Solstice Canyon provides a window into Malibu’s past. Beyond panoramic glimpses of the ocean and the therapeutic quality of all trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, Solstice Canyon is also uniquely rooted in the history of the Chumash Indians and old-town Malibu.
These fields and hills were historic stomping grounds for the Chumash, an indigenous tribe spanning from Paso Robles in the north to Malibu in the south. In fact, renovations to Solstice Canyon Park in 2003 came grinding to a halt when construction workers uncovered the 200-year-old grave site of a Chumash Indian. While no museum exists in the park to display the Native American heritage, a little imagination makes the trail come alive with history.
Remnants from the early ranching community in Malibu are more apparent. Look for the Keller stone cottage off the Solstice Canyon Trail, built around 1865 and believed to be the oldest existing stone building in Malibu by the National Park Service.
To reach the trailhead, turn right off Pacific Coast Highway before the 76 gas station located just northwest of Pepperdine; the entrance to Solstice Canyon Park is on the left.
While other trails begin from the main parking lot about one mile inside the park, I suggest the approximately 3 mile loop from Solstice Canyon Trail to Rising Sun Trail. Proceed past the main gate and the bathrooms, across the bridge to the T, and then take a right.
Thanks to a conservation organization named Tree People that worked in cahoots with Pepperdine volunteers and community members, you’ll notice the adjacent field filled with recently planted oak saplings.
The roughly paved walkway continues slightly uphill to the so-called “Tropical Terrace,” home to exotic plants, a 30-foot waterfall, a hidden statue of the Virgin Mary and the burned remains of a home built in the 1960s, according to www.localhike.com.
From there, the trail crosses a streambed and continues more steeply up an aggressive series of switchbacks to a rewarding view and ocean breezes, followed by an excellent downhill jaunt along the ridgeline. The down-hill bottoms out back at the parking lot.
The trail provides the perfect combination of mellow flats and steeper climbs and makes for a gratifying, if challenging, trail run as well as hike. Just be aware that during hot weather, the canyon traps warm air like a sauna.
One last random fact to keep you occupied on the trail: the two tan buildings located on the hillside above the parking lot belonged to a space technology company that tested satellite equipment for outer-space missions and medical research in magnetic resonance imaging.
According to the National Park Service website, “Solstice Canyon was chosen to conduct such tests due to its convenient location and its lack of human-made and natural disturbances.” Sounds like the perfect combination for a hike if you ask me.