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Malibu Creek State Park, a jewel if not the jewel of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, lies along Malibu Creek, a lively watercourse that completely bisects the coastal Santa Monica Mountains. The park is also relatively easy to reach. Either follow Las Virgenes Road three miles south from the 101 freeway at Agoura Hills, or follow Malibu Canyon Road six miles north from Pacific Coast Highway at Malibu.

If you only have time for a short visit to Malibu Creek State Park, consider taking the following easy hike of three miles. You will explore the park's main attractions and also drop by the visitors' center (open weekends), which is not accessible by car. Picnic tables and water are available along the route.

Start at the main parking lot (open 8 a.m. until dusk; day-use fee charged) beyond the park's entrance station on Las Virgenes Road, 0.2 mile south of Mulholland Highway. Walk west on unpaved Crags Road. After 0.5 mile you come to a concrete-ford crossing of Malibu Creek. Youngsters come here to toss in a line for bass, bluegill, and catfish. A right at the fork in the road just beyond leads you most directly to the visitors' center.

The visitors' center is housed in a grand old home once occupied by the groundskeeper for Twentieth Century Fox, which used the area as an outdoor set during much of the last century. From the visitors' center, cross over Malibu Creek on a sturdy bridge and continue up the hill on Crags Road, gaining about 200 feet in elevation.

When you reach the crest, look for the path descending left. In a minute or two, you'll reach the shady east shoreline of Century Lake, created in 1901 by damming Malibu Creek with a tall concrete structure. Subsequent silting-in has allowed a freshwater marsh to overtake much of what was previously open water. Ducks, coots, and herons frequent the lake, their squallings and callings reverberating off the weathered, honeycombed cliffs rising from the reservoir's far shore. Redwing blackbirds flit among the cattails and rushes.

When you've had your fill of these engaging sights and sounds, backtrack to the bridge over Malibu Creek. Just before you reach it, though, turn south onto a footpath signed Gorge Trail. In a few minutes you'll come upon the Rock Pool, a placid stretch of water framed by volcanic cliffs. This generically wild-looking site has served as a backdrop for outdoor sequences filmed for South Pacific, Tarzan, Swiss Family Robinson, and many other productions.

To return to the starting point, simply backtrack to Crags Road, and walk east on it for a scant mile until you reach the day-use parking lot.

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