunset spot can be found on the cliffs at El Matador State Beach, and the best surfing is undoubtedly found in Zuma Beach.
Hiking in Malibu
This round-up of the 4 best hikes in Malibu offers something for everyone – from difficult 8-mile treks near the ocean to shaded inland hikes under 5 miles. Whether you choose one or try all four, you are bound to have an enjoyable and scenic time hiking the best trails of Malibu.