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The Old Topanga Fire Lookout: Minimal Hiking Effort for Maximum View

Photo by David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in L.A.
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By David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in L.A. / Special to LAist

If your idea of a fun hiking trip involves maximum view for minimal effort, the site of the former Topanga Fire Lookout is a good destination.

A quick walk of about a mile each way on a fire road provides views that include the ocean, the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Gabriels, the Simi Hills, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, downtown L.A., the Santa Ana Mountains and, if visibility is optimum, San Gorgonio Mountain, one hundred miles to the east. (Unfortunately, there’s a lot of graffiti and trash along the way. Ignore it; perhaps clean some of it up; just don’t add to it and the hike will remain enjoyable for yourself and others.)

Ironically, the most difficult part of the hike may be driving to it. The trailhead is a dirt parking lot on the north side of Saddle Peak Road, just before the intersection with Scheuren Road and Stunt Road. To get there from Santa Monica or Los Angeles, take the Pacific Coast Highway nine miles from the end of I-10 and turn right on Las Flores. Follow Las Flores 3.4 miles to Rambla Pacifico, turn right and go 0.6 miles to Scheuren Road. Turn right and go 1.7 miles to the end of Scheuren and bear right. The parking lot will be almost immediately on your left. From the Valley, take highway 101 to Valley Circle Blvd. Go a total of 0.7 miles (Valley Circle becomes Mulholland) and turn right on Valmar. Go a total of 1.2 miles (Valmar becomes Old Topanga Canyon) and turn right on Mulholland Highway. Go 3.8 miles on Mulholland, turn left on Stunt Road and go 4 miles to the intersection with Saddle Peak Road and Scheuren, and look for the parking lot on the left.

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From the parking lot, you can enjoy some great views of the ocean, including Catalina Island, before beginning the walk to the lookout on the fire road. You head northeast, passing by a spur that leads uphill to some communications towers. The trail follows the ridge, with views of Malibu Creek and Calabasas Peak to the left (west) and Topanga Canyon and downtown L.A. to the east. With caution, it’s possible to scramble up the ridge and get an even better view.

After a mile, you come to a concrete square that marks the site of the old lookout. A short climb up a dirt embankment gets you on top of the platform, which, despite being covered in graffiti, provides some amazing views.

For novice hikers, the trip to and from the lookout may be enough of an adventure, but those who want to check out other routes in the area will be pleased to know that the Backbone Trail, which runs almost the entire length of the Santa Monica Mountains, can also be accessed here. You can take it west (across the street) and climb up to Saddle Peak (elevation 2,805), which provides some dramatic ocean views; or you can head northeast, downhill through Hondo Canyon, to Old Topanga Road, 3.5 miles away.

Many other trails in the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu are just a short drive away, making
it one of Southern California’s best destinations for outdoor activity.