The Santa Monica Mountains Are Calling and You Must Go

As one of California's best kept secrets, this national park is a hidden gem in plain sight, less than an hour from Los Angeles.
Green tree in a grassy field in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Some parks aren't a thousand miles away from civilization – they only feel that way. That's how it is with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area!

Escape from the urban jungle

Spanning over 153,000 acres, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is a rare example of Mediterranean climate and ecosystem, with mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers. It's one of only five such places in the world. The recreation area includes rugged coastlines, lush valleys, and craggy mountain peaks that harbor a wealth of wildlife, including dolphins, quail, coyotes, and the elusive mountain lion. 

It's hard to believe that such a wild place exists so close to the second-largest city in America, but the Santa Monica Mountains remain largely off the grid for many. For those in the know, it's one of the best parks in the Los Angeles area to escape the grind and head off into the wilderness.

Plan your visit

Opportunities for recreation abound here, whether you intend to stay for a day, a week, or just a few hours. Activities include: 

  • Hiking - More than 500 miles of public trails crisscross the landscape of the Santa Monica Mountains, with everything from short, flat loop trails to grueling mountain climbs. If you're looking for a leisurely stroll, the 1.5-mile Satwiwa Loop Trail and 2.1-mile Solstice Canyon Trail have you covered. For more of a challenge, tackle the strenuous 65-mile Backbone Trail (overnight backpacking is currently not available, but many hikers break up the Backbone Trail into a series of day hikes).
  • Mountain biking - Whether you're looking for a quiet bike ride along a shady stream or a punishing mountain ascent and the panoramic views that come with it, there's a trail or back road for you. The National Park Service offers a handy brochure to get you acquainted with the area. 
  • Camping - The only National Park Service campground in the Santa Monica Mountains is the Circle X Group Campground, and reservations are available for this 10-person-minimum group camp. Several nearby state parks also offer camping. 
  • Horseback riding - Most of the national recreation area's trails are open to equestrian use, and there's no more thrilling way to explore the landscape than on horseback. A handful of areas are especially well-suited to riding, with wide trails and ample parking for vehicles and trailers at the trailhead. These spots include Zuma and Trancas Canyons, Rancho Sierra Vista, Cheeseboro, and Palo Comado Canyon.
  • Wildflower viewing - With a widely varied ecosystem and a climate that changes depending on elevation and which side of the mountain range you’re on, the Santa Monica Mountains harbor a stunning diversity of native wildflowers. Check out the What's Blooming newsletter from the National Park Service to stay up-to-date on what you might see during your visit.

For history and film buffs, the recreation area also provides the unique chance to visit Paramount Ranch and Western Town. The Santa Monica Mountains have been used as a backdrop in western and adventure films since the silent era, and the recreated Wild West town at Paramount Ranch has been seen in dozens of films and TV shows over the years.

Encompassing a vast swath of wild mountain habitat, a mere stone's throw from Los Angeles, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area offers a much needed reprieve from city life. 

Want to learn more about other national parks located in or near major cities? Be sure to check out our free Owner’s Guide, “Urban Playgrounds,” featuring parks within, or close to, 24 major metro areas where you can #FindYourPark!

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