Escondido means "hidden" in Spanish, a perfect characterization of Escondido Canyon, ensconced in the hills above Malibu. This lovely canyon is hidden from easy view and from better-known Malibu destinations along the coast.
For years it was hidden from hikers, too, because of public- and private-property use disputes. These tussles have been settled, and there is now access to this gem of a canyon. And recent El Nin~o storms haven't damaged it.
The creek bubbling through Escondido Canyon runs all year. Now rain-swollen, it's impressive. At the end of the trail through this box canyon is the hiker's payoff--Escondido Falls, an easy-on-the-eye cascade that pours over limestone rock into a handsome grotto.
Escondido Canyon is but a hop, skip and short hike from Ramirez Canyon, where two conservation groups--the state's Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the nonprofit Mountains Conservancy Foundation--are headquartered in Barbra Streisand's former estate.
The first mile of the walk is along Winding Way, a road that leads by several huge haciendas. Mile 2 of the sojourn is altogether different--along a well-maintained footpath that meanders by the creek under a canopy of oak and sycamore. Newts can often be observed slithering along the trail.
Directions to trail head: From inland locales, exit U.S. 101 in Agoura Hills on Kanan Road and head south 12 miles to Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu (en route Kanan changes to Kanan Dume Road). Turn left (south) and drive 1.5 miles to Winding Way. Turn left, then soon make a right into the signed 10-space parking lot.
If you're heading north on Pacific Coast Highway, you'll spot the Winding Way turnoff about five miles north from Malibu.
The hike: From the parking lot at the base of Winding Way, walk up the paved road. You can follow a sketchy footpath on the left, then the right side of the road, but the scenery is hardly worth the effort.
As you climb, gawk at the houses ahead of you, then about-face and savor the ocean vistas behind you. About a mile from the trail head, you'll close in on a distinct, tree-lined canyon. Join a footpath that traverses a modest-size meadow and follow it to the bottom of Escondido Canyon.
After the trail crosses Escondido Creek, it junctions. The right fork heads down-creek and toward Ramirez Canyon. Take the left branch of the trail and walk up-creek.
A couple of side trails wander over the chaparral-cloaked slopes, but stick with the main trail that follows the creek. Half a mile into the canyon, observe the big waterfall ahead; this glimpse should prove more than sufficient motivation to hike the last half-mile or so to the base of Escondido Falls, which cascade into a moss-lined grotto.
Very skilled scramblers can reach a second falls, nearly three times as high as the first, with a 15-minute climb; however, the slippery canyon slopes make this difficult and even dangerous.
On your return trip, enjoy an optional tour of lower Escondido Canyon via a couple of unsigned footpaths crisscrossing National Park Service land.
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Winding Way, Escondido Canyon Trails
WHERE: Escondido Canyon Natural Area
DISTANCE: 4.2 miles round trip with 300-foot elevation gain.
TERRAIN: Shady coastal canyon near Malibu.
HIGHLIGHTS: Wonderful 50-foot waterfall.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy
PRECAUTIONS: Dangerous footing on canyon walls around upper waterfalls
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, 5750 Ramirez Canyon Road, Malibu, CA 90265; tel: (310) 589-3200