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Hike to the Grotto in Malibu, CA

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

The Grotto trail is a hidden gem in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains, not too far from the Sandstone Peak hike, and in one of the beautiful parts of Malibu that isn't beachfront. It's a nice wooded area that makes for a quiet escape from the city, and an easy-to-moderate level for any hiker.


Length: 3 miles out and back | Level: Easy - Moderate | Duration: 1.5 hours | Elevation: 475 | Dogs: Yes on leash, but not all the way to grotto due to large rocks and parts of high uneven ground with light river crossing. | Parking: Free at the trailhead or on the street.

Begin at the trailhead which is right off Circle X Ranch Visitor Center. The parking is free here but there aren't a lot of spots so you may have to find street parking and walk in. Pass the last standing phone booth around back of the visitor center and you'll officially begin your descent down into the trail that leads to the Grotto.

This is a backwards hike, so you'll be hiking downhill into a cavern of sorts to see the actual Grotto. The small ascent of 475 you'll face on the way out. Super gorgeous views through the first part of the trail, especially on a clear day!

Quick Trail Tips:

  • Though a shorter hike, dress in layers as it is hot in the sun, but cooler in the shaded areas down by the Grotto

  • Hiking poles aren't necessary, but if you have trouble crossing mild rocky riverbeds you might want them

  • Wear sturdy hiking shoes, this trail is rocky and to get to the grotto you will need to scramble through some rocks

  • If you bring your dog, know that you won't be able to visit the grotto as dogs aren't allowed past a certain point

The initial part of the hike is open and has some really pretty views of the Santa Monica mountains. Once you cross this area (above) you will make your way down a curved path into a small riverbed. This may be where you'll want those hiking poles as you will cross a tiny amount of water here and start the final descent toward the Grotto area. The first part of this river crossing is easy but this is as far as dogs can go on this trail.

Just a bit past the riverbed crossing is where you will see some large rocks you'll need to climb over to make your way down into the Grotto. It's a little confusing to see the trail here but by keeping to the right of the river and climbing over the rocks, you eventually come to a clear path again that will drop you right into the Grotto.

It's a bit steep to climb up and then down into the Grotto to get close up into it. There are plenty of branches and trees that you can use as leverage to climb down, so it is not that difficult. But at the 1.5 mile point, you've arrived!

Beautiful place to bring a snack and relax for a bit as it's super quiet and peaceful here! It seems this isn't a high trafficked hike, so depending on when you go you may get lucky and be one of few there!

So what actually is this Grotto? It seems to be just an area of large rocks that formed a cave where a waterfall has been depositing over the years. It does have a sense of mystery here though, and a teeny bit eery if you go at dusk. Lots of wildlife around here including lizards sunbathing, tadpoles and a few frogs. I did not jump in the water, though a few people did! Wasn't sure what might be lurking under there!

After spending some time eating lunch or just enjoying the peaceful atmosphere here at the Grotto, you'll make your way back up the rocks and take the same trail out back up to where you park. This hike is short, but makes for a quick afternoon getaway into nature, and I haven't found anything quite like it in Malibu which makes it worth checking out.

And finally, if you are looking for a place to stop and eat before or after the hike, you can't go wrong with the famous Neptune's Net! This great spot is right on PCH at the corner of Yerba Buena Road.

Address to ranch/trailhead: 12896 Yerba Buena Road, Malibu, CA, 90265

Full website with other info here. Enjoy your time at the Grotto! There are so many great hikes hidden in Malibu, where are your favorites?

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