Posted by: GeekHiker | January 14, 2008

HIKE: M*A*S*H Site / Malibu Creek State Park

(The hike from New Year’s, juuuuust a bit late.)

I haven’t done a formal survey or anything, but I’d be willing to put good money on the bet that there isn’t a single LA hiking book that doesn’t include the following hike.

And why not? It includes a nice visitor center, a year round creek, a smattering of wilderness and a bit of Hollywood history.

This is an excellent hike pretty much year-round, though it can get quite hot in the summer. Like most trails, even at popular parks like this one, the number of people will diminish the further out you get; on the side trails I saw no one.

Most hikers begin this trip from the large parking lot off of Malibu Canyon Rd., but I prefer to start the trail from the intersection of Malibu Canyon Rd. & Mulholland Highway as described below. This short section, called the Grasslands Trail, winds through grass meadows dotted with oak trees and gives a nice introduction to the park.

Start of Grasslands Trail

Starting along the Grasslands Trail

Start from the trailhead and head south along the trail, which will shortly ascend to a ridge. When the trail splits, take the right path, which will take you quickly down to Crags Road.

Oak in Winter

Along the Grasslands Trail in the winter

Oak in Spring

The same tree along the Grasslands Trail during the spring bloom, 2005

After .7 miles you intersect with Crags Road, a large road along the creekside (another road runs parallel on the other side of the creek). Turning right, you continue under old oak trees that cover the road and have been seen in dozens of film productions. The next .6 miles are referred to on some maps as the High Road.

Crags Road

Oak-lined Crags Road

After the .6 miles of flat walking you reach a signed junction. To the left lies a bridge which will take you to the visitor center, which has exhibits on the local flora and fauna as well as the filming history of the park. Our path turns right and heads up the hill towards the M*A*S*H site.

Malibu Creek 1

Placid Malibu Creek

The area that is now Malibu Creek State Park was purchased in the 1940’s by 20th Century Fox and was used as the studio’s private backlot for nearly 40 years. Today a number of productions still use the park regularly, but here and there remnants of the area’s heyday as the property of a major studio can still be seen.

Cresting over the ridge, look for the shady trail on the left. Take this short spur down to the shores of Century Lake.

Century Lake

Century Lake

Held back by a small dam in the narrow canyon, Century Lake is slowly silting in.

Century Lake Dam

Century Lake & Century Lake Dam

Century Lake & Century Lake Dam

Another View of the Dam

If the placid water and weathered volcanic rock seem familiar, you may be remembering them from the original Planet of the Apes.

Turning right and continuing along the shoreline, you’ll quickly re-connect with Crags road. Continue following the road, passing over a small bridge at 1.7 miles. Just past the bridge the trail splits; bend right to continue along Crags Road. The trail, originally the road out to the sets, has been broken into a rocky mess by subsequent rains and floods over the years.

3.1 miles from your starting point you’ll arrive at the original M*A*S*H. filming site. Not much is left after all these years, save for a couple of burned out and rusting jeeps and the flat area that served as the helicopter landing pad.

M*A*S*H Panorama

Panoramic view from the old helicopter pad

Most people turn around at this point, but I usually enjoy continuing along the road, an easy, flat mile (2 miles round trip) that follows the creek and has several nice spots for lunch.

Broken Canoe

Just past the M.A.S.H. site; what is it with me and boats along the trail?

The road dead ends at the chain-linked fence of Malibu Lake and its very nice looking housing, so from here simply turn around and follow the same path back to your car.

Malibu Creek 2

Along the trail back, Malibu Creek from the bridge near the Visitor Center

Along the way back, I highly recommend diverting to the informative visitor center or, just before the bridge to the visitor center, take the trail to the right down to the excellent (and very popular) swimming hole known as Rock Pool.

SIDE TRIP: Forest Trail: From the junction just past the bridge on Craigs Road mention above, the Forest Trail is an easy, flat two mile out-and-back along the south shoreline of Century Lake, terminating at the dam. I always take this side trip since it’s not very populated and is very quiet and is nicely forested. A dozen or so very out of place coast redwood trees eek out an existence along the trail as well.

Although the dam and nearby rock may look tempting to climb and look over the edge, I don’t recommend it due to the poor footing (and the long fall, of course).

Coast Redwood

Redwood tree along the Forest Trail

Century Lake Dam & Gorge

Century Lake Dam & Gorge from the end of the Forest Trail

SIDE TRIP: Cage Creek/Lookout Trail: I hadn’t taken this particular side trip before today. This trail is an up and down trip which affords some good views over the park. It is, however, very exposed and would be, I imagine, blisteringly hot on a summer day. To take this loop, look for the signed Cage Creek trail along Crags Road, about .3 miles past Century Lake. The trail will climb steeply up a small canyon for .3 miles and reach an intersection; turn right to head up the Lookout Trail. From the trail you will see beautiful views over this section of the Malibu Creek watershed and the Crags. Continuing along the trail will return you, after 1.2 miles total, to Crags Road.

Malibu Creek State Park

Looking out over Malibu Creek State Park from the Lookout Trail

Total Distance (to M.A.S.H. site & back): ~5 miles

Total Distance (with side trips): 10 miles

Elevation Gain/Loss (to M.A.S.H. site & back): 700’/700′

Elevation Gain/Loss (with side trips): 1,100/1,100

Park: Malibu Creek State Park


Directions: From the 101, exit Las Virgenes road south. Drive south along the road until the road intersects with Mulholland Highway (about 3.5 miles) and turn right. The trail head will be about .2 miles in on the left; park on the shoulder on either side of the road (make you’re your car is out of the traffic lane). From PCH (Highway 1), turn north on Malibu Canyon Road and follow the road about 6.3 miles north until you reach Mulholland Highway, then turn left. Follow the directions as above to the trailhead.



  1. Wonderful writeup!

    I feel inspired to do the same, but I’ve often found that stopping to take photos seems to add a couple hours onto the trip from all the sight-seeing.

    What camera are you using? Those were some wonderful photos.

  2. Your beginning of the year was a bit better than mine; there’s no way I could have taken a photo.


  3. I did the MASH hike back in May 2007. I made a doozy of a mistake and went swimming in the river with my camera. I missed a lot of good pictures of the dam because of a dead camera.

    I like the redwood picture. Really cool!

  4. I love the redwood photo, amazing angle, makes it look very majestic. Great write up, I’ll put it on my to-do list!

  5. Aaron – thanks. I always just plan a little extra time for photos. I’m using an old Canon S50, which needs an upgrade soon.

    just a girl – Nah, you went running, which is very cool!

    Homer-Dog – You should try to do it again before you leave!

    Backpackermomma – thanks, it was just an off-the-cuff photo that turned out well! Bit long of a drive for you, though, isn’t it?

  6. The third picture in could totally be in a calendar. Sounds like an anwesome hike!

  7. What great pictures! I am so jealous of the good weather that you guys have right now. I haven’t found some great sites to hike through here, especially that it’s so cold, everything’s been getting so muddy and gross…nothing’s fun in Rock Creek with the nasty weather..

  8. Oh my dear, I have hikes planned all over this fine world of ours. Its never too far for a good hike. 🙂

  9. charlotte – thanks for the lovely compliment!

    cripkitty – Yeah, there are some advantages to being here, if you ignore the whole earthquake/flooding/mudslide/fire think. 🙂

    backpacker-momma – Well, be sure to let me know when you show up!

  10. That’s one of my favorite hikes too, and I like to take my inflatable boat to the lake. I also like the markers pointing out the historic spots where scenes from Planet of the Apes was filmed. The historical info at the museum is interesting as well – describing historical movie sets going back to the 1960s.

    Nice pictures!!

  11. I took my parents on this beautiful trail Christmas day. I am only 11 months old so I was being transported in my super jogger. Not a good idea in the rain as the mud on some steep roads clinged to my tires making it imposible to push. I’ve never seen my old man sweat so much, iT WAS HILARIOUS. My parents didn’t give up and carried me and my jogger for 1/2 mile or so in search of the MASH site. We continued on a rough single track for awhile but nap time and darkness was closing in. We’ll be back on a drier day; my words of caution: don’t use you jogger on this hike in the rain! MERRY CHRISTMAS

  12. I took my 7 & 12 year old today on this hike. It was our first hike. This writeup is awesome thank you for sharing. I wish I would have had it today.

  13. […] Malibu Creek State Park MASH hike on (single) […]

  14. […] to see “Western Town” (set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman).   A short drive away in Malibu Creek State Park make the hike to the M.A.S.H. […]

  15. I remember taking this hike three times in middle school. That was years ago, and i was thinking about driving back up there for a hike with my fiance. This brought back so many memories of my time up there and now i can’t wait to go back. Thank you so much for making my day.

  16. […] loved my first pair which lasted a good three years or so. Anyhow just in time for tomorrows M.A.S.H. hike with my buddy Hector aka “The Green Beret”. Share this:FacebookTwitterDiggLike this:LikeBe the […]

  17. […] a word? Brutal! Yup, that pretty much sums up how last Saturdays M.A.S.H Hike […]

  18. […] the huge failure that was the M.A.S.H. hike I realized that I needed to dial things back a little as I clearly had bitten off more than I could […]

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