Hike to the Grotto – Circle X Ranch – Malibu

Hiking Trails in Los Angeles can sometimes be hard to find. Look no more.

Hikes You Can Do presents;The Grotto Hike at Circle X Ranch

Highlights: Rock Garden, Caves, Grotto, Waterfalls, Views
Fun Rating: Super Fun
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 3 Miles
Duration: 2.5 Hour
Hike Style: Down and Back
Elevation Gain: 600 Feet
Trail Condition: Maintained, Riverbed, Basic Climbing Required
Shade: Mixture
Dogs Allowed: First mile
GPS: 34° 6′ 35.75″ N 118° 56′ 14.63″ W

Malibu Waterfall Hike


Circle X Ranch, in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, sits 50 miles west of downtown Los Angeles. The old boy scout camp now acts as a ranger station. This area looms in the shadow of the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains, Sandstone peak. From this station one can hike up to the peak or down the Grotto Trail into the canyon where tthe West Fork of the Arroyo Sequit, winds its way through giant boulders. The Circle X Ranch is nestled 5.5 miles in from Pacific Coast Highway on Yerba Buena Rd. Take PCH to Yerba Buena Rd. Its about 30 miles and make a right on Yerba Buena at Neptunes Net. This is a great drive into the heart of the Santa Monica’s. It seems like one is driving forever but continue on for 15-20 minutes until you reach it. If one plans to hike the Sandstone Peak trail, it is suggested to drive past the Main House a couple miles until one reaches the other parking lot on the left. If one plans on just hiking the Grotto Trail its great to park at the main building. It is recommended calling the park ranger in advance before this hike. There have been rumors that the trail is closed for preservation of natural wildlife due to human climbing. We hiked it the first week of May 2010 and it was open and wonderful.

If I had to give one adjective to describe this hike it would be, adventurous. If one likes to climb and explore while hiking this is the best hike in all of Southern California in my opinion. The canyon is filled with giant boulders that tell the story of a much more violent past. The water still runs through them and over time has hollowed out one of these giants. This is the Grotto that the trail is named after. Its about a 1 3/4 miles from the House. Dogs are allowed but must be tied up at the 1.5 mile mark and are prohibited in the boulder area. If one is careful just climb down over the top dome of the boulder and slip through the crack and into the grotto. Light and water crash through a hole in the North part of the cave. Its quite a spectacle of nature especially considering Southern California is looked at as a dry, arid place. This is place showcases the power and abundance of water.

Wildflowers, ferns, grasses and moss grow everywhere. Brave the rocks and explore. If one climbs down another quarter mile one will find another waterfall. The one depicted in the picture. Natural pools of fresh water linger here and there. We climbed our way down .5 miles down into the canyon. Next time we plan to have someone drop us off at the house and pick us up on Mulholland where if you take the canyon for 4 miles will hit the road.

Keep your eyes peeled for poison oak when one is climbing around on the rocks. Especially in the spring when it is out in full force.

This is a wonderful area for hiking where one gets to see the Santa Monica Mountains in a different look than other locations. Check out Sandstone Peak as well. Its the best views in Malibu. One can see 360 degrees from Mt. Baldy to the Channel Islands. You could even do both of these in one day. Check out our Sandstone Peak post for more information on that hike.

We recommend this hike to people all the time for a bunch of reasons; its scenic, adventurous, historic and most importantly, fun. We here at Hikes You Can do strive to bring you all the information you need when looking for a hike in the Los Angeles area. We hope this has inspired you to go out and check out The Grotto at Circle X Ranch. If you have a hike that you think we should feature on the site contact us and we will get back to you right away. For more information on this hike and many other hikes you can do in Los Angeles, visit; http://www.losangeleshikingguide.hikesyoucando.com

Map & Directions

12896 Yerba Buena Road, Malibu, CA, 90265

Pacific Coast Highway to Yerba Buena Road. Turn inland; go 5.4 miles to Circle X Ranch contact station.

Phone – (310) 457-6408

Permits – None Needed

Download – Circle X Ranch Trail Map


  • What would we need to bring on this hike?
    Do I need to pay for anything like parking or a enter fee?
    Do I just come with my group park and do the hike?

  • Good questions, bring some good shoes and water. Its a pretty short hike but when you get down to the grotto you can some basic climbing and exploring. If you park at the Circle X Ranch Parking Lot at the Ranger Station you have to pay a small fee. There is also a parking lot passed the ranger station on the left where most people park when they do Sandstone Peak. Its free. This is a sweet hike. We hope you go check it out. Let us know how you liked it!

  • Joan,

    This hike is doable. The hike is fairly short and easy getting down to the grotto. You will have to help the child in a few spots when you get to the rocks. I don’t see it being too difficult. Thanks for the comment. Have fun. Let is know how it goes so we can up date the page.

  • I need more detailed information on dog allowance. It says “tied up” at 1.5 miles. What does this mean? On leash from that point on? Does that mean I can only go that far? If this is the case is it worth the hike? What will I see if I only go that far? The Pacific Palisades hike looked perfect, but you say that there are no dogs allowed in the State park… is the whole hike in the State Park? If dogs are only allowed for a few feet of a hike, then might as well say they aren’t allowed as it defeats the purpose to go there with them and not actually do the hike described.

  • The hike takes you 1.5 miles down into the canyon. Once you reach the creek where the grotto is, there is a sign that says no dogs. We only promote what the signs say. After the sign there is no trail. You will be bouldering. I am sure you could carry your dog over rocks and caves if that is what you are into, but my suggestion is most dogs would not like the climbing in an out of sometime precarious conditions. If you are looking for a good hike to take you dog, I recommend the Mandeville Hike. You can also find it on the site. I did it with my dog Miso and its a lot of fun and it has many other dogs. I hope this helps.

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