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HIKING: SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS

Valley Gateway to Trails Lets Walkers Leave the Suburban World Behind

May 07, 2000|JOHN McKINNEY

Don't judge a trail by its trail head.

We hikers need to remind ourselves of this at trail heads on the urban edge, where it's common to find trails far more inviting than their trail heads.

Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park, on the San Fernando Valley side of the Santa Monica Mountains above Tarzana, breaks the metropolitan trail head mold. Here the journey and the jump-off place are equally enticing.

Although the Santa Monica Mountains are scarcely three miles as the red-tailed hawk flies from the valley-crossing Ventura Freeway (one of the busiest in the world), few would-be hikers exit the autobahn and head for the hills. This paucity of foot traffic has resulted partly from a lack of valley-side trail heads, attractive or otherwise.

Once the word gets out, MBMG Park is sure to attract lots of hikers. The park provides all the basics for the hiker about to hit the trail: water fountains, toilets and (free) parking. Two grassy hillsides offer superb picnic sites. A walkway leads around a native plant-landscaped vista point, where a dozen handsome rock benches offer places to contemplate the mountains above and the metropolis below.

Park namesake and former Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude was (and is) an inspirational and influential supporter of Santa Monica Mountains parklands.

The "Mulholland Gateway" in the park name also is appropriate because a long, unpaved section of Mulholland Drive is easy to access from the trail head. Mountain bikers like to incorporate the dirt byway into long rides along the crest of the range, and hikers find it useful for bridging the gap between canyons.

MBMG Park offers several different hiking opportunities. Area trails are well maintained, and major junctions are marked.

A 10-minute walk brings the sojourner to the northern boundary of Topanga State Park, a mountain gem with many miles of trails and fire roads to roam. With about 11,000 acres, Topanga ranks among the largest state parks within the boundaries of any American city.

MBMG Park is also the unofficial trail head for the Lemming Trail, a 10-mile one-way tramp over the mountains from the valley to the sea. Lemming Trail offers a grand tour of the Santa Monica Mountains, from Tarzana to Topanga to Temescal to the Pacific.

For a fine family hike and a good introduction to hiking the valley side of the Santa Monicas, I recommend a 3.5-mile loop from the park to the Mulholland Drive ridge crest, then back down Caballero Canyon.

You can get a cappuccino, cool drinks or food at nearby establishments along Reseda and Ventura boulevards. Hiking gear and information about local trails is available at the Adventure 16 store down the road from the park at 5425 Reseda Blvd.; telephone (818) 345-4266.

Directions to trail head: From the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) in Tarzana, exit on Reseda Boulevard and head south three miles to road's end and Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park.

The hike: Walk up the fire road 50 yards and look left for the distinct but unsigned footpath that branches from the road. Follow this path on a 0.3-mile mellow ascent to meet dirt Mulholland Drive. Turn right and walk 0.1 mile to meet a gated fire road (closed to vehicles) on your left.

Walk the fire road into Topanga State Park. The fire road curves south, then east and, after 0.6 mile, leads past a junction with signed Garapito Trail and almost immediately reaches a second junction.

The fire road bends south, but you head north and east on signed Bent Arrow Trail, which dips 0.25 mile into heavy brush, then rises 0.25 mile out of it to meet Mulholland Drive.

Turn right and walk briefly along Mulholland until a parallel footpath appears on the right side of the road. Follow the footpath (or Mulholland) 0.3 mile to a signed junction at the top of Caballero Canyon.

Caballero Canyon Trail descends north into the canyon and soon keeps company with a sycamore-lined, seasonal creek. The pleasant downhill jaunt reaches the "old" Caballero Canyon trail head, a popular starting place for many Sierra Club outings.

Close the loop and return to the trail head with a sidewalk saunter up Reseda Boulevard past new gated residential communities. As you walk and survey Caballero Canyon below and the mountain crest above, it's obvious what the conservation struggles of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s preserved and what they did not.

John McKinney is the author of "Day Hiker's Guide to California's State Parks" (Olympus Press, $14.95).

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Caballero Canyon Trail

WHERE: Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park.

DISTANCE: 3.5 miles round trip with 500-foot elevation gain; longer loops possible.

TERRAIN: Brushy slopes.

HIGHLIGHTS: Terrific trail head on valley side of the Santa Monica Mountains, ridge-top vistas.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: California State Parks, Angeles District; tel. (818) 880-0350

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