Posted by: GeekHiker | April 8, 2009

HIKE: La Jolla Valley & Mugu Peak

This hike, along with the Sandstone Peak/Mishe Mokwa Trail, is one of the best hikes that show the highlights of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Starting from right next to the ocean, the hike ascends a sandstone canyon, crosses a wide open, grassy valley, hugs the edge of the peak where you can hear the waves crashing below, before finally ascending to the peak itself before descending back to your car.

Starting from the parking lot at the Ray Miller trailhead (restrooms and, as of this writing, water available), pass the large yellow service gate and the dry creek.  The trail, mostly wide and with a gentle ascent, starts to climb the canyon.

La Jolla 01
Starting up the La Jolla Valley

In springtime, various flowers are in bloom, including the giant coreopsis.  Most often seen on the Channel Islands, Pt. Mugu State Park is one of the few mainland locations where you can find it.

La Jolla 12
Giant Coreopsis along the trail

The trail you’re walking on was once a road used to haul rock from this location out to the beach to build the Pacific Coast Highway.  Here and there, old rusting equpment can be seen on the far side of the creek.

After a bit of climbing and then, at .8 miles from the start, crosses the creek again in front of a small waterfall (already dry this year).  As the canyon starts to narrow, the trail ascends along the right side, goes up a couple of switchbacks and continues upward, dipping in and out of the chaparral.

After 1.4 miles, you arrive at a trail junction with the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail on the left, and the La Jolla Canyon trail on the right.  The Loop Trail will be your return trail.  Continue on the Valley Trail another .6 miles to a second junction.  Take the left fork and descend slightly, rounding the bend next to an old cattle pond.  In wet years, it serves as a home for ducks; this year it was bone dry.

The trail ascends slightly and then arrives at a broad old road.  To the right from here is a trail camp (no water available).  Turning left, the trail climbs a few feet to give you your first view of La Jolla Valley.

La Jolla Pano 04
Heading into the La Jolla Valley

La Jolla Pano 03
Along the trail; Mugu Peak is the tall rise on the right side

La Jolla 13
La Jolla Valley in May ’08, already turned to gold

The next 1.6 miles are relatively flat, and best enjoyed at a slow pace.  Birds flit about in the field and the breeze can be heard in the grasses, a mixture of California native and imports.

La Jolla 06
Spring growth in the valley

Twice along the course of the trail, you’ll cross dry creekbeds lined with oaks, then pass again into open grasslands.  After the second crossing, portions of the trail always seem to be overgrown, so be sure to check yourself for ticks.

At 3.9 miles, the trail ascends to a high saddle.  From here, you can look back and see the trail across the valley.  To the south lies the Pacific, crashing against the shore below.  A steep trail leads from here down to a parking area along PCH (not recommended for ascending unless you want a real workout (believe me, I’ve tried it)).  To the west lies land that’s part of Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station (their equipment can be seen on one of the nearby hilltops).

La Jolla Pano 06
Looking back into La Jolla Valley from the saddle

To the east you have two options.  A narrow use trail will take you directly to the top of Mugu Peak.  To the right of that, a wider trail runs along the south flank of the peak, fairly level.  Take this trail, rounding the peak and revealing more and more of the Oxnard Coast to the west.

La Jolla 07
Hiking along the south flank

La Jolla 08
Looking down at Pt. Mugu NAS

At 4.3 miles, the trail reaches it’s furthest point south.  A use trail will take you 500′ out along a small ridge, giving you a good view of the coastline, and looking back at Mugu Peak.

La Jolla 09
Looking up at Mugu Peak

Continuing along the coast trail, it rounds the south side of the peak and joins with the more direct trail coming up from the trailhead.  Turning almost 180 degrees, take the narrow, obvious path to the top of Mugu Peak itself.

At the top, you’ll find some rock cairns, a flagpole (usually with flag attached) and a register to dutifully sign.  Drink in the views of broad La Jolla Valley below you and the wide stretch of the Pacific… assuming the clouds aren’t in as they were the day of my hike!

La Jolla Pano 07
Looking down into La Jolla Valley from Mugu Peak

La Jolla 10
Flower along the trail

Returning down the trail, continue straight along the trail, which continues to descend expeditiously along the east ridge of Mugu Peak.  The trail continues to descend all the way to a tributary creek, crosses it, then reaches a trail junction with the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail.

La Jolla Pano 08
Looking back on the trail as it descends from Mugu Peak

La Jolla 11
Small bird in the brush

Turning right, the trail ascends a bit, reaches a high point with a good view of the valley, then descends to a small creek, which usually has a trickle all year.  Crossing the creek, the trail ascends to the first junction you passed on the hike in.

Turn right and follow the trail back to the trailhead.

More pictures here.

Total Distance: 8.5 Miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,200’/1,200′


Directions: From I-10, drive to Santa Monica and onto PCH State Highway 1. From where the I-10 turns into PCH (McClure Tunnel), drive approx 33.7 miles. The signed turnoff for La Jolla Canyon is located just past the Great Sand Dune. Turn right and drive up the short entrance road to the Ray Miller Trailhead. Parking is, as of this writing, $5 per day, or you can park along PCH and walk in the short distance to the trailhead.

Hike Profile:
La Jolla Valley Mugu Peak Profile



  1. more gorgeous pics! luv the lil birdie

  2. Wow! I’ve been there! Hasn’t changed much in the year since I did it.

    I’ve done the steep trail from the PCH parking lot twice. It’s a bear.

  3. Wonderful photos, as always.

    I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this – in the myriad of emails we’ve exchanged in the past year…shocking, I know! – but, how do you decide where you want to hike?

    Do you just pick a spot on the map and go or is there more thoughtful planning involved?

  4. Love the cairn in the Mugu Peak shot. It almost looks illuminated, like aside from its actual task of guiding you, its also showing you the way. Beautiful lightness in a darker shot. Nice.

  5. Um. Dude. Holy elevation gain Batman! I’m glad I got to experience that one vicariously through you 😉

  6. CharlotteHarris – Thanks!

    Homer-Dog – Yep, we were supposed to hike this before you left, but never had a chance. And I never plan on doing the route from PCH again!

    East Coast Teacher – It’s a mix. Sometimes I know a few days in advance that I want to hike a trail, sometimes I don’t know until the morning of. In this case, I knew I wanted to try to hike it while things were still green!

    BackPackerMomma – Wow, I’m looking at that pic in a whole new light now!

    Mrs Chuck Bartowski – LOL – it’s actually not bad if you look at the gain over mileage. And you’ll note the route up to the peak is much less steep than the route down!

  7. Great hike, check out this hike in La Jolla Valley-point mugu Ca.

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