Located North of Los Angeles, running along the coast, the Santa Monica Mountains overlook the Pacific. With peaks reaching over 3,000 feet, this National Park contains some of the best hiking in southern California, boasting more than 500 miles of trails. Covering over 153,000 acres of land, this expansive area conserves significant swathes of native habitat.

The Park also provides cultural opportunities, celebrating the cultural heritage of the Chumash and other Native American cultures. With activities ranging from hiking and camping, to mountain biking, bird watching and horseback riding, the Santa Monica Mountains are nature's own amusement park.

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The origins of the Santa Monica Mountains National Park date back to the 1950s and 1960s, when a group of pioneers started the movement to begin to conserve natural spaces in and around Los Angeles. This movement continued to build momentum in the area, leading to the creation of the Santa Monica National Recreation area in 1978. In 1980, this vision was expanded to include specific attractions through which to learn about the Chumash and other Native American cultures.

The history of the geographical features of the Park, however, date back long before there were any inhabitants of the area. The mountain range was shaped and formed by geological forces over many thousands of years, when the peaks were created through the collision of two tectonic plates. As inhabitants came to the area, first the Chumash and Tongva, and then Spanish explorers, they too, altered and shaped the landscape that can be seen today. Collections highlighting relics and artifacts from these previous peoples, plants and places are om display, including archeological items, as well as an herbarium containing more than 400 specimens and a paleontology collection with more than 200 specimens.

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There are an abundance of activities in which to partake at this expansive National Park, beyond the historical collections. From the simple pleasure of picnicking and admiring wildflowers, to the heart-pumping action of climbing and mountain biking, the Santa Monica Mountains have something to offer everyone who visits. Mild Southern California weather ensure the park is accessible year round to satisfy adventurers' needs.


Hiking is a key activity at the Park, with more than 500 miles of trails available for exploring. From the simple 1.5 mile Satwiwa Loop Trail to the 65mile Backbone trail (for which you must complete an application and seek approval), and everything in between, there is a trail for every level of hiker in the Santa Monica Mountains. Some trails even offer beautiful waterfalls or impressive 360-degree ocean views as a reward for those who reach their lofty peaks.


For a fully immersive Park experience, there are several campgrounds in which to set up a temporary homestead. With the coastal location, some camp areas offer the gentle sound of crashing ocean waves, while others in the expansive park find campers deep in lush canyons. Given the protected state of the areas, and the dry Southern California climate, there are certain rules and guidelines campers should follow, which are available on the Park's website. Camping will also enable visitors to view more of the native wildlife of the area, including mountain lions.


The Santa Monica Mountains has become a popular place for mountain climbing in the Los Angeles area. With a variety of different formations available, climbers of all skill levels visit the Park. With the increase in visitors to the area, the National Park Service regulates the climbing areas to prevent adverse impacts on the environment. Climbers will want to review the Park's website for regulations, recommendations and closures prior to visiting.

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3.Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking
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For those seeking a different kind of thrill, there are mountain bike trails throughout the park available for biking adventure. With more than two dozen trails available, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced, every rider will be able to find a trail to suit his or her pace and preference. The Park's website provides a beneficial brochure with information on each trail, as well as rules and regulations for riders.

Horseback Riding

Not only are there hundreds of miles of hiking trails, but horse trails as well. Equestrians can rejoice and enjoy more than 500 miles of riding trails. Visitors can explore on their own steed or even find a friend for the day at a horse rental facility. As with other activities, recommendations and regulations are listed on the Park's website, to enable every rider to have the most enjoyable day.

Dog Walking

Horses aren't the only domesticated animals to be found, as much of the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area is dog friendly. Many hiking trails and even some camp grounds permit dogs on site. Dog owners are advised to be prepared, to check the website to identify which areas do permit dogs, and be sure to keep their canine on a leash at all times.

Bird Watching

For those seeking a slightly more relaxed day than the rock climbers and mountain bikers, bird watching is another great way to experience the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area. Home to nearly 400 species of birds, including water birds, song birds, and predatory birds, the Park is a veritable aviary. Migration seasons are a particularly interesting time to bird watch at the Park, as millions make their way to and through the area. Several local Audubon chapters regularly arrange walks in the area, which can be accessed via the Park website.

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4.Ecosystem and Environment

Ecosystem and Environment
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Home to more than 1000 plants species, as well as hundreds of animal species, the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area is a unique and special habitat. The Area conserves one of the largest areas of the Mediterranean ecosystem on the planet, including 26 distinct natural communities. These include seaside tide pools, salt marshes, coastal deserts, woodlands, savannas and more. These communities provide homes to nearly 50 threatened or endangered animal and plant species, highlighting the importance of this conservation area. The mountain range itself spans 46 miles in length and 8 miles in width, creating a substantial geographic feature. The highest peak of the Area, Sandstone Peak, towers 3,111 feet above sea level.

With such an impressive and important ecosystem, it is no surprise that environmental changes are having an impact on the Area. The Park is surrounded by urban and agricultural lands, leading to habitat loss for much of the wildlife. Invasive non-native plant and animal species have also had an effect on the habitat, diverting scarce resources away from native inhabitants. Temperature changes resulting from climate change also have an impact on the Park, with sensitive species unable to adapt to increasing temperatures.

The National Park and its partners work to study and prepare for these changes, as well as reduce their own impact on the environment, for example constructing a net zero visitor center, the first in the National Park Service. Other efforts include partnering with the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation to monitor the park's creeks and springs. With so many outside factors, from climate change to air quality, to invasive species threatening the ecosystem, the Park must enlist help to continue to safeguard the area. This requires educating visitors on the area and its threats.

Education is a key to ensuring future generations appreciate and protect these special areas. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area accomplishes this goal in many ways. A participant in the "Parks as Classrooms" program, the park provides free field trips to local schools, and includes curriculum based activities to further the learning.

The Park also provides teacher training programs and participates in the Teacher-Ranger program, which enable teachers to work with rangers during the summer in National Parks, creating curriculum and teaching children about the world around them. For kids who want to get involved in the parks, the Junior Ranger program enables them to interact more with the National Parks they visit, collecting badges, pins, and exploring parks around the country.

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5.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit
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With multiple trail heads and entrances around the Park, visitors will want to plan their day and arrange their travel prior to their arrival. Typically open from sunrise to sunset each day, these times will vary with seasons, with the park open year round. Two visitors' centers are open to guests, with guidebooks, exhibits, souvenirs and more. Periodic events are also available to create a more engaging and interactive visit; the schedule of events is available on the Park's website for more information.

The website also provides safety information for trails, such as which animals to watch out for (such as rattlesnakes or ticks), and trail etiquette for each type of activity. These include removing all litter, leaving all natural items in place, refraining from building fires, and staying on established trails. Following the guidelines, preparing well, and becoming immersed in the beauty of the natural area will ensure a wonderful and enjoyable trip to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

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26876 Mulholland Hwy., Calabasas, California 91302, Phone: 805-370-2301

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Things to Do in California: Santa Monica Mountains