Posted by: GeekHiker | December 14, 2008

HIKE: Paramount Ranch

When I did this hike a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t really expected a hike at all. I’d brought along a book and a few snacks and expected to spend most of the day reading, but Paramount Ranch proved to be something of a surprise.

Paramount Ranch has been used as a filming site ever since Paramount Pictures first bought the property in 1927 (and even before that, as I understand from the ranger’s talk). It’s changed hands a number of times over the years, in the process subbing for early California, colonial Massachusetts, Africa and even ancient China. It’s most recent well-known incarnation was as the town in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (a fact the NPS doesn’t hesitate to remind you of, again and again). It even spent part of it’s life as a racetrack, the remnants of which can still be seen on the property today.

Paramount Ranch 01
Entrance sign for Paramount Ranch

Central to the property is Western Town. Built and rebuilt many times over the years, the permanent version you see today was constructed in 1953. Most visitors to Paramount Ranch come to see this section of the park. I discovered, though, that heading away from the town you can find some surprising solitude along the park’s trails.

Paramount Ranch 02
The long entrance road into Paramount Ranch, part of the old racetrack

(NOTE: The NPS is currently changing some of the trails in the park. Some are being re-signed, others closed. Although I expect the loop described below to stay intact, be sure to pick up a map before heading out.)

From the large parking area, head across the bridge into Western Town. You’ll be crossing Medea Creek, previously a seasonal creek but now year-round owing to runoff from the housing communities built in the last twenty years.

Paramount Ranch 03
Crossing the bridge into Western Town

To the left is a large grassy area with picnic tables, perfect for a spring picnic. Turning right you’ll enter the town proper, built in front of Paramount’s old prop sheds.

Western Town Photomerge
Western Town

Turning left, you’ll continue down the main street towards the old train depot. Just past the depot you’ll see the signed start of the Coyote Canyon trail.

Paramount Ranch 04
Start of the Coyote Canyon trail

Climbing up the small canyon, you’ll cross the dry creek (passing a signed, unmaintained trail that eventually dead-ends at private property). A half mile from your start, a signed spur trail leads 150′ to a small, shaded picnic area. Surrounded mostly by brush, it feels very isolated and surprisingly quiet, despite the roads not far away.

Paramount Ranch 05
Looking down on Western Town from the picnic area

At approximately .8 miles from the start the trail will stop at a junction, the only sign indicating that the Coyote Canyon trail continues right. Turn left instead, heading up the Hacienda Trail. The trail will split and you can choose to go either around or over the small hill. In either case, the trails will meet up again on the other side, descending into an oak grove known as Witches Wood (so named for the fortune tellers who set up shop in the area during Renaissance Pleasure Faire in the 70’s and 80’s).

Paramount Ranch 06
Descending into Witches Wood

Paramount Ranch 06a
Backlit oaks in Witches Wood

Crossing through Witches Wood you’ll be on a wide old ranch road, reaching another junction. The trail left heads towards private property, so turn right and pick up the (unsigned) Backdrop Trail. This trail leads along a hillside that was used by filmmakers as a backdrop for shots because it was clean of any powerlines and the like.

Paramount Ranch 07
Starting up the Backdrop Trail

Backdrop Trail Photomerge
Panoramic of the Backdrop Trail hillside from a tributary crossing

At 1.6 miles another trail split appears (as of this writing there is a small rock cairn marking the junction). On maps the trail left ascends the hillside and becomes the Ebb Tide Trail, eventually crossing Medea Creek to rejoin with the Bawana Trail. Unfortunately this trail doesn’t seem to exist, or is overgrown, so stay right and descend to near the creek. At a junction near a large oak tree you can turn left a couple of hundred feet to see the wide Medea Creek. Our course continues right.

Oak Tree Photomerge
Oak tree at the trial junction from the Backdrop Trail to the Bwana Trial

The wide Bwana Trail (named for the movie Bwana Devil when it portrayed the African grasslands) crosses through open grasslands and stands of oaks. Be sure to look to your left to see remnants of the curve of the old racetrack.

Paramount Ranch 08
Heading west along the Bwana Trail

Crossing Marco Polo Hill, the Bwana Trail will intersect with the unmarked Medicine Woman Trail, eventually leading you back to Western Town.

Paramount Ranch 09
Returning to Western Town: the train depot

Just a note: there are lots of spur trails and use trails in the park, so it’s easy to get onto the wrong trail. Luckily, the loop roughly parallels Cornell Rd., which can be seen or heard in most places, so you can use that to orient yourself.

Total Distance: 3.2 MilesElevation Gain/Loss: 240/240′


Directions: From Highway 101, exit at Kanan Rd. Drive .4 miles south and turn left at Sideway Road, continuing straight onto Cornell Rd. Park entrance will be 1.8 miles ahead on the right. From Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway), turn north on Malibu Canyon road. Drive 6.3 miles to Mulholland Highway and turn left. Drive 3.2 miles and turn right on Cornell Rd. Park entrance is approx .4 miles on the left.



  1. Your description brought back memories. I hiked Paramount Ranch back in March 2007. The place needs some better signage as I got turned around several times though this didn’t detract too much from this nice hike.

  2. It sounds lovely and looks lovely and I’m terribly jealous of the warmth.
    Feeling minus 20….

  3. I’m beginning to think you’re in the wrong career. Does Frommer’s have a a hiking division??

  4. I love the photos, and the hike sounds great. I don’t, however, enjoy the little snowflakes dancing across the page as I attempt to read. I keep thinking that there is something terribly wrong with my eyes and that I am going to soon need surgery, which they will mess up on and I will then go blind. Perhaps I have some issues?

  5. It’s weird to see pics of green leaves on trees where you are because I look out my own window and see.. winter!

  6. I ‘favorited’ some of these in Flickr, it looks amazing. So peaceful.

  7. Oh. My. Its minus 48 here with the windchill. (thats minus 54 in farnenheit. Yeah.)

    Your pictures have turned me green. Jealous. Yes. Thats me.

  8. Homer-Dog – Well, the map even says that they’re currently working on signage, for whatever that’s worth. Of course, this is the NPS, and you know what their budget is like…

    Just A Girl – Well, for what it’s worth it’s rainy, windy and cold here today…

    TheCoconutDiaries – If you have an “in” with anyone, do let me know…

    Kori – The snowflakes will be gone by January, promise.

    Charlotte – Seasons run a little later out here. Driving home from work last week I headed down a road lined with large maple trees, all showing off their fall colors!

    Narami – Thanks for the lovely compliment!

    BackPackerMomma – Which is why you need to tell your cute friend to hightail it out to California! 😉

  9. I love your hiking tours. They almost make me feel like I’ve had a mini vacation. Almost.

  10. […] the weekend (although not with the group trip that was headed there from downtown), and posted a write-up, as well as a few great photos on […]

  11. Dingo – Aw, gosh, thanks. Maybe someday you’ll take a mini vacation out here and join me for a hike & write-up?

    ModernHiker – Thanks for the shout-out!

  12. […] Paramount Ranch on (single) […]

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