AT high noon on a recent Sunday at Topanga State Park, a crow swooped down out of a hazy sky and plucked a rattlesnake off a boulder. Half an hour later, a red-tailed hawk flew by, a rat writhing in its talons.
I watched the birds and their prey as I strode up one of the wide fire roads from the parking lot on the western side of this 9,000-acre park, all of which lies within L.A. city limits, stretching eight miles in the Santa Monica Mountains from Topanga Canyon in the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific.
My destination: Eagle Rock, a magnificent volcanic outcropping a couple of miles from the trail head at Trippet Ranch. On the way, I passed a couple on horseback, the man tipping his cowboy hat, and mountain bikers pumping their legs as they made their way uphill.
Soon the gargantuan rock appeared. People stood or sat atop it, conversing or simply admiring the vistas of rolling hills and sandstone canyons that have been eroded by gently flowing creeks over the millenniums.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 05, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Topanga park: A May 6 article in the Travel section about Topanga State Park gave the size of the park as 9,000 acres. The park covers 11,000 acres.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 10, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Topanga park: A May 6 article in the Travel section about Topanga State Park gave its size as 9,000 acres. The park covers 11,000 acres.
The rock no doubt has changed little since Native Americans inhabited the canyons 7,000 years ago. They made shampoo from leaves of white sage, soap from yucca stems, dye from the roots of poison oak, bows and arrows from chemise branches, according to the park's nature center.
Though the park is intended mostly for day use, there's a hike-in campground less than a mile from the Entrada Road entrance, where eight sites allow you to escape the city -- and your car. Access is easy, maybe 30 minutes tops, on a good trail.
By day, visitors can hike through shadowy oak forests, deer-studded grasslands, sandstone canyons and volcanic cliffs. After sundown, it's a different twist on L.A. night life.
At the nature center, I also learned about the park's nocturnal dwellers: Virginia opossums, striped skunks, gray foxes, bobcats and, of course, mountain lions. Ranger Lee Hawkins says campers are far enough from the urban hub to hear the yap of coyotes outside their tents. (They generally aren't a threat to the visitors.)
Trippet Ranch is named for a federal judge whose retreat now serves as the park's headquarters, complete with offices and housing for rangers and the nature center.
Here, too, there are shaded picnic areas and, at the edge of the parking lot, trail heads to 36 miles of multiuse trails. Hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding these dirt trails -- most are well-maintained fire roads that are easy on the feet -- is what staying in this park is all about.
Morning is the best time to view wildlife on any of the trails. It's when fence lizards do push-ups, songbirds croon most animatedly and mule deer, perhaps emboldened by having survived another night in cougar country, graze in plain sight.
Indeed, the biggest and peskiest problems encountered at Trippet Ranch and the rest of the park are poison oak and ticks, both of which you can avoid if you're careful.
With the wide berth provided by fire roads and well-maintained hiking trails, brushing up against brush is easy to avoid. All the more reason to put this destination on your list of L.A. must-dos.
Setting up camp
Camping at Trippet Ranch in Topanga State Park is restricted to eight hike-in sites. Access is easy from the parking lot on a good trail. There are flush toilets and drinking water. Make sure to reach the campsite early to set up before dark and carry in all your provisions. Fires and pets are not permitted; cooking on propane stoves is OK. Reservations are not required; sites are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Cost is $3 per person per night, $5 per vehicle per night ($1 more on weekends). Pay at the information booth at the entrance of the parking lot from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; self-registration and self-pay on weekends. You can pitch a tent anywhere within the fenced area. No RVs allowed.
The park is 35 miles north of downtown L.A. Take U.S. 101 to Topanga Canyon Boulevard south. Proceed about 11 miles to Entrada Road. (You can also get to Entrada by driving north on Pacific Coast Highway and turning right on Topanga Canyon Boulevard.) From Topanga Canyon Boulevard, look for a sign indicating the turnoff for the park onto Entrada. You'll see a parking lot after 100 yards; continue past it until you see the park's entrance.
California State Parks, (310) 455-2465, www.parks.ca.gov
Setting up camp