The Stunt High Trail is a short but very worthwhile hike in the central Santa Monica Mountains just north of Saddle Peak. It winds first through a riparian habitat along Cold Creek before passing through grassland and oaks. Later the trail enters a magnificent chaparral forest. The trail starts and ends at Stunt Road and along its path it also crosses the road once. The Cold Creek watershed is a true gem in the Santa Monica Mountains and during springtime it overflows with an abundant display of wildflowers. The hike described here starting and ending on Stunt Road totals to about 4.5 miles roundtrip with a little more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
The easiest way to the trailhead is from Mulholland Highway. From the south (Pacific Coast Highway) you can take Malibu Canyon Road north or from the north (Freeway 101) you can take Las Virgenes Road south. The intersection with Mulholland Highway is just north of the entrance to Malibu Creek State Park. Drive on Mulholland Highway east to the intersection of Stunt Road. Take this road south for about one mile to a parking area to the right (west side of the road). Across Stunt Road a fire road (Calabasas Peak Motorway) leads north towards Calabasas Peak.
From the trailhead ((1,250’) at the parking area, go past the gate, which is located at the south end, and descend to the east slightly to Cold Creek. You cross the stream and follow the old road after a sharp turn to the west along the left (south) bank of the creek. There is plenty of Poison Oak along the creek in this area. The trail soon ascends and follows the creek high above the bank. After about half a mile, the trail turns left (south) at a large rock (1,100’). That turn is easy to miss as the main trail seems to go straight. There is an old and weathered sign at the turn-off, but the description is no longer legible.
The trail now ascends rather steeply and enters a beautiful meadow. You will hear the noise of an intermittent creek to the right. Soon you will pass the sign to Stunt Ranch to the right. The Stunt Ranch buildings, which are currently operated by the University of California, Los Angeles, burned in the 1993 fire and are supposed to be re-built in the next few years. The Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve is a 310-acre biological field station. The UCLA Reserve officially joined the University of California Natural Reserve System (UC NRS) in November 1995, becoming the system's 32nd site and the only one administered by the Los Angeles campus. Dedicated to contributing to the understanding and wise management of the Earth and its natural ecosystems, the mission of the Reserve is to support university-level teaching, research, and public service at Stunt Ranch and other protected natural areas in the heavily urbanized Los Angeles area.
Cold Creek Canyon
After crossing the meadow and a few switchbacks the trail crosses the entrance road to Stunt Ranch. The continuation of the trail is just across the road. Shortly the trail intersects the Stunt Road for the first time (1.3 miles from the start). Keep walking on the road to the west (downhill) for a short distance and find the trail on the opposite (south) side of the road among the oaks. The continuation of the Stunt High Trail here is also easy to miss. The trail soon ascends moderately steeply in many switchbacks through a beautiful chaparral forest. During springtime the smell of Ceanothus can be overwhelming and Manzanitas boast their delicate flowers and showcase their “little apples”.
At times the chaparral is low enough to allow sweeping views over the Cold Creek Canyon and towering Calabasas Peak to the south and east. Too soon will the trail intersect the Stunt Road for the second time (1,970’), which marks the end of the hike (2.2 miles from the start). From there you can retrace your steps and return the way you came or you can turn right (downhill) on Stunt Road for a short distance to pick up a trail on the opposite side of the road, which intersects with the Backbone Trail. From there you can choose to hike to Saddle Peak (2,805’). The excursion to Saddle Peak will add more than 2 miles and a little less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain to the hike.