Overlook Trail is a fine way to explore the autumn delights of Point Mugu State Park, the largest preserved area in the Santa Monica Mountains. The trail offers fine views of the coast and Channel Islands and, by returning via Sycamore Canyon, you can see the park's handsome sycamores cloaked in their fall colors.
During October and November, Sycamore Canyon offers the twin delights of falling autumn leaves and fluttering butterflies.
Fall is the season when millions of Monarch butterflies arrive in the coastal woodlands of Central and Southern California. The Monarch's awe-inspiring migration and formation of what entomologists call over-wintering colonies are two of nature's most colorful events.
All Monarch butterflies west of the Rockies head for California in the fall, and one of the best places in Southern California to observe the arriving monarchs is near the campground in Big Sycamore Canyon at Point Mugu State Park. They should be arriving in large numbers in a few weeks. Ask park rangers where the butterflies are clustering.
Park information: (818) 706-1310.
Directions to trail head: From Santa Monica, drive up the coast on California 1 for 32 miles to the Big Sycamore Canyon Campground in Point Mugu State Park. Outside the campground entrance, there's a dirt area where you may park. Walk past the campground entrance through the campground to a locked gate. The trail, which is a fire road, begins on the other side of the gate.
The hike: Take the trail up the canyon, following the all-but-dry creek. Underground water keeps much of the creek-side vegetation green year around.
Half a mile from the campground you'll spot the signed Overlook Trail. Bear left and follow the wide trail, which climbs steadily to the sharp ridge that separates Big Sycamore Canyon and La Jolla Canyon. From the ridge you can look down at the ocean and a sandy beach. Listen carefully and you can hear the distant booming of the surf.
The Overlook Trail turns north and continues climbing. To your right, you'll get an aviator's view of Big Sycamore Canyon. Three miles from the trail head, you'll see La Jolla Canyon below and to the west of the ridge you've been following. Mugu Peak, Laguna Peak with its missile tracking equipment, and La Jolla Peak tower above La Jolla Valley.
Overlook Trail ends at a signed junction and you will bear right on a dirt road, known as Pumphouse Trail, and descend somewhat steeply to Deer Camp Junction. Drinking water and picnic tables under the shade of oak trees, suggest a lunch stop here.
From Deer Camp Junction, you'll descend three-fourths of a mile on Wood Canyon Trail to Wood Canyon Junction, the hub of six trails leading to all corners of the park. If you have a trails map, this is a good place to orient yourself and perhaps plan future day hikes in the state park.
This day hike joins the signed Big Sycamore Canyon Trail and heads south (down-canyon) for four gentle miles through one of California's finest sycamore savannas back to the trail head. Don't let the large and cranky blue jay population discourage you from dawdling under the magnificent trees.
Loop from Sycamore Canyon Trail Head: 10 miles round trip; 1,300-foot elevation gain.