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Topanga -- "The place where the mountains meet the sea." That simple and descriptive Gabrielino Indian name aptly applies to both the famous canyon near Los Angeles and to the big state park sprawling along its east rim. The ocean is your almost perpetual companion here -- if not in sight, at least in the feel of the cool marine air flowing up along sunny slopes and through dark, wooded canyons.

Eagle Rock, the most impressive landmark in all of Topanga State Park, affords hikers an airy perch overlooking those coastal canyons and the ocean beyond. The following double-loop hiking route to Eagle Rock and beyond measures 6.7 miles. If you don't feel like going the whole distance, you can cut it to 4 miles by eliminating the far loop.

You begin hiking at Trippet Ranch, site of Topanga State Park's ranger office. Take Topanga Canyon Boulevard (Highway 27) north from Pacific Coast Highway, pass through the woodsy hamlet of Topanga, then turn right on Entrada Road. Follow Entrada Road uphill and east for one mile, carefully following signs directing you toward the park's Trippet Ranch parking lot.

From the parking lot, walk north on a paved driveway about 100 yards to where the signed Musch Trail slants to the right across a grassy hillside. On that trail you 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 path rises to meet a trailside campground at the former Musch Ranch (1.0 mile). The camp serves hikers traversing the Backbone Trail, which covers nearly the entire length of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Beyond the campground, Musch Trail climbs through sun-baked, fragrant chaparral. After many twists and turns you reach a ridgetop fire road at Eagle Junction (2.5 miles). At that spot you can see Eagle Rock looming over ravines plunging south toward the sea. The rock, a sandstone outcrop pitted with small caves, is a good example of the 15-million-year-old Topanga Canyon Formation that crops out in various parts of the Santa Monica Mountains. Turn left and follow the fire road up to the gentler north side of Eagle Rock. Walk to the top for the best view.

Back on the fire road, continue east up along a ridgeline and then down to a four-way junction of fire roads at 3.9 miles, called "Hub Junction" because of its central location in the park. Make a sharp right there and return to Eagle Junction, this time westbound at a lower elevation. Before you reach Eagle Junction, note the side path on the right leading to Eagle Spring. There, beneath oaks and sycamores, you can find a trickle of water emerging from the sandstone bedrock.

When you reach Eagle Junction the second time (5.3 miles), turn left and return to Trippet Ranch the fast and direct way: Go 1.2 miles down the ridge-running fire road to the south and then 0.2 mile northwest on a road leading down to the picnic area and parking lot where you started.

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