Chumash Trail Leads to the Top


Indian trails rarely had contours or switchbacks; the trails headed directly to the top.

Chumash Trail, a typical Indian trail, ascends straight up the steep shoulders of Mugu Peak. From the peak, there are grand views of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Ventura and Santa Barbara county coastline and the Channel Islands.

Chumash Trail honors the native people who lived for many centuries on the land we now call Point Mugu State Park. This trail connected the rich tidelands of Mugu Lagoon with the gentle La Jolla Valley area, which was dotted with Chumash villages.

Mugu, which is the name of a peak, a point, a rock and a lagoon in addition to a state park, is believed to have been derived from the Chumash word muwu , meaning beach. It also refers to a village once located at Point Mugu. Cabrillo mentioned this village during his 1542 exploration, and speculation has it that Point Mugu may be the oldest recorded California place name in existence.


Several Chumash names remain on the land, including Pismo, derived from the Chumash word for the asphaltum tar that seeps through natural fissures in the earth and sea floor. Hueneme and Malibu were once the Chumash villages of Wene’me and Maliwu.

This walk climbs to Mugu Peak, which, along with Laguna Peak and La Jolla Peak, anchors the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains. Armed with a good map of Point Mugu State Park, you can connect Chumash Trail with others in the park and hike as many miles as you wish.

While you’re in the neighborhood, check out the other Mugu sights, including that huge pyramid-shaped rock knob known as Point Mugu.

Around the tip of the point, where waves smash against the great rock, you can see the remains of the Coast Highway, which once rounded the point. A deep slot now takes motorists through the middle of the rock. The point is rich in fossil shell fragments and spray-can graffiti. Rock climbers practice their sport on the rock.

Beyond the point, small, sandy Point Mugu Beach extends to Mugu Lagoon and to the U.S. Navy’s Point Mugu Pacific Missile Test Center. Mugu Lagoon, one of Southern California’s largest remaining wetlands, can be viewed from a roadside station off Coast Highway, half a mile up the coast from the Point Mugu Rock. The lagoon, a refuge for thousands of resident and migratory waterfowl, is not open to the public.

Directions to trailhead: Drive about 30 miles up the coast on Pacific Coast Highway (1) from Santa Monica, two miles up-coast from La Jolla Canyon (Ray Miller) Trailhead. Park on the inland side of the highway in a large turnout just opposite the Seabee rifle range.


The Hike: Unsigned Chumash Trail ascends uphill to the east over prickly pear cactus and giant coreopsis-covered slopes. The giant coreopsis, or tree sunflower, is something to behold when it blooms (from March to May). This awkward, thick-trunked perennial grows as tall as 10 feet and greets each spring with a showy display of bright yellow flowers.

Three-quarters of a mile of climbing brings you to an unmarked junction with a trail that contours around Mugu Peak; this path will be your return route from the peak.

Continuing north, you’ll briefly join La Jolla Valley Loop Trail and arrive at a saddle. (La Jolla Valley Loop Trail continues to the native trail grass prairie in La Jolla Valley and connects with several other park trails.) Look sharply eastward for an unsigned path that ascends to Mugu Peak. Enjoy the views of the Pacific, Channel Islands and Mugu Lagoon, as well as the panorama inland of La Jolla Valley and the peaks and canyon of Point Mugu State Park.

From the summit of Mugu Peak, join the path that descends southeast to an old road that circles the peak. Bear right on this path, which contours first west, then north around the peak and returns you to Chumash Trail and, in turn, to the trailhead.

For the Record: In some editions of Saturday View last week, part of the directions in the Day Hike column were omitted. The correct directions are:

The Hike: From the end of Mel Canyon Road, follow the unsigned footpath up the brushy slope. The trail briefly joins a road and continues ascending to a fire department helipad.


Continue on the trail, a short way past the helipad to an unsigned junction, where the trail joins Van Tassel Fire Road. You’ll hike around a locked gate and begin some steep switchbacks. The dirt road climbs to a ridgeline and takes you past big cone spruce, which frame views of San Gabriel peaks. Enjoy the panorama from 3,720 Mt. Bliss; return same way.


Coast Highway to Mugu Peak; three miles round trip; 1,000-foot elevation gain