Up the coast, past Malibu and into Ventura County, Point Mugu State Park sprawls across more than 15,000 acres of ocean-facing hills, valleys, and canyons -- all of it emerald-green in the wake of the recent heavy rains. The several-hour-long (10.8-mile) hiking route described here comprehensively covers the park's western quadrant, which includes some of California's most attractive coastal landscapes. Short-cuts are possible, of course, if you opt for a shorter outing.
Park at the Ray Miller Trailhead, off Pacific Coast Highway. Two trails diverge from the parking lot. The wide one going up along the canyon bottom ahead is the La Jolla Canyon Trail, your return route. To begin, take the narrower Ray Miller Trail to your right, which is the westernmost segment of the Backbone Trail that stretches along (you guessed it) the backbone of the Santa Monica Mountains.
You ascend immediately, enjoying ever-widening ocean views, and reach a junction with the wide, ridge-running Overlook Trail after 2.4 miles. Head left (north) on the Overlook Trail, wend your way around several bumps on the undulating ridge, and arrive at a saddle (4.5 miles from the start) where roads descend both right and left. Go left (west) and descend moderately toward the smooth, verdant floor of La Jolla Valley. The valley harbors native bunchgrass, which constitutes a rare, authentic California "tall-grass prairie."
La Jolla Valley Camp (5.0 miles by way of our circuitous route) has piped water, restrooms, and oak-shaded picnic tables. Continue west in the direction of a military radar installation on distant Laguna Peak. Ignore trails going left, right, and left; you'll want to gradually circle to the southwest and south, heading for a saddle on the right (northwest) shoulder of rounded Mugu Peak. Attaining that saddle at 6.8 miles, you'll enjoy a fabulous view of the Pacific Ocean.
Curving around the south flank of Mugu Peak, you'll arrive (7.7 miles) at another saddle just east of Mugu's 1266-foot high point. Five minutes of climbing on a steep path will get you to the thinly vegetated summit, which features a 360-degree panorama of ocean, coastline, and interior mountains.
Return to the saddle east of the peak and continue descending to a junction (9.0 miles) in a wooded recess of La Jolla Canyon. Turn right, proceed east along a hillside, and then hook up with the La Jolla Canyon Trail, where you turn right again. On this, the final downhill stretch through a rocky gorge, take note of blooming (until May) giant coreopsis, a plant endemic to the Channel Islands and a few locales on the central California coast. A little farther down, you'll pass a grove of native walnut trees and a trickling waterfall in the narrowest part of the gorge.