In spring and late summer, the “elfin forest” of chaparral in the Santa Monica Mountains takes on a dozen shades of green and bursts forth with nectar-bearing blossoms that are often more attractive to the sense of smell than to the sense of sight. The looping trail route described here, which includes the chaparral-draped upper reaches of Garapito Creek (a tributary of Topanga Canyon), will expose you to plenty of these heavenly scents. Early summer weather can involve a considerable air flow from the Pacific — a natural kind of air-conditioning — but sun-blasted heat is also a possibility. So, don’t forget to bring along plenty of drinking water.
To get to the trailhead, follow Topanga Canyon Boulevard (Highway 27) south from the San Fernando Valley, or north from Pacific Coast Highway. About midway along the highway’s twisty 12-mile course from valley to sea, turn east on Entrada Road (signs for Topanga State Park on the highway alert you to this turnoff). Follow winding Entrada Road, carefully observing directional signs for the park, for one mile to Trippet Ranch, which is the headquarters for Topanga State Park. Pay the day-use fee at the entrance station (open 8 a.m.), and park in the large lot just beyond.
From the parking lot, walk north on a paved drive about 100 yards to where the signed Musch Trail slants to the right across a grassy hillside. You soon plunge into the shade of oak and bay laurel trees. Enjoy the shade — there’s not much more ahead. After contouring around a couple of north-flowing ravines, the trail rises to meet a trail campground at the former Musch Ranch (1.0 mile).
Beyond the campground, the trail starts climbing through sunny chaparral. After a crooked ascent you reach a ridge-top fire road at Eagle Junction (2.5 miles), from which Eagle Rock can be seen looming over the headwaters of Santa Ynez Canyon. This layered sandstone outcrop, pitted with small caves, is Topanga State Park’s most singular natural feature. Turn left and follow the fire road up to the gentler north side of Eagle Rock. If you want to make a side trip for the view from the top, go ahead and do so.
Back on the fire road, you quickly pass the dead-end Cheney Fire Road on the left. Just beyond, on the left again, find and follow the narrow Garapito Trail as it darts through a continuous carpet of chaparral — mostly mountain mahogany and ceanothus (wild lilac). The blossoms of the ceanothus exude a wild-honey scent, attractive to bees as well as humans. You contour along a west-facing slope, and then descend along a sharply falling ridgeline, crisscrossing on many tight switchbacks. At the bottom, the trail swings around to cross a south fork of Garapito Creek, and then contours a short distance over to an east fork. A steady climb up along this east fork takes you to a wide dirt road, the Temescal Ridge Trail (5.5 miles into the hike).
Make a right turn on the Temescal Ridge Trail and commence a crooked, gradually rising, viewful traverse on top of or somewhat below the Temescal ridgeline itself. At 6.9 miles, you reach the four-way “Hub Junction” of fire roads, where the view opens broadly toward the ocean.
Choose the middle road at Hub Junction — the route to Eagle Spring, which is a segment of the Backbone Trail. You pass under Eagle Rock and arrive back at Eagle Junction (8.2 miles). Turn left there and return to Trippet Ranch by way of 1.2 miles of downhill hiking on Eagle Springs Fire Road, and another 0.2 mile on the wide trail leading down to the picnic area and parking lot at Trippet Ranch.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.
Cruise through sunny chaparral on the Garapito Loop route through Topanga State Park
Distance from downtown San Diego: 145 miles
Hiking length: 9.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous