Week 211: Circle X Ranch—The Grotto Trail

July 12, 2020

Day Hiking Los Angeles #3, The Grotto, 3.5 miles

Casey Schreiner's simple but not easy hike to the Grotto off the Circle X Ranch in the canyons above Malibu and nestled below Boney Mountain, is in the heart of the coastal Mediterranean ecosystem in the Triunfo Pass off Yerba Buena Road. We thought it would be a simple out-and-back hike with a stop at a grotto-like boulder collection near a stream. (Picture me laughing.) First, it's a hour drive from the SF Valley to Westlake Village and up twisty mountain roads to the ranch's remote setting. But the mountain views from the car are dazzling and the ranch on Yerba Buena Road is signed and, pictured above, easy to spot. The Circle X was run as a Boy Scout Camp for decades in the mid-twentieth-century until the Santa Mountain and Conservation Authority purchased it in 1987 and made the area a Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The Grotto Trail on the ranch property is well-maintained, clearly marked, and easy to follow, but don't be fooled by the downward leading paths; these are the same trails you have to hike UP on the way back. While a few sections are shaded, some track straight through open scrub and then skirt the edge of the West Fork Arroyo Sequit. Bypassing the Canyon View Trail junction, RR-tie steps lead down to more winding trails, some smooth, some rocky. The Grotto Trail ends at pretty Happy Hollow, 1.3 miles in, and the trek over a steep and often treacherous collection of boulders to the Grotto begins. We climbed, we stream hopped, we slid, we balanced, and we made it to the top of the Grotto. Then stopped. Looking down at the hikers and the water below, we decided not to risk the long drop down—or, more important, the risky climb back up—and settled on a rock for water and protein bars before heading back. This would be a truly superb hike on a cool autumn or winter day, but mid-July heat toppling 90-degrees on our uphill return was no picnic. So, here's the deal: start early, wear solid hiking shoes with good grip, take at least two bottles of water and snacks, pace yourself, be careful, but most of all, enjoy the view! 






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