Serrano Valley – La Jolla Valley Scenic Loop

Lynn and Frank at the ranch in Serrano Valley.

This is one of my favorite medium length trail runs in the Santa Monica Mountains. It starts at the Ray Miller trailhead and explores the scenic grasslands of the Serrano and La Jolla Valleys. Along the way there are spectacular ocean and mountain vistas from the Ray Miller Trail and the summit of Mugu Peak.


Serrano Valley
Most of the route is on single track trail, and except for a short out & back segment to “The Ranch” in Serrano Valley, it is a complete loop of about 20 miles. Many variations are possible.

One of the better online maps I’ve found of the area is an Interagency Trail Management Map produced by the NPS Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area GIS Lab. It shows the status of trails and public lands in the Santa Monica Mountains and is broken into three parts: WestCentralEast. Additional NPS SMMNRA trail management plan maps include Proposed Backbone Trail Facilities and Trails and Proposed Regional Trails.

Here is a Cesium browser View of a GPS trace of our route from the Ray Miller trailhead and through Serrano and La Jolla Valleys.

Related post: Serrano Valley – La Jolla Valley Loop, Serrano Valley from the Chamberlain Trail

Serrano Valley – La Jolla Valley Loop

Boney Mountain and Serrano Valley from the Ray Miller Trail.

The idea was to do an interesting trail run that wasn’t quite as long and strenuous as last week’s Bandit 30K Course Preview. That was the idea. I could have calculated the mileage and elevation gain of our projected route, but sometimes part of the fun of trail running is not knowing the exact route, how long it will take, or how strenuous it might be.

This particular exploration would visit two of the most scenic areas in the Santa Monica Mountains — Serrano Valley and La Jolla Valley. Many variations of this loop are possible. Our base route included the Ray Miller/Backbone Trail, Fireline Trail, Serrano Canyon Trail, Serrano Valley Trail, Old Boney Trail, Wood Canyon Vista Trail, La Jolla Valley Loop Trail, La Jolla Canyon Trail and connecting roads.

In addition to its wonderful scenery, this course is characterized by moderate uphills that are generally very runnable. The side trips to to the old ranch site in Serrano Valley, and to Mugu Peak pushed the route beyond the 30K mark, but were worth every step. Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of the route. Since none of us had done the eastern leg of the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail, this time we did Mugu Peak from the east. The route around the valley to the western side of Mugu Peak is also shown.

Here is a Live Browser View of the run.

Some related posts: Serrano Valley from Wendy Drive; La Jolla Valley & Mugu Peak from Wendy Drive; Laguna Peak, La Jolla Valley, and the Channel Islands

Laguna Peak, La Jolla Valley, and the Channel Islands

Laguna Peak, La Jolla Valley, and the Channel Islands (Anacapa and Santa Cruz) from Boney Mountain.

Wow, it was windy! I was on an exposed ridge between Tri-Peaks and Big Dome, getting pushed around by a unrelenting offshore wind, trying to keep my footing, and take a few photos. About the time I was traversing the ridge, Laguna Peak — the peak in the photograph with all the communications equipment on its summit– recorded a gust of 67 mph.

But this is a mere breeze by Laguna Peak standards. A communication facility operated by the U.S. Navy, the weather station has recorded hurricane force winds on numerous occasions. Several of the wind events listed in the NWS document A History of Significant Weather Events in Southern California reference Laguna Peak. In March of 1991 a gust of 125 mph was recorded at the peak.

Update 12/25/07. Merry Christmas! This morning, about 6:15, Laguna Peak recorded a wind gust of 91.8 mph and several gusts in excess of 85 mph. Between 10:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. several gusts over 90 mph were recorded, including one measured at 91.9 mph.

La Jolla Valley is the small valley just below Laguna Peak. Isolated and scenic, it is a “must do” hike or run that can be accessed from the Ray Miller trailhead on PCH, or from Big Sycamore Canyon.

The peak on the left in this wider 16:9 format view is Mugu Peak. Its summit overlooks Pt. Mugu and is a relatively short side trip from the Mugu Trail.

Offshore, two of the Channel Islands can be seen — Anacapa (left) and Santa Cruz.

Chamberlain Rock and Serrano Valley from the Chamberlain Trail

Chamberlain Rock and Serrano Valley from the Chamberlain Trail

From today’s New Year’s Day run over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak and Serrano Valley from Wendy Drive.

Some related posts: Over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak and Serrano Valley, Chamberlain Rock

Running to Serrano and La Jolla Valleys from Wendy Drive

Serrano Valley in Pt. Mugu State Park

Illuminated by the rising sun and partially enveloped in cloud, Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge looked so inviting I thought about abandoning my planned run and climbing the ridge instead.

Boney Mountain's Western Ridge from the Old Boney Trail
Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge from the Old Boney Trail

Pt. Mugu State Park is a great place for long, self-supported trail runs. The scenery is superb, the trails are generally in good condition, and water is usually available in several locations.

Today’s run took me to two of the most scenic areas in the Park — Serrano Valley and La Jolla Valley. This PDF map from LAMountains.com shows many of the trails in the area. The Wendy Drive trailhead is in the upper right corner of the map. La Jolla Valley is marked and Serrano Valley is near the “PARK” in the label “POINT MUGU STATE PARK.”

The marine layer kept the temperature cool for most of the run, but the sun finally broke through as I ran up Sycamore Canyon on the Two Foxes trail, on the way back to the Wendy Drive trailhead.

Although much of the run was overcast, a good selection of wildflowers added some bright color to the cloudy day.

Some related posts: Serrano Valley, La Jolla Valley

La Jolla Valley & Mugu Peak from Wendy Drive

Pt. Mugu from Mugu Peak.

The scat appeared to be a day or two old, and was much bigger than a coyote’s. It was full of fur and could only be from one animal — a mountain lion. The spot had been used before, and it probably wasn’t a coincidence that this was one of the few points along the trail with a good view and nearby cover. I looked into the brush and wondered if unseen eyes looked back.

The sun was well above the horizon, but the first gusts of a developing Santa Ana wind kept the morning cool. No one was on the trail ahead or behind me, and the best I could tell, I was the only two-legged creature within sight.


Spring in La Jolla Valley. Boney Mountain in the distance. March 2002.
Walking slowly from the spot, I surveyed the secluded valley. Perched on the edge of the coastal mountains, La Jolla Valley is extraordinary. Surrounded by wind-sculpted peaks, it is situated above and to the west of Big Sycamore Canyon. Its bottom is carpeted with areas of native and non-native grass. Only a tiny percentage of California’s native perennial grasslands remain, and like the big trees, they are relics of the past. Preservation of this native grassland is probably due to the valley’s proximity to the ocean, and its unique microclimate.

Here, trails have been run and peaks climbed for thousands of years. (Charcoal at an archaeological site in the valley has been dated to a maximum age of 7000 B.P.) Above me a raven calls, and Spirit-like, a gust of wind rustles through the grass. Respectfully, I continue running in the direction of Mugu Peak.

The run from Wendy Dr. was more moderate than expected. The first 3 miles of Sycamore Canyon Fire Road are paved, and whether on the fire road, or the single track trails that parallel the road at times, a fast pace can be maintained down to the junction with Wood Canyon Fire Road.

The Wood Canyon Vista Trail/Backbone Trail takes off right (west) from Sycamore Canyon Fire Road a short distance past the Wood Canyon Fire Road junction. It is moderately graded and very runnable. At it’s top a short zig right (north) on the Overlook Fire Road leads to the La Jolla Valley Fire Road, which can be followed left (west) down into La Jolla Valley.

Many, many variations of this course are possible. Here’s a trail map from the La Jolla Valley Natural Preserve web page. Depending on whether you want the beta, a little time in Google Earth should help clarify the options. This particular course worked out to about 21 miles, with about 2200 ft. of elevation gain/loss. Here’s a Google Earth image and 3D interactive view of a GPS trace of my route.