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Catch the autumn sunrise or sunset from the Overlook at Point Mugu State Park.

Point Mugu State Park, midway between Los Angeles and Ventura, sprawls across 15,000 acres of the coast-hugging Santa Monica Mountains. About 70 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails lace through the park. Campers are accommodated in two coastal campgrounds, which are packed with visitors in summer, and a lot less crowded after Labor Day.

The Overlook Trail (a fire road), which curls up a hillside above the larger of the campgrounds -- Big Sycamore Canyon Campground -- offers ever wider views of the Pacific Ocean and the pillowy slopes that tumble down to the water's edge. An abbreviated looping trip (other, much longer options are possible) can take you swiftly up to the first significant "overlook" point, and is recommended for a hike timed to catch either the sunrise or the sunset. The fall and winter seasons offer the best times for viewing sunrises and sunsets for two reasons. First, the coastline here runs more or less east-west, so sunrises in particular do not take place over water except near the winter solstice. Second, the marine layer is often either thin or absent in the fall and winter.

North of the Big Sycamore Canyon Campground, just past a gate blocking vehicles, start hiking up the scenic trail on the left. You curve up a hillside and arrive after about 20 minutes at a saddle overlooking the ocean. Walk down to a little flat below for a better view. If you're game for it, you can make your way along the narrow ridge that rises to the southeast for an even better perspective. There you get (in daylight, anyway) an almost straight-down view of white, foamy surf and turquoise-tinted shallows. When the tide and surf conditions are just right, and the water's glassy, you can watch the swells reflect off the shore and head back out to sea, producing an ever-changing interference pattern of waves on the surface of the water. Note, too, the sloping blanket of sand nestled against the cliff below. This so-called "Great Sand Dune" is kept in place by prevailing sea breezes from the west and south.

When it's time to go, pick up the fire road that curves down the high ridge to the north -- the Overlook Trail. Follow its winding course downhill to Big Sycamore Canyon, turn right, and walk back to the campground. This wider, more gradually descending route is particularly helpful if you're returning in twilight after viewing the sunset. Deer frequent the slopes overlooking Sycamore Canyon, and they're particularly active at the beginning and end of each day.

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.

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Point Mugu State Park, midway between Los Angeles and Ventura, sprawls across 15,000 acres of the coast-hugging Santa Monica Mountains. About 70 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails lace through the park. Campers are accommodated in two coastal campgrounds, which are packed with visitors in summer, and a lot less crowded after Labor Day.

The Overlook Trail (a fire road), which curls up a hillside above the larger of the campgrounds -- Big Sycamore Canyon Campground -- offers ever wider views of the Pacific Ocean and the pillowy slopes that tumble down to the water's edge. An abbreviated looping trip (other, much longer options are possible) can take you swiftly up to the first significant "overlook" point, and is recommended for a hike timed to catch either the sunrise or the sunset. The fall and winter seasons offer the best times for viewing sunrises and sunsets for two reasons. First, the coastline here runs more or less east-west, so sunrises in particular do not take place over water except near the winter solstice. Second, the marine layer is often either thin or absent in the fall and winter.

North of the Big Sycamore Canyon Campground, just past a gate blocking vehicles, start hiking up the scenic trail on the left. You curve up a hillside and arrive after about 20 minutes at a saddle overlooking the ocean. Walk down to a little flat below for a better view. If you're game for it, you can make your way along the narrow ridge that rises to the southeast for an even better perspective. There you get (in daylight, anyway) an almost straight-down view of white, foamy surf and turquoise-tinted shallows. When the tide and surf conditions are just right, and the water's glassy, you can watch the swells reflect off the shore and head back out to sea, producing an ever-changing interference pattern of waves on the surface of the water. Note, too, the sloping blanket of sand nestled against the cliff below. This so-called "Great Sand Dune" is kept in place by prevailing sea breezes from the west and south.

When it's time to go, pick up the fire road that curves down the high ridge to the north -- the Overlook Trail. Follow its winding course downhill to Big Sycamore Canyon, turn right, and walk back to the campground. This wider, more gradually descending route is particularly helpful if you're returning in twilight after viewing the sunset. Deer frequent the slopes overlooking Sycamore Canyon, and they're particularly active at the beginning and end of each day.

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.

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Another good campground is Carlsbad State Beach to camp at. http://www.carlsbadbeachcampground.com/

Nov. 26, 2008

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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