The start of the Cistern trail provides spectacular views down to Malibu Creek State Park and the spiky-looking tops of Goats Buttes. After those gorgeous views you’ll be keen to hike down the lookout trail to explore more of this beautiful area! This route will take you down to Century Lake and into an area that was used to film several movies.
We did this as an extra walk after visiting Saddle Peak via the Backbone trail earlier that day.
Cistern trail and Lookout trail map
This maps shows the start of the walk. You could easily continue on to visit the M*A*S*H set, or visit the Rock Pool like we did. I recorded our route here.
Cistern trail and Lookout trail – the basics
Distance: 3.5 miles (5.6km) for our route; Or 2.2 miles (3.6km) to Century Lake and back.
Elevation gain/loss: 492ft (150m)
Time: 1.5 hours. Or less if you stop at the Lookout trailhead.
What to bring:
Bring the 10 essentials.
I found gaiters helpful to keep the small rocks and sand out of my shoes.
Facilities: There were porta potties on Crags Road near the climbing area.
Dogs: No dogs
How hard is it?
Easy in the afternoon in spring when it was not hot. It would be harder on a hot day as there is very little shade.
Extra notes: This trail starts high and climbs downwards, so save energy for the hike back up!
Cistern trail – Getting started
The trailhead is just 15mins drive from Calabasas, near the entrance to Malibu Creek State Park. From Las Virgenes Road, head west on Mulholland Highway for 1.8 miles. (link to trailhead map here.) There is space to park right on the edge of Mulholland Highway.
To get started, walk up a steep embankment. There’s an ugly graffiti-covered concrete slab (the cistern!?) and cool craggy rock formations. The views are brilliant right from the first step!
I mean just look at this incredible scenery! You simply follow the trail down along the ridge until it joins up with the (appropriately named) Lookout trail.
We found the trail very easy to follow, but quite dusty, so slippery. It’s best to wear shoes with decent grip, even though this is a short, undemanding hike.
Once you reach the junction with the Lookout trail, follow it down to the left. You’ll be walking down towards the gorgeous rocky outcrops of Goat Buttes.
In the late afternoon the flowers and bushes really glow from the light of the setting sun.
Once you reach Crags Road, you’ll see Century Lake. It’s not a natural water hole. Back in 1903, the Crags Country Club built a dam along Malibu Creek to set up an area for fishing and hunting ducks. Then, in the 1940s, 20th Century Fox Studios bought the lake and the surrounding land as a filming location. That’s how the lake got its name. You can read more about the history of the area here.
There is a trail right to the edge of the dam on Century Lake. It’s a pretty little side-trail after the Lookout trail. It must be nice to swim here in the summertime.
If you fancy exploring a little further into Malibu Creek State Park, you have two main options (both along Crags Road). Head west along Century Lake towards the M*A*S*H filming location, or east towards the visitor center and Rock Pool.
We headed downhill towards the Rock Pool. It seemed like most people enter the park from the main trailhead off Las Virgenes Road, so it was a little busier around here.
Climbing in Malibu Creek State Park
This was where they filmed the first Planet of the Apes. There are steep pocketed volcanic cliffs that are great for climbers. We saw loads of people out climbing near the rock pool.
The rock pool is slightly underwhelming. Still, it is a pretty spot so I can see why locals like to visit and swim here. If you’d prefer a flat, easy walk, you can reach this spot from the 2nd parking lot at the main trailhead.
By now Marc and I were getting hungry. So, we had a last look at the climbers and the reflections in Malibu Creek, and followed the trail back the way we came, up Cragg Road, the Lookout trail and then the Cistern trail.
This hike was super easy on the way down, but it takes a bit of puff to get you back up the hill to the cistern on Mulholland Highway. Save some energy for the hike back up!
I’ll finish with some Panoramas from our hike back up the Cistern trail. I love the way the setting sun lit up the scenery of Malibu Creek State Park.
I’m not sure if you can tell, but we loved hiking near LA! The Cistern trail and Lookout trail are a great way take a peek into Malibu Creek State Park and the Santa Monica Mountains. This hike really punches above its weight in terms of effort-to-views as you can see some of the most incredible scenery within the first few minutes of the walk.