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!)


Gear Review: Contigo Water Bottle To Keep Drinks Cold

Use the Flip Chill bottle when it’s extra hot outside to keep cold liquids cold longer.

little league baseball batter

My kids participate in sports leagues outside of school, and one of the must-haves that go with them to every practice or game is a reusable water bottle. We have at least 2 dozen of them in various states of cleanliness and in various locations at any given time: in my car, in their dad’s car, in their sports bag, in their other sports bag, or worst, left behind at the sports field or venue.


That’s better than getting a new plastic bottle of water every time we go somewhere though. And I hope that when we misplace or lose one, someone else finds it, washes it well, and makes use of it.

Now that summer is coming again and California is in a drought, leaving us all parched and dry and drinking more water than usual, those water bottles are even more important. My younger son plays baseball a few times a week, and when there are games, it’s usually blazing hot and the sun beats directly down on the dugout. That means that any water he brings, even if I put ice in the bottle, basically gets heated up while he’s on the field.

Contigo Flip Chill Water Bottle


It’s a perfect time to test out a new bottle. Contigo’s new Flip Chill water bottle has Thermalock Vacuum Insulation – it’s a double wall of stainless steel between your beverage and the elements that is meant to keep the cold inside. I have been a fan of the Contigo water bottle for several years. This one has a flip-top spout that can be locked back down when not being used, keeping the sipping area hidden. That way the place where your child puts his mouth is less likely to be rolled in the dirt that accumulates in the dugout from the field.

We tested the bottle at baseball practices and games, and at school. Each time, I filled the bottle with cold water and ice and sent the boy on his way.

At school, it worked perfectly. The bottle comes into class with my son or he leaves it in his backpack, which is under shade most of the day. He reported that his water stayed cold until he finished it.

At the field, though, the sun was just too strong, and this particular bottle only comes in a 10 oz. size, which is perfect for younger kids. My 8-year-old plays hard, though, and while the bottle kept the water cold, that water was gone quickly. Refills from the baseball field’s water fountain were only mildly cold.

mom and boys hiking

The bottle is certainly an improvement on just a plain old single-walled one, and we do really like it. It’s good for car rides, school days, even short hikes. If it ever comes in a larger size, that will be the perfect one for my big sweaty boys.

Contigo AUTOSPOUT® Flip Chill Kids Water Bottle