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Weekend hike: Go now to savor Malibu Creek's wildflowers, rock pools

Hike this stretch of Malibu Creek for wildflowers and a walk on the quiet side

Spring hiking in Malibu Creek State Park offers two things in short supply in California: an abundance of wildflowers and flowing water.

Smaller trails in the northwest corner of this Santa Monica Mountains park look downright lush -- and will make you forget the drought and the state's water woes for an afternoon.

This weekend is an ideal time for a roughly six-mile round-trip ramble along well-marked trails to find spectacular views of the park's rugged peaks and valleys as well as quiet places to see the creek and its rock pools.

No promise you'll find every wildflower I saw on Sunday, but many should still be blooming. This spring has been one of the better seasons for flowers that I've seen in a while.

To start this hike, pack your backpack with snacks, lunch and a few quarts of water. Then head to the Reagan Ranch trailhead (see directions below) near Calabasas.

Start by walking down a long paved road from the parking lot, past a jumble of outbuildings and portable toilets to start your trek on the Yearling Trail.

Here the show begins. Meadows and fields along this stretch of trail are full of head-high mustard, yellow fiddlenecks and tall grasses. Look for many varieties of phacelia, delicate Mariposa lilies, blue larkspur, and violet-tinged Chinese houses along shadier stretches of the trail.

It doesn't matter if you don't know flower names; they are profuse and beautiful -- and draw lots of bees and butterflies too.

In less than a mile, take the Cage Creek Trail and on to Crags Road, the main drag in Malibu Creek State Park.

Here you'll share the dirt freeway with bicyclists, parents with strollers, hikers and runners as you motor toward one of the park's most famous landmarks: the former filming site for the "MASH" TV show that centered on a mobile U.S. Army hospital during the Korean War.

From 1972-83, the Santa Monica Mountains were a stand-in for the mountains of Korea. A few rusty prop Jeeps and a waypoint sign remain, along with park-planted signs to explain the site's link to the TV show.

Most people end their hike here and head back, which is a mistake. Some of the best views of Malibu Creek are just a short distance ahead.

Continue on Crags Road west for about half a mile to the edge of the park boundary just below the community of Malibou Lake. (Resist taking the turnoffs Bulldog Motorway or following Crags Road uphill.)

On the right, you'll find the widened creek, which almost resembles a lake. The trail follows the edge of the Udell Gorge Natural Preserve, one of three preserves in the park.

On the Sunday I went (it was Easter and the park was busy), I saw just one or two people on this last leg of the trail. Feel free to leave the main trail and follow small paths down to the edge of the pools and spend a few reflective moments.

It's a great spot for a picnic and photographs too.

When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the "MASH" site. To change it up, return along the Dear Leg Trail and the Lake Vista Trail. Both will lead you back to your car at Reagan Ranch.

Directions to the trailhead: Reagan Ranch is named for the president, who owned this property from 1957-67. (Don't confuse this with the more famous Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara.) Take the 101 Freeway to Kanan Road exit. Travel south on Kanan a half mile, then turn left on Cornell Way and veer to the right. Drive south three miles to parking area on left (just past Mulholland Highway). 

Suggestion: Before you go on the hike, stop at the visitor center (officially called the Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center) at 26876 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas. Here you can get information on hiking trails, and pick up a hiking map and a wildflower guide, if you like.

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