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Hikes with Kids: Topanga State Park's Santa Ynez Canyon

Sometimes there is nothing better than a nice family-friendly canyon hike, whether it is a hot summer day or a chilly December weekend. Topanga State Park's Santa Ynez Canyon offers a shady, easy-to-follow, and relatively flat trail along Santa Ynez Creek, with the option to go all the way to the park's main parking lot and activity center at Trippet Ranch. This is a great hike for kids, though a baby must be in a carrier, as much of the trail is single track—but LA is full of stroller-friendly hikes if that's what you need.

(For more hike ideas, check out our family hiking guide!)

Santa Ynez Canyon from the Santa Ynez Trailhead

  • The hike goes out and back, so you control the distance; about two easy miles maximum if you stay along the creek, or 5.3 miles to Trippet Ranch and back
  • No dogs
  • Bikes on fire roads only
  • No water or bathrooms available at trailhead or along creek; both are at Trippet Ranch

Bring: water, snacks, camera, and sunscreen or jacket, depending on the weather; tennis or running shoes
Look for: birds, snakes, lizards, deer, wildflowers, poison oak, mushrooms, big sycamore leaves, walls of ferns
Listen for: different types of birds, the wind in the trees, small creatures running in the underbrush
Highlights: small caves in the walls along the trail; creek crossings when there is water; views of ocean and the treetops of the canyon if you hike to the first ridge or farther.

Family Hike in Topanga State ParkThis hike begins at the Santa Ynez Trailhead at approximately 17391 Vereda de la Montura in Pacific Palisades; the road is gated past this point. There is free street parking, but no bathrooms or water is available. The trailhead is clearly marked. Be aware, though, that while the mileage sign says Trippet Ranch is 2.1 miles, the GPS says it is closer to 2.7 miles.

After crossing a small concrete spillway complete with built-in stepping stones, the adventure begins! There are a few creek crossings, and though every creek crossing has rocks set up to help you across, you might still get your feet wet if the creek is running (it is often dry). You will pass another mileage sign, a small cave off to the right, and at approximately half a mile a signpost directing you to "Trippet" (left) or "waterfall" (right)—you want to go left. Note that the waterfall trail is not well marked and involves a fair amount of climbing the rocks (bouldering) in and at the edge of the creek bed.

For the next half mile, the trail follows and crosses the creek several more times. There are many ferns growing in the canyon wall along this section of the creek, and there is a small cave up in the left-hand wall. This is a popular place to stop for a snack, as the kids can explore, and there are some seat-sized rocks along the trail for those who want to eat or rest.

At just over one mile from the trailhead, the trail makes a sharp right turn, and there are wood beams placed to create some stairs. This is where the trail leaves the creek and begins the trip out of the canyon—you can turn around now, go up to the first ridge, or continue to Trippet Ranch. The first ridge offers a very large rock that makes a great place for a picnic (but watch the dropoff!), and you can catch the treetop view back down the canyon. In the fall, the canyon is a sea of yellow sycamores. Beginning at this point, you are much more likely to see lizards—lots of them—and maybe a snake too.

For those who want to continue on, the trail becomes much more exposed (if it's hot out, it will be very hot on the trail) and features a relentless uphill climb. My kids first did this full hike at ages 7 and 10, without too much whining. Be sure you have plenty of water if you continue on. It is only about another three-quarters of a mile to Trippet Ranch with its water, bathrooms, picnic tables, pond, and nature display, but it will seem farther. Soon you will see a very large rock ahead, and maybe people climbing or sitting on it. After you pass this rock and continue up, you will reach another sign post. Turn right here to Trippet Ranch; you have entered the nature trail from the back. Continue to the fire road and turn left (downhill); the fire road is more crowded, and you will soon reach the Trippet parking lot.

Enjoy Trippet Ranch—visit the pond, rest at the tables, talk to the docents who many be out with displays, play on the lawn. You have to go back up the fire road to rejoin the nature trail, and then follow the sign post to Santa Ynez. From that signpost, it's all downhill!

Santa Ynez Trailhead
17391 Vereda de la Montura
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272