Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | December 22, 2009

Zuma Canyon – Santa Monica Mountains

December 20th 2009 

Distance: 3.5 miles.              Elevation gain: 400 ft 

For today’s hike we are looking for a trail we haven’t done in a while, somewhere to experience the fall colors and a fairly short route as I am nursing a head cold. Zuma Canyon should fit the bill as the creek side sycamores should be in their autumn glory, while the creek crossings should be relatively easy. We haven’t done much hiking together recently as Dee has been recovering from a twisted ankle – incurred tripping down concrete steps, not on the trail! The weather is splendid for December, and while folks on the east coast are ankle-deep in snow, we hope to be ankle-deep in fallen leaves. 

We access the trail from Bonsall Drive, just off Pacific Coast Highway. As we park we get our first view of the “horse set” – some riding, others leading their mounts. Off we go and almost immediately catch up to two ladies taking their horses for a walk – funny, I thought you took dogs for a walk, but rode horses. Despite the fact that we are moving faster than they, they do not give way and so when they turn off on the Zuma Loop Trail, we push straight on up the canyon, avoiding the risk of dung coated boots or worse.  

Zuma Canyon Trail

 We pass the turns on our right to the Ocean View and Canyon View Trails, which as the names suggest offer great views but are not on today’s itinerary. After the recent rain, the trackside is sprouting green, although the first few stream crossings are dry. 

Bermuda Buttercup

To Dee’s delight, we come across a few Bermuda Buttercups and she is able to play with the macro setting on her new camera. As we go deeper into the canyon, the sycamores are even more striking than we anticipated. After a couple of boulder hopping creek crossings we reach the end of the trail. 

Creek Crossing

We progress just a little farther upstream and find a rock for lunch (to sit on, not to eat). The yellow leaves, trickling stream and gurgling mini waterfalls make this an idyllic spot and we stay a while. 

Lunch Spot

On our return we branch off on the Zuma Loop Trail, which climbs part way up the canyon side to reveal ocean views of Catalina and the Palos Verdes Peninsular. Below us we can see the creek outlined by the sycamores as it follows the canyon floor.

Among the Sycamores

Above us we can hear the clatter of stones on metal as some cyclists on the Zuma Ridge Trail amuse themselves by throwing rocks down the water drainage channels. As we descend back to the Zuma Canyon Trail we see our first coast paintbrush of the season and meet two more horses with riders mounted. One is shouting at a pair of cyclists (who are not supposed to be in here) – go for it lady! Soon we are back at the car. Here is a horse-box, containing a horse! It is decidedly unhappy about being left here while its fellows are out enjoying the canyon. It bangs listlessly against the side of its prison and we hope it doesn’t hurt itself.

Autumn in Zuma Canyon


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