Dirt Mulholland

This hike looked kind of boring on paper.  It’s a combination of a wide and people busy unpaved section of Mulholland Drive and a few short trails that connect to it from the Valley side of the Santa Monica Mountains.  The hike, actually, turned out to be quite entertaining.  The weather was perfect for a long day of hiking – sunny and clear but only 60 degrees with a slight breeze.  About 14 to 15 miles, I think, a Sun up to Sun down excursion.

1     2   I got going around 6:30 a.m.  I parked in the free lot at Serrania Park in Woodland Hills.  It’s close to the 101 and easy to find.  To the left of the park is some wooden fencing that marks Woodland Ridge Trail, which I used to hike up to Dirt Mulholland.  I made it after a little over a mile of climbing.  Woodland Ridge Trail has some nice views but better ones of the same areas lay ahead.


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Photo 1 – I headed down the road and my next stop was Winnetka Ridge Trail, which is similar to Woodland Ridge Trail but shorter and less steep.  It also has better views.  I love to look out at a massive panorama and have it all come together.  I could make out Rocky Peak Park in Simi Valley, pictured here.  Photo 2 – The Santa Susana Mountains’ highest point, Oat Mountain.  Photo 3 – The northern end of the San Gabriels, where I hiked a couple of weeks ago in Placerita Canyon.  Photo 4 – The Verdugo Mountains in the foreground and the San Gabriels in the back.  Photo 5 – Across from the Verdugos is the massive Mount Lukens, the highest point the in city of Los Angeles – on zoom  Photo 6 – And also in view is Mt. Lee, home to the HOLLYWOOD sign.


Panorama – The Santa Susana Mountains on the left and the San Gabriel Mountains on the right

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As I came close to Winnetka Road there were balloons and other garbage on the trail.  I returned to Dirt Mulholland.  I passed a large concrete pad to the right while looking for the turn-off that would lead me to Vanalden Cave.  On my left I noticed a pair of metal poles marking a trail.  Few of the trails I took were marked with written names.  I mistook this trail for the one that goes to the cave.  It was short and, as can be seen in photo 4, quite overgrown.

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The Two Buddies – As I continued my search for the cave I noticed what I thought were two hawks flying above.  They seemed to be playing with each other and mirroring each others movements.  I figured maybe they are mates.  When I got home and looked at the photos it’s clear that one bird is a hawk and the other looks like a crow.  I’ve never seen hawks and crows interact this way before.

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I found another trail marker and headed down, still in search of the cave.  This is the turn-off I had been looking for.  As I descended, a helicopter lowered and hovered just feet above the large concrete pad I passed earlier on Dirt Mulholland.  I reached Vanalden Ave. without finding the cave . But at least I now knew I was on the correct trail.  I backtracked and looked for the turn-off I missed.  Photo 4 – The turn-off to the cave is pretty close to Dirt Mulholland but a little hard to see as I was coming down the trail.  If you’re coming down from above keep looking to the right.  Soon you will see a trail that makes a sharp hairpin turn and breaks off to the right.  This is the trail to Vanalden Cave.  I was following a map from one of my hiking guides and, even a day later, the map still doesn’t make any sense to me.

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23   On the way I passed this moss covered sandstone with a face carved in it.

24   I approach the cave.  It’s huge compared to the caves I usually see on the trail.


Vanalden Cave

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I climbed up into the cave.  In the roof are several large holes letting in light and air.  Some have ropes or chains attached, for swinging on, I would guess.  Photo 4 – Looking out the mouth of the cave from the very back.

30     31     32   Inside and outside the cave is a lot of graffiti, rock carving and garbage.  It kind of smells a little bit as well.  Still, this is an awesome find and worth the effort.

33     34     35   To the right of the cave is a steep, sketchy looking trail that leads up to the roof.  The roof of Vanalden Cave is safe to walk on as long as you don’t trip and fall through one of the holes.  A footpath back up to Dirt Mulholland is just on the other side of the roof.

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Looking down through the holes as I cross over

38     39     40   Photo 1 – The footpath back up to Dirt Mulholland was really overgrown.  At points I was practically down on my hands and knees crawling through the brush.  I would suggest retracing your steps from the cave back to the trail you came down on.  Photo 2 – Back on Dirt Mulholland, looking toward Topanga State Park.  I spotted the tower that is near to Topanga Lookout, which I visited on my Hondo Canyon hike.  Photo 3 – Next I took the very short Tarzana Fire Road down to the parking lot at the end of Reseda Blvd.  I found a great place to rest and eat lunch, sitting in a shady area on one of these quarried rock benches.

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My final destination was another mile up the road.  Gizmo Peak is the high point in the left of photo 1.  You can clearly see a trail that leads almost straight up to the top.  I would not be taking that crazy trail but rather one that has an easy climb spiraling up around the right side, Farmer Ridge Trail.  Photo 2 – Almost at the foot of Gizmo Peak.

43     44     45   I climbed up steeply for a few yards but then followed the trail that goes to the right and hugs the side of the hill.  The trail is a slightly sketchy as it is narrow and a little exposed in places.  The footing is not the best because of the loose dirt and rock.

46     47   I came to a T-Junction.  To the left is the trail to the top of Gizmo Peak.  To the right is a trail that leads out along a ridge.  I went to the right to try to get a better view of the Santa Monica Bay below.


I backtracked and continued toward Gizmo Peak.  I passed an old junker by the side of the trail.  You find them in the strangest places sometimes.

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I reach the top of Gizmo Peak – the views are similar to the viewpoint I traveled to when I went to the right.  That viewpoint is seen in the middle of photo 1Photo 2 – Looking down into Rustic Canyon.  Instead of retracing my steps back down to Dirt Mulholland, I continued on a Farmer Ridge Trail which ran along the top of the ridge.

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I got spit out on Dirt Mulholland once again.  If I wanted to get back to my car before the Sun disappeared I would have to move quickly.

54   The light becomes a golden glow.


The Sun sets on Oat Mountain.

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Thank you, Dirt Mulholland.

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