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HIKING

New coastal trail is something to behold

The Corral Canyon Loop offers a scenic, family-friendly outing.

August 24, 2003|John McKinney | Special to The Times

A new trail makes my heart soar.

In this era of budget cutbacks, it's a pleasure to report that a modest expenditure of public money has created something quite lovely and enduring, a way to enjoy nature that will be treasured by generations to follow: the family-friendly Corral Canyon Loop Trail.

The location is the last coastal canyon in Los Angeles County that still has an uninterrupted band of undeveloped land from the ocean to the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. Alder, sycamore, willow and coastal live oak line Corral Creek, which flows from its headwaters high in Malibu Creek State Park down to its mouth at Dan Blocker County Beach.

The footpath has a hand-built quality that I appreciate. All too often these days I see the big, wide swath of a bulldozer.

"My goal was to design a trail that really fit in with the terrain," said Larry Chirico, special projects leader for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. He spent a month flagging a route with yellow ribbons.

"To design a good trail, one in keeping with the spirit of the land, you almost have to think like a coyote," he said.

Park officials and trails advocates hope that one day the path will connect to planned trails across adjacent coastal bluffs and up into the wild heart of upper Corral Canyon.

The lower part of the canyon was owned by the late Bob Hope. In the early 1990s, he intended to build a luxury home development and golf course. In 1998 the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy acquired the land and formed Corral Canyon Park.

The Corral Canyon Loop trail head, complete with parking, picnic areas and restrooms, was established by the conservancy. You'll find it on Pacific Coast Highway between Malibu Canyon and Kanan Dume roads. It's next to Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market and Patio Cafe (25653 Pacific Coast Highway), about 1 1/2 miles up the coast from Pepperdine University. An MTA bus stop is there for folks who want to eschew cars altogether.

I hiked the path on a perfect summer day. Wildlife abounded; deer, rabbits, ground squirrels and California quail were scurrying about. Red-tailed hawks rode the thermals high above.

The trail crosses Corral Creek on funny-looking cement posts, which seem as though they belong on an obstacle course. Just down the creek by the highway bridge is a tiny marsh defined by low, salt-tolerant shrubs.

The path soon reaches an unsigned junction. Take the right fork and hike the loop counterclockwise. The trail crosses coastal bluffs covered with native bunchgrass.

Farther north I reached purple sage, buckwheat and coyote brush, climbing to the divide with Puerco Canyon. Here I had fine views of Santa Monica Bay and the Ventura County coastline.

Bending west, the trail drops back into Corral Canyon. The last leg of the hike is an easy ramble along the riparian corridor of the canyon back to the trail head.

Like a lot of good things in life, this hike is over all too soon. Take a deep breath of sage and salt air and gaze out at the Pacific. You'll feel a deep peace. Add a sunset stroll on the beach across the highway, and you have a great date or family outing.

John McKinney offers more tips at www.thetrailmaster.com.

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