Temescal Canyon – LA Hikes

Temescal Canyon – LA Hikes

The Temescal Canyon loop is a fun, easy-ish hike on the edge of the Santa Monica Mountains, California. It will treat you to fabulous views of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. We went in a clockwise direction, so climbed up the steep section first to enjoy the scenery. The return loop takes you deep into the shady canyon to a (teeny) waterfall.

We were only in LA for a few days because Marc won an award for his work on the movie, Dune. We came the weekend before the award ceremony (in March 2022) to get some hikes in!

Temescal Canyon loop – the basics

Distance: 4 miles (6.5 km) plus extra 1 mile (1.6 km) to skull rock.
Elevation gain
: 920ft (280m) for the loop or 1180ft (360m) if you get to skull rock.
Highest Point: 1410 ft (430m) at skull rock
Time: 1.5-2.5 hours
What to bring:
Bring theΒ 10 essentials.
Facilities:Β Toilets and water at the trailhead. You need to pay for parking.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed at the bottom of the canyon, but not on the main loop, once the trail crosses into Topanga State Park.
How hard is it?
Easy/moderate. It is easy to follow and never crazily steep. It must feel hard later in the spring/summer once the weather is hot.
Extra notes: There was sign warning hikers to watch out for rattlesnakes. It said not to fear them, but stay away from them. Stay on the trails to avoid them.

Temescal Canyon trail map

I live in Canada, so my maps are normally configured to km for distances and m for elevation (just in case you look without noticing the units!)

This was the first hike we did in the LA area, so we enjoyed the whole experience, even the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway on the way there.

Temescal Canyon – Getting started

The trail starts at Temescal Gateway Park. We parked right at the trailhead ($12 for parking…) but there is free street parking if you arrive early. Turn left by the cute cabin and follow steps up towards Topanga State Park.

We did the loop clockwise as we wanted to get the steep section over early, and relax on the way down. On hot days, it might be better to walk counter-clockwise so you are in the shade on the way up.

Temescal Gateway Park Views

The climb is steep, but not too hard (unless you do this on a hot day – then I guess you’d melt). In no time at all you’ll find yourself up above the posh houses of Pacific Palisades.

You get gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean as well as Los Angeles.

Views of Los Angeles

We did this hike in March and I was pleasantly surprised by how lush and green the area was – there were so many wildflowers! This was our first view of LA – it’s not a bad way to see the city for the first time!

The trail soon enters Topanga State Park. The views down to Temescal Canyon as you hike higher are gorgeous! Rainclouds passed over while we walked, so it made the scenery even prettier. I love the contrast of bright sunshine next to moody skies.

Temescal Ridge Trail

The trail we followed is a loop. Start along the Temescal ridge trail, hiking up multiple bumps. The path is always easy to follow, just a bit dusty.

The trail leads to multiple view points at the top of each bump.

How steep is it?

Some parts of this hike were great for a workout! It is mostly an easy (but constant) climb, with some extra-steep moments to get your heart beating.

Wildflower heaven

I LOVED how any wildflowers were in bloom in the springtime! The entire mountain seemed to be sprinkled with the cheerful yellow flowers of California brittlebush. I also loved the purple nightshade, desert wishbone flowers and the crazy spikey balls of the California Manroot.

Detour to Skull Rock

Before we turned onto the downhill Temescal Canyon trail, we saw something called “skull rock” on my map, just half a mile further into Topanga State Park. I am always keen to see cool rocks, so we went off on a detour to climb up to it. Can you see the skull?

This might just be us… but we thought the other un-named rock looks like a capybara. Cabybara rock should totally be added to the Californian maps now too!

I climbed up and around the Skull Rock to peek at the ocean through its eye.

However my favourite view of the day was from Capybara Rock. It’s easy to climb up behind and sit on the capybara’s back.

Heading down

We headed back down from the rock formations and rejoined the Temescal Canyon loop.

The views continue to be beautiful while you are up high. Then the trail descends down into Temescal Canyon for a pretty walk through the forests back to the parking area.

Temescal Canyon base

Once you make it to the far corner of the canyon, there’s a bridge over a small creek with a trickle-like waterfall. It’s just enough water to keep the canyon full of beautiful oak and sycamore trees. This part of the trail was quite busy and there was a lady being filmed posing in her short shorts and animal print bra. I thought they might not appreciate it if I took photos of the semi-clothed photoshoot, so here are some photos of the base of the canyon.

Temescal Canyon Panoramas

I’ll finish with a few photos of the loop. It seemed like we chose pretty well for our first American hike.

The Temescal Canyon Loop was a brilliant introduction to hiking in California. It’s pretty stunning considering we’d only been in the USA for a few hours at this point. It just shows it is easy to find great hikes near LA!

46 thoughts on “Temescal Canyon – LA Hikes

    1. Oooh they did win an academy award as well, but the one we went for was for VES (Visual Effects Society) award. πŸ™‚

      The temperature was perfect for hiking. It was 20C/68F-ish, with a cool breeze from the ocean.

  1. Wow! Your photographs are absolutley stunning. I hadn’t heard of this place so thank you for putting on my radar.

    1. Thanks Nicola! Yeah, we didn’t know about it until we started searching for the best hikes near LA. It was great though!

    1. Thanks Araceli! The wildflowers were sooo lovely! I think soon after we left they got even better (with oodles of orange poppies!)

  2. I didn’t know about Temescal Canyon before! It definitely looks interesting and the hike gives you the chance to take some stunning photos! Very nice and detailed guide! Well done

  3. Josy, what you managed to forget to mention was that you did indeed see a rattle snake, So any one going there must be very loud and very careful. The TV prog QI said recently, that if you pee on a snake it leaves in a straight line not a wiggly one, but I do not want any one to try this. Love, Lis

    1. Don’t worry mum, there were no snakes on this hike! The hike where we met the snakes was called Mugu Peak.

      And lol no, we don’t have any plans to pee on a snake!

  4. Big congrats to Mark!!! When I eventually make it to the LA area, visiting this canyon is something that i would definitely want to do. Looks like an amazing hike with even more amazing views. Love the wildflowers too!

  5. Congrats to Marc for winning an award. Sounds like it was a great excuse to take a trip, even if it was short. Even though you were in LA, I love that you still found time to leave the city to do some hiking.

    1. In the end, we only had one day with no hiking (on the day of the award ceremony!) The rest of the time we spent out of the city on the trails. πŸ˜‰

  6. The views look amazing on this hike! Thanks for including all the hike specs directly on this post, sometimes all the important info is hard to find on AllTrails!

  7. The Temescal Canyon Loop loos lie a stunning hike. Thanks for detailed description and gorgeous photos!

    1. Thanks Kyra! Let me know if you have any you’d recommend. If Marc wins awards in future years, hopefully we can come back! πŸ™‚

  8. Wow, the wildflowers are incredible! I love the view by skull rock. In my opinion, the best way to “see” LA is from afar, and these views are perfect! I enjoyed reading, as always Josy.

    1. Lol I feel like that about most cities! I just love seeing them from mountains, or as skylines from the ocean.

  9. I’ve been to the Santa Monica area many times, but I’ve never gone hiking. Temescal Canyon loop looks like a great hiking experience! BTW: I loved Dune and so worthy of all awards. What kind of work did your husband do on the movie?

    1. Oooh next time you go, try visiting some of the State Parks – I know you would love the hikes Karen!

      He did quite a lot (he was a VFX build supervisor, and he worked on most of the spaceships, the worms and the city of Arrakeen) The award he won was for the ornithopters. <3

  10. LA has tons of terrific hikes including Temescal Canyon. I usually go up counterclockwise for a little bit more of a challenge and reward myself on the way down with a view of the ocean. There is almost always street parking on Temescal so you don’t have to park in the lot. One other tip, you can enter the park from Sunset, at the north end of the parking lot by following the dirt path down. It’s a nice way to get to the trail to avoid the crowds.

    1. Oooh that is good to know if we go back! I may have to pick your brains if we return to LA so we can find lots more fabulous hikes!

    1. Oooh did you find any good ‘uns while you were in LA Chelsea? Maybe we can swap notes, and I can try the hikes you did next time we go! πŸ˜€

  11. I didn’t have a chance to hike last time I was in LA, so I will definitely have to do this next time! The view looks great!

  12. Love seeing your hikes from LA! Takes me back to when I lived there… but I can’t believe I never hiked this trail. Such gorgeous views! Glad you didn’t run into any rattlesnakes πŸ˜‰

    1. I asked for so much advice before we left, I assumed I would be doing trails that you’d all seen before!

      We did see some snakes on our last hike (near Point Mugu!) but I don’t think they had rattles. It was really cool to see them. πŸ™‚

  13. I didn’t know about Temescal Canyon before! It definitely looks amazing and the hike gives you the chance to take some stunning photos! Thanks for sharing us those beautiful photos!

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