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Malibu Creek State Park

Story by Josh Patterson March 1st, 2016

A bit of background

In 1853, Don Pedro Alcantara Sepulveda built an adobe home at what is now the corner of Las Virgenes Road and Mulholland Highway. He farmed there but made his living mainly as a charcoal maker and supplier of oak firewood for well-heeled Angelenos. The 101 was little more than a dusty trail then. A round trip to Los Angeles took him three days.

Today one can get to his original homestead in 30-40 minutes from Burbank if LA’s notoriously fickle traffic permits.

“Malibu” is derived from a Chumash village the Spanish mangled by pronouncing “Umalibu”. The original name was likely “U-mal-iwu”, meaning “it makes a loud noise there”. This referred not to rowdy Chumash nightlife but to the nearby Pacific and its endless rush of surf.

With Malibu Creek’s year round supply of water and abundant food sources, this area of the Santa Monica Mountains was not only sustainable to the Chumash but provided a stunning backdrop with its mountains thrusting dramatically from valley floors. It is said that many of the trails in the park follow original Chumash routes.

Present day Malibu Creek State Park stretches over 8200 acres. Within its boundaries are tallgrass plains, oak savannah and the aforementioned mountains. There is also a smattering of redwood trees, introduced in 1910 and represent the southernmost examples of their species in California. The surrounding peaks shelter them from heat that would otherwise kill them. But that doesn’t really do the area justice. It is a rolling, rugged land whose valley bottoms are surprisingly gentle. It is both sudden and hospitable.

View from Lookout Trail
King Gillette Ranch


The most surprising discovery of my exploration was something I associated more with my childhood in Pennsylvania than Southern California: frogs! I was delighted to hear them croaking along a quiet bend in the creek. Completely unexpected and brought a grin to my face.

All manner of birds thrive here: scrub jays, California thrashers, crows, thrushes, quail, larks, egrets, wrens and even non-native species such as the infamous green “Pasadena” parrots. I spent a long while watching a pair of massive redtail hawks hunting on the slopes. One of them repeatedly dove onto the scree and returned to a large hole in the face of the cliff where they’d constructed their nest.

With regard to mammals, you’ll find all your usual suspects here, but the Santa Monica Mountains (within whose boundaries Malibu Creek lies) provide critical habitat for mountain lions. However it is isolated from other wilderness areas such as Simi Hills and the Santa Susana Mountains further north. Lions require 150 - 400 square kilometers of range. As big as Malibu Creek State Park may seem to we humans, it can support only a small number of these apex predators and highlights the need to create crucial wildlife corridors to provide easier access to other wilderness areas. Only then will they be able to sustain a genetically viable population.


A bit of more recent background

This is Southern California and seemingly no square mile of it is untouched by “the industry”. For those who don’t live in the area, we’re talking Hollywood. Malibu Creek State Park has been a filming location for over 100 movies, the earliest of which was Daddy Long Legs in 1919, starring Mary Pickford. A comprehensive list of the films shot here would make your eyes roll back in your head, so allow me some highlights. The famous rock wall from Planet of the Apes lies here. Other films you may recognize are Logan’s Run, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Pleasantville, The Seven Year Itch, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Hollywood history is that the park served as the outdoor location for the beloved tv series M*A*S*H*.


downstream & vertical

The section of Malibu Creek below Century Dam is a popular climbing location. The area features climbs for the beginner as well as more advanced technical ascents. It does tend to get crowded so if you plan to check it out, I’d advise you arrive early to avoid the throngs.

Century Lake
Cliffs above the M*A*S*H* filming site
Valley floor - Crags Road
Outlook Trail
Cistern Trail
Valley Floor

Malibu Creek State Park provides visitors with a huge array of options from relaxed strolls along the valley floor to rigorous hikes and climbing. It’s alternatively pastoral and dramatic and a spectacular example of Southern California’s diverse terrain. Given its proximity to Los Angeles, the park is an ideal adventure for folks looking to escape the city and experience the outdoors without having to embark on a full-on road trip.

Enjoy your outdoors!

Footnote: Photos taken with Canon 5D MkII
Malibu Creek State Park, Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas, CA, United States