The Temescal Loop trail is one of my favorite hikes on days when the sun dips low. This variation includes a side trip further up the ridge to Skull Rock. And yes, it really does look like a skull (with a little imagination).
This hiking trail begins and ends in Temescal Gateway Park, located at 15601 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades (at the intersection of Temescal Canyon Road and Sunset Boulevard). You can either find free parking on Temescal Canyon Road or pay for parking in the park (at the time of writing, $7 which you put in an envelope and slip in a locked box). As you head into the canyon, you’ll reach a series of buildings that are part of a conference center. There are restrooms here with actual plumbing, as well as an information kisok with details on the history of the canyon and a map.
NOTE: The maps on the kiosk show only the trails in the Temescal Gateway Park, and not the adjacent Topanga State Park. The route described here is not fully shown on the kiosk maps, as this loop enters Topanga State Park.
Being a loop hike, you can hike this in either direction. I hiked counter-clockwise, heading up the canyon first, then to Skull Rock, and finally down the ridge trail. This gives you more shade on the uphill section and would be my recommendation. If you insist on going clockwise, I’ve got you covered.
Starting in the back of Temescal Gateway Park, continue back up the canyon on the Temescal Canyon Trail, passing the rustic buildings that are still used for conferences, meetings and presentations. As you wind further back up the shady canyon, the trail becomes more quiet as you leave the “picnic crowd” behind.
The canyon trail is mostly shady and snakes along the typically dry Temescal Creek. You’ll pass a number of building for the conference center — but just keep heading back into the canyon and pretty soon the trail becomes very clear and easy to follow.
At about the 1.2 mile mark (starting at Sunset Blvd.) the trail starts to climb more seriously. It maintains a steady climb all the way to Skull Rock, but first you’ll see the (mythical?) waterfall.
You’ll know you have reached the waterfall when you get to the bridge. If you didn’t know there was a waterfall here, you might walk right by it, because every time I’ve hiked here, even the day after rain, it’s been nothing more than a trickle.
They mythical quality of this waterfall? Explained by this photo from the information kiosk.
The next half mile the trail climbs out of the canyon to the ridgeline. Much of this portion of the trail is shaded, making it a good choice for staying cool(er) on the climb. When you see a break in the brush, stop and soak in the view back down the canyon.
When you reach the junction with the ridgeline trail, you have a choice. Turn left and return to the trailhead via the ridgeline trail, or turn right to continue up hill to Skull Rock. This out-and-back spur adds one mile to the hike, but is worth a visit.
The trail runs near Skull Rock, but continues up the ridge deep into Topanga State Park. To reach Skull Rock, look for one of several use trails on the left leading to the rock outcrop.
From atop the rock, it doesn’t really look like much of a skull, but the view is pretty awesome. Looking south the sweeping arc of the coastline stretches out before you, reaching to distinctive Palos Verdes. On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island.
In the photo below you can see the Temescal Ridge Trail that you’ll take to return to the trailhead.
You’ve climbed uphill to this point. The remainder of this hike will be downhill.
Scramble back to the trail, then retrace your steps to the junction with the canyon trail. This time, you’ll head straight ahead and take the Temescal Ridge Trail back down to the trailhead.
Note that as you descend you will pass two junctions that lead down to residential communities nowhere near your car. Stay on the ridge trail and follow it down. Eventually you’ll reach a series of switchbacks that descend the canyon and return you to your starting point.
Skull Rock and Temescal Loop Trail Map
Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.
Skull Rock Tips
- The best time to hike this is late in the day as the sun dips low in the sky.
- Watch out for the stop light cameras in Temescal Canyon!
- You can pay for parking in the park, or park on the street for free (pay heed to the signs).
More Temescal Canyon Resources
- Top Trails: Los Angeles by Jerry Schad
- Temescal Gateway Park – official website
- Temescal Canyon Trail Map – printable PDF
- Only like hiking loops in a clockwise direction? No problem.