Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is a United States National Recreation Area in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, located between the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys to the north, and Malibu to the south.


The Santa Monica Mountains run through the heart of Los Angeles, but have been largely preserved as an oasis of geographic and biological diversity. Miles of scenic roads and hiking trails can be a welcome escape from ever-present Los Angeles traffic.


The establishment of the National Recreation Area in the Santa Monica Mountains was the culmination of over 75 years of conservation effort. A movement to preserve the park's unique natural environment has been under way, in one form or another, since the early years of the 20th century.

The adjacent Point Mugu State Park, Topanga State Park, and Malibu Creek State Park were created by the State of California prior to the establishment of the National Recreation Area, linking much of the public open space together, in 1978.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy still continues to strategically acquire land for public use throughout the range as it becomes available.


The Santa Monica Mountains feature distinct types of scenery. On the south-facing slopes, there are beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. The Channel Islands and Catalina Island are visible on clear days.

The canyons offer shaded seasonal streams and hidden meadows.

Flora and fauna

The Santa Monica Mountains are a chaparral ecosystem, consisting primarily of grasses and shrubs, such as sage and ceanothus, dotted with occasional stands of valley oak. This habitat supports many types of birds, small mammals, and reptiles. Deer are common in the valleys, especially near lakes and streams.

Coyotes are one of the primary predators in the region, and have adapted well living in proximity to human populations. They are not a serious threat to people, but visitors' pets should be kept indoors at night.

Mountain lions are also native to the Santa Monica Mountains. Their population is very small, but their range is extensive. If encountered, under no circumstances should they be approached or threatened.


The Santa Monica Mountains share Southern California's Mediterranean climate. Summer temperatures are typically in the 70s and 80s (°F), but can sometimes climb to over 100. Hikers are advised to bring adequate water supply and dress appropriately.

Winter daytime temperatures are typically in the 60s (°F). Campground visitors are advised that temperatures can occasionally fall into the low 30s overnight.

The rainy season in Southern California approximately from October to April. Winter storms are sporadic, but can result in dangerous conditions. Soil saturated with water can become loose and hazardous, and landslides are not uncommon. Less frequently maintained trails may also be washed out and unusable after a particularly heavy rain. Be aware of the weather conditions and keep an eye on the forecast if visiting during this time.

In addition to seasonal changes, temperatures and conditions can often vary significantly by elevation. A hot day in the canyon areas may be cold and windy along the peaks exposed ridges.

Get in

There are many different points of access, as the Recreation Area is not contiguous. The National Park Service Visitor's Center is located at King Gillette Ranch, where Mulholland Highway crosses Malibu Canyon Road. A second Visitor's Center is open Saturday and Sunday at 4121 Potrero Road in Newbury Park.


Park use is free of charge, but campsite permit fees do apply for overnight visitors. There are many state and local jurisdictions, in addition to the National Park Service, who maintain trails and campsites throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, so always check the fees and reservation policies for specific campsites beforehand.

Get around

There are many, many miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. Trail maps are available from the National Park Service site or the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Outdoor and hiking supply retailers, such as REI, also offer trail maps for purchase.

Since many of the trailheads are remote from urban areas, travel by car or motorcycle throughout the mountains is advantageous, if not entirely essential. There are several scenic canyon roads that connect the beaches and valleys that cross the mountains, as well as Mulholland Highway, which runs along much of the length of the range.

Bicycle, motorcycle, and car clubs frequently tour any (or all) of these roads, especially on weekends and during the summer months, so visitors are always advised to share the road, be alert, and practice patience. Narrow roads with blind corners, steep drops, and occasional rock slides do not recommend aggressive driving.


King Gillette Ranch



There are no retail or commercial areas in the park proper, and the surrounding land is largely ranches and light residential. Plan to bring all your supplies in with you if you are hiking or otherwise exploring the back country. When travelling by car, however, the surrounding communities are still near enough that a short detour to Malibu, Thousand Oaks, or Agoura Hills will only cost 15-30 minutes and you can continue on your way.




The region is sparsely populated and there are very few commercial establishments in the mountains proper. Visitors that do not plan on camping usually stay in the surrounding communities.


Campgrounds managed by the National Park Service.

Campgrounds managed by California Department of Parks and Recreation. Reservations may be made online, or at +1 800-444-7275

Point Mugu State Park -

Leo Carrillo State Park

Malibu Creek State Park

Malibu Creek State Park


Camping is by permit only, and is restricted to designated areas. Contact the National Park Service or California State Parks site for specific information.

Stay safe

Go next

Routes through Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Fillmore Thousand Oaks  N  S  Malibu Ends at
Chatsworth Topanga  N  S  Malibu Ends at

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, May 17, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.