Mugu, Mountain Lions, and Miles - Hiking La Jolla Valley Loop

A couple of months ago I took an awesome, adventurous, and almost life-threatening hike into the Santa Monica Mountains. Some friends invited me to go camping at Point Mugu State Park in Malibu and how could I resist,  beach, mountains, and bonfires; perfection! I found the La Jolla Valley Loop hike in my 101 Hikes in Southern California guide book and it seemed like a great day trip. Since everyone else opted for a relaxing day at the beach, I was on my own.

From the north side of the campground a trail begins with a sign saying Sycamore Canyon Fire Road. This trail winds 0.4 miles and meets up with the Overlook Fire Trail where you take a left. Following this trail 2.9 miles until it meets up with the Wood Canyon Vista Trail, take another left. As you wind up this trail you can see the 1,567 foot La Jolla Peak to your right and stunning ocean views to your left around the bends. Following the La Jolla Valley Loop trail you come up to the old walk-in camp that was destroyed by a fire in early 2013. From here the trail opens up into a safari-looking valley. The fire destroyed many of the signs and it took me a couple of trial and errors to find the correct trail but the good news is with the wide open valley, you can see Mugu Peak and if you head toward the ocean, the trail eventually becomes clear again. The Loop Trail meets up with the Chumash Trail overlooking the ocean at 6.7miles. To your left, there's a steep trail and a 5-minute climb takes you to the summit of the 1,266 foot Mugu Peak.

At this point on my hike I was having a nice leisurely adventure. I reached Mugu peak at 2:30 and figured the sun didn't go down until 5:00 and according to my map, it was only a 3-mile descent so I figured maybe another hour at the most. What I didn't calculate in was the extra trail I had taken from camp to meet up with the map trail or that the canyons would already be getting dark at this point. My goal suddenly became, get to the trailhead parking lot and walk along the highway back to camp. I began running.

As I made the last turn from Mugu Peak Trail to La Jolla Canyon Trail I came upon my biggest fear. I was suddenly SURROUNDED by mountain lion caves. The only thing I knew about large predators at the time was don't run! So now with the impending sunset, no headlamp, and no weapon I had to nervously hike with my walking stick pointed outward praying for the best. Suddenly, I felt as though I was being stalked. I was singing at the top of my lungs and crying when I made a turn and saw two mountain lions sitting in the cave above me. I froze! I looked at the map, realized there was no way to turn around and get out before dark, and decided to continue past them. As soon as I was out of their view, I could see the parking lot and ran for my life! I reached the Pacific Coast Highway and walked the remaining two miles back to camp. Watch the whole adventure! 

All in all, the hike took me 6 hours and came out to almost 14 miles. This was a beautiful day hike but I highly recommend the following safety precautions here or on any other solo trip.

  • ALWAYS let someone know where you're going and when you should be expected back. (I had a friend take a picture of my map and told her when I planned to be back at camp).

  • NEVER run from a predator.

  • Be LOUD to let animals know you are there. You never want to spook something that can eat you!

  • Carry a walking stick and preferably a knife to protect against possible attacks.

  • Bring a headlamp in case you find yourself lacking in daylight.

  • Wear high boots or jeans to protect against possible rattlesnakes. (Unless you're in wet conditions where jeans can be very hazardous because they trap in the cold).

  • Carry lots of water. California is hot and long day hikes require lots of hydration.

  • Carry food to keep you healthy, energized, and alert.

  • Know your map! Make sure you calculate time for extra trails and lost switchbacks.

  • Know what is out there (and how to handle it)

  • Be prepared for any adverse conditions you may find yourself in.

I will do a follow-up blog with more safety tips that I've learned on my adventures. This trip taught me that I have a lot to learn if I'm going to attempt more solo trips. Since this hike, I've been doing my research and learning what to do in these situations and buying necessary items for worst-case scenarios. Preparation and knowledge are the key to safety. Happy (SAFE) Trails!