Mother’s Day Hike: Nicholas Flat

trail in the forest

A trail in the forest: my favorite thing to see

Mother’s Day. Every year for several years now the only thing I want to do on holidays is hike with my family. Without any whining. It seemed like it would happen on Mother’s Day this year—I gave the boys plenty of warning, and it was such a simple request.

But then this morning all three of them were sick. They’re leaving this week on a trip, so it seemed best to let them stay home and rest. So I went on a hike all by myself, and it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Since I knew I was going solo and could therefore go anywhere I wanted, I returned to a beautiful spot that isn’t super popular…yet.

Nicholas Flat

You can approach this area from the south via Malibu Springs Trail at Leo Carillo State Park or from the north at the end of Decker School Road. That was the convenient spot from here, because it’s off Route 23, which begins at Westlake Blvd. It’s a hairpin turn to the right and then just park when you reach the trailhead at the very end. The wide pathway takes you south through a foresty patch and then emerges out into a grassy meadow where you are greeted with this glory:

Nicholas Pond

This pond was dry until the recent rains. 

Bench by pond

A perfect place.

A side trail takes you around the west end of the pond and up into the rocks. As of today there were several fallen rotten tree limbs and one of them jumped out of nowhere and bonked me right on the head. Okay that was actually my fault because I was rushing up to the rocks, racing against my dying phone battery and distracted by a text (out here where there’s no service!). Lesson learned, nature. I’ll pay better attention.

Nicholas Pond

West end of Nicholas Pond

The side scramble and even the head bonking were totally worth it though because this:

Pacific Ocean from Nicholas Flat

I played around with trying to get a good picture of myself in this spot…


New profile pic

But that wasn’t the point of the hike, I promise. It was solitude and freedom to explore without anybody whining or standing around impatiently waiting for me to find a geocache. Which I did. Several times, and it was fun. So there. Happy Geocaching Nerd Mother’s Day to me.

Wildflowers in meadow

Had to bushwhack to find a cache. Rewarded with this view.

Wildflowers on trail

Nicholas Flats Road trail


View from trail. Lots of brush, worried about snakes.

snake on trail

This was the only one I saw today, and he left quickly.

plastic rat

Rat in a geocache!

burned trees

Entering the Fire Swamp

My total hiking time was 2.5 hours, but you can easily park at the trailhead and be at the pond and then the ocean view in less than 20 minutes. I bopped around and took lots of pictures (these are the best) and stopped at the above bench to pull all the pokey things out of my shoes and socks. By the time I got home, I was relaxed and accomplished, and my boys had cleaned the entire house even though they weren’t feeling good. Wins all around.

I’m curious about approaching this area from the beach, plus there are a few more caches out there that I’d like to find, so I’d like to go back sooner than later. People get really protective of their favorite hiking spots and caution you about telling everyone about them so they don’t get too popular and crowded. So keep Nicholas Flat and its trails between us, okay?

Decker School Road

Phantom Trail Hike From Mulholland

phantom trail view south

View from above Phantom Trail trailhead, south over Malibu Creek State Park

Spring is such a wonderful time to go hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains. It had been a while since I took myself on a good long hike, so yesterday I chose to return to a pretty section of trail that I went to once a few years ago: the Phantom Trail starting at Mulholland and heading north.


For an easily accessed trail that takes you away from the world, this is a really good choice. You can also get there from the south end of Liberty Canyon – just park on the road and trek in, passing through a wide meadow and veering off to the right to connect with the Phantom Trail. But I’ve been on that section of Liberty Canyon several times (it’s my go-to for a quick escape) and I wanted to try the other approach.

Parking for Phantom Mulholland

Park at a wide spot in the road on the south side of Mulholland just under 2 miles west of Las Virgenes. The trailhead is on the north side of the street. Switchbacks take you up the shaded hillside – maintenance has just been done and there was freshly cut green brush on the sides of trail – and get you quickly up above Mulholland with a nice view of your car.


The trail heads north with some mildly challenging climbs but they are short and not too rocky. The main trail winds around to the side of the steepest climbs but you can choose to take the hard way up – and get the better views.


Other portions of the trail are pretty overgrown – they are absolutely beautiful and beckoning but make sure you do a tick check when you’re done with your hike.


Right now the wildflowers are in bloom and in the sections where the trail dips into little valleys, mature mustard plants light the way for you like beacons on a runway. Yellow daisies (actually it’s a common sunflower – who knew?), mariposa lilies, and of course poppies and plenty of others light up the hillsides everywhere you look.

IMG_5256Mustard flower runway


IMG_5303Common sunflower



IMG_5335Mariposa lily

I hiked north up the Phantom Trail and turned west in the meadow where if you go straight you go up into Liberty Canyon. Along the ridge to the west you dip into more colorful little valleys and then up at the crest there are amazing views of the mountains beyond.



I think this is Ladyface but I’m really bad at identifying these peaks. Could be Ballard Mountain too. Anyone know?

I hiked in for about 2 hours, stopping a few times to find geocaches or to take pictures or to nurse my eye (bending down to pick something up a random stick stabbed me in the eyeball. Fortunately I think it will be fine.). I decided to turn around when I came to this steep downhill stretch:


Even though I am perfectly capable of this short descent, I didn’t want to push my luck. Had to be safe and sound and back to pick up the kids from school. So, I took the road less likely to lead to injury alone in the wilderness – I went back the way I came. Without stopping, it took me an hour to return to the trailhead.


Cairn says you’re going the right way

I measured the distance on Google Maps and it looks like in total I hiked less than 4 miles! But it felt like a lot more! I didn’t see one other human on the trail the entire time I was out there. It was a really nice break from my busy life – nobody out there but me, the lizards, birds, and bugs.

(Side note – my friend Andrea just published a post about hiking and included some pictures of me geocaching. A little dorky but her post has great pix of Griffith Park and I love to spread the love of hiking!)


First Hike of the Year – Simi Peak and China Flats

IMG_7494China Flats, on the way up to Simi Peak

Thanks to a standing arrangement with my friend Deb, I take a hike about once a week, and usually somewhere that is new to me. Deb is an important part of this because without a person who will expect me to go somewhere, I will stay in my house sitting at my desk and basically just atrophying while the kids are at school. Also, she knows all the trails and she usually drives.

This week it was Simi Peak and a short jaunt through a mountaintop meadow called China Flats. Technical expertise on this hike can be found here at Nobody Hikes in LA. I’m just here to show you how amazeballs it is at the top:


The first mile is a very do-able climb up. We were passed by a dog (and its owner).


We stopped at a lower peak to get a geocache, because that is how we roll.


Then the trail snakes around the back of the mountain and goes through these beautiful oak groves and meadows.

IMG_7479If you look closer you can see a hobbit.


And here is the view from the top. That road that heads south off to the other mountains is Lindero Canyon.


To the west you can see the ocean. Well, I guess you had to be there.


Just hanging out. In that metal drum below me is a log book you can sign to show you reached the peak.


Then we turned around and went back down the way we came up. It only took us about 3 hours, with a few breaks. I recommend!