Solstice Canyon is but one small part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Tucked away just outside of Los Angeles, it remains a favorite escape for hikers of all levels due to its manageable challenge and scenic swathe of land. As the Solstice Canyon is just a few hundred feet away from some of the most popular beaches on the coast, hikers can easily work up a sweat and wash it off with a quick visit to the ocean. Visitors that are looking the hike the Rising Sun Trail that leads in and around the Solstice Canyon can look forward to a shaded, well-maintained trail that meanders past a number of spur trail opportunities, a small waterfall, and some of the oldest stone buildings in Malibu.

Quick Stats:

Trail Length: 6 miles City/State:  Malibu,
Bikes Allowed: No
Elevation: 800 feet gain
County:   Los Angeles Dogs Allowed: Yes


solstace canyon
Credit: National Park Service, Public Domain

Getting There:

From Los Angeles, take the Pacific Coast Highway north towards Malibu. Take the exit on the right for Corral Canyon Road and the park entrance will be the first left with the trailhead soon after. For those that don't want the hassle of driving (or fighting for a parking spot), Metro Bus 534 stops just a few feet from the park's entrance.


solstice canyon
Credit: Frank Reedy

The Hike:

On the north end of the parking lot, hikers will be presented with a choice. They can choose the easy, paved option of the Solstice Canyon Trail that heads smoothly into the canyon or they can choose the staircase that leads up to the more rugged and secluded Rising Sun Trail. For those up for a bit of a workout, choose the stairs and head onto the Rising Sun Trail.

At the top of the staircase, a trek that is worthwhile even if you choose the easier path, is a great view of the coast, albeit one slightly marred in part by the sight of the parking lot below. While not the most awe-inspiring vista in California, it is none-the-less a pleasant view out over the Pacific. Following the dirt trail that traces the ridge, hikers will cross a small paved road and should take the first right to be officially on the trail route.

The Rising Sun Trail begins by ascending the eastern edge of Solstice Canyon with a wide, but well defined, path that gives breath-taking views of the mountains beyond. This stretch of the trail is laden with long climbs, but nothing that is particularly taxing on the frequent hiker. While the trail will eventually turn into the shade of the canyon walls, there is little shade along this stretch. If it is a particularly warm day, be prepared to get a bit sweaty. While the trail climbs, hikers can enjoy the views of the hilly area surrounding the canyon; however, the best part it the particularly fragrant chaparral and California bay trees that line the trail and perfume the air.

Solstice Canyon
Credit: Jeremy Miles, Flickr

At the crest of the trail, hikers will again be able to peer down into Solstice Canyon. However, there are parts of the previous leg where it may be visible. Even in the driest years in California, there is always a stream trickling through the canyon that sprouts green vegetation on each side of its banks. Looking for that green snake slithering through the valleys in between the hills is the easiest way to find Solstice Canyon.

From the crest, the trail begins a much needed downhill stretch as it heads down into the canyon. Along this stretch, observant hikers may be able to spot the brick red chimney poking out from the palms and other non-native plants inside the canyon. This makes up the remnants of the Tropical Terrace / Roberts Ranch House, but no need to rush, hikers will get a closer view later.

National Park Service, Public DomainNational Park Service, Public Domain

After the trail winds down to the canyon walls, it takes one last steep descent. While it's worth mentioning that this may be a slip hazard when the dirt is wet, with California's recent drought it is been a pretty dry trek the last few years. Regardless, the trail drops hikers right by the canyon stream. If the water is high, go ahead and cool those feet off, but if it is empty, stay on the east bank and climb up a few old steps.

The stairs lead to the beautiful ruins of an old statuary. While all the spots are vacant, the largest alcove is filled with the still-standing statue of the Virgin Mary, complete with a pinecone offering dish. Just past the statuary is the ruins of the Tropical Terrace house that hikers may have spotted previously from the canyon walls.

The Tropical Terrace house was designed and built in 1952 by the famous African-American architect Paul Revere Williams. This house is just one of 2,000 homes and public buildings he built to leave his mark on Southern California. Williams designed homes for such Hollywood glitterati at the time as Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, and Barbara Stanwyck. Of course, his more notable buildings include the Los Angeles Courthouse, the Hollywood YMCA, and the Arrowhead Spring Hotel in San Bernadino. However, the Tropical Terrace house has not fared quite so well as those other buildings. After this canyon was turned over to the state, all maintenance stopped on the building, leaving it to the mercy of the elements and one small fire in 1982. The stonework has stood up well, but other parts of the house have fallen to ruin.

After taking in what would have been a magnificent house that is still today surrounded by tropical plants, hikers will certainly be drawn back on the trail to the north by the sound of rushing water. Just around the bend from the house is a small multi-tiered waterfall surrounded by boulders that are perfect for scrambling and sitting. Again, this is another victim of the California drought, but the trickle it features currently is still better than nothing.

From here, the challenge of the Rising Sun Trail is done. However, instead of taking the parched, sun-baked route back, head down the paved trail which will make this hike into a loop.

Eric Chan, FlickrEric Chan, Flickr

However, before heading back, those looking to add some mileage onto this relatively short hike might want to consider taking the junction for the Deer Valley Loop Trail. This trail is far less traveled, but does provide an escape from the trail crowds and leads to the ruins of another old house. This old house is not as well preserved like the Tropical Terrace, but is still an interesting sight.

The Deer Valley Loop Trail eventually disintegrates from proper trail into a wide meadow area, but does soon rejoin the main trail after roughly a 1.3 mile trip. However, along the way, it does offer some great sweeping views of the Pacific in the distance before it starts to lose elevation.

Back on the main trail, the Solstice Canyon Trail, the pathing switches between pavement and dirt, but provides some easy, flat hiking as it hugs the banks of the canyon's creek. One last bit of history in the area comes in the form of a large gnarled oak close to the trailhead that is marked with a small plaque. Known as the 'Keller Family Oak,' the tree was named for Matthew 'Don Mateo' Keller, an Irish immigrant who owned 13,300 acres of land in Malibu and Topanga after the Mexican-American War. Across the creek used to be the ruins of Keller's old home, thought to the oldest existing building in Malibu. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in the 2007 Corral Canyon Fire. Still, hikers can find a few remaining stones, but the oak is far more impressive. From the Keller tree, it is just a hop and a skip back to the trailhead.