Zuma/Trancas Canyon - Malibu - August 2010

An old friend of mine who lives south of LA wanted to drive up and spend a day outside with me exploring some of the hiking trails. I hadn't spent much time in the Santa Monica Mountains and she wanted to bring her 3-year old black lab, Baxter, with her so we decided on Zuma/Trancas canyon. It's dog friendly (as long as the dog is on a leash), close to the PCH so we wouldn't spend a ton of time driving there and there were some shorter and longer hikes so we'd have some flexibility in terms of length. Here's a link to the website, trail map(pdf) and a map of the location:

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Just drive north on Busch Drive from PCH until you get to the parking lot. We didn't have to pay a parking fee. It's good to bring your own trail map, but in case you forget, check next to the information board at the parking lot - there might be some available.

The loop trails outlined on the trail map seemed a bit short for us that day (2-3 miles). So we decided to hike a combo of the trails which we figured to be about 8 or 9 miles. Here's what I later found out about the trail which turned out to be 10.9 miles.

The trail pretty much went straight uphill for the first hour or so and it was in open sun the whole way. Most of the trails here are fire roads so they are wide and sandy and pretty flat.

Western Fence Lizard

Then we started descending into the canyon to the river bed so there was a bit of shade although still not much. We passed by a horse watering station so Baxter got some much needed refreshment.

We hoped to dip our feet into the waters of the creek, but the creek was dry. Should have figured in August in Southern California!

And then, the trail descended back up quite a bit which was much more difficult than the first half and by this point we were tired! We kept thinking we'd reached the top but then we'd come around another corner and there would be another curve. At one point, Baxter tried to get some shade under a bush on the side of the mountain and started sliding into the canyon! Fortunately, once we rested he was able to work his way back up but for a bit there we were really scared he would slide down and not be able to get back to the trail. He was on the leash for sure after that!

Luckily, it wasn't too hot that day (80?), but it was sunny and our black-furred friend was feeling it.

After getting through that section of the trail we started onto the Zuma Canyon Connector Trail.

We knew it was mostly downhill from that point and there was a bit more shade here but you can't reason with dogs and Baxter just wasn't having any of it. When we were almost to Kanan-Edison Road he lied down on the trail and was panting something awful. We waited until he wasn't so tired - 30 minutes or so - but then we noticed that his poor little feet were burnt from the hot, sandy ground! So sad! He'd gone on longer hikes before, but not in Southern California with such hot and rocky ground.

We couldn't get him to finish the hike and we weren't really sure what to do. There was no way we were going to try and carry a 100 lb dog! We were still an hour or more hike from the closest ranger station back by the car and we didn't want to split up or leave Baxter alone. Luckily someone had left a trail map with the ranger number on it lodged in one of the trail markers and I got a bit of reception! We ended up calling in a ranger to carry the dog to his vehicle and drive us back to our car. After being outside for over 6 hours and not having had anything to drink for at least an hour and a half we were so relieved to see that ranger! We were glad he didn't scold us. Just thanked us for bringing a trail map so we knew right where we were and for picking up the dog poop!

trail marker with our savior trail map and the bag of dog poop A had
carried around with us for the previous 5 hours!

Notes on the trail: Very well marked; we saw a few people in the lower elevations when we first started the hike, but after that, no one; there are horses allowed on many of the trails but the only ones we saw were near the parking lot; consider hiking this trail in the spring when the river/creek might not be dry; also, I'd suggest taking the eastern portion first since it seemed to be higher and thus more strenuous then the western side; not much wildlife other than dragonflies/damselflies, lizards and some birds (dawn and dust might be better times when it's cooler).

Lesson learned: Make sure to bring the number of the park service with you when you go on a hike no matter how easy you think it might be. You never know what could happen.


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