Winter Adventure: Solstice Canyon


A popular, high-reward “starter hike” for families can be found just up the PCH at Solstice Canyon. The box canyon has a steeper, higher loop that more experienced hikers can add on to the adventure, with even more of what Solstice is known for – waterfall elements and abandoned homesteads. Now is the perfect time to explore. In fact, just cruising up the traffic-free coastline on a winter Sunday morning made us feel lucky to live in CA and, as always, we love any chance to explore a new corner of our National Park System.

We had heard about Solstice for years, but it took a New Year’s Resolution (to hike more!) to explore it for ourself. We cruised through Malibu, gawking at the Channel Island peeking through the rising fog, and turned left on Corral Canyon Road (at the 76 Station just past Pepperdine). We almost parked in the first six-car lot right off the main road, but realized we could continue on to a larger trailhead where we found about fifty parking spots, restrooms, and a Ranger Education Center.  We parked easily before 10:00 AM, but when we returned a few hours later, the lot was full and several enthusiastic (patient) hikers waited to swing into our slot.

The Solstice Canyon Trail is an easy 2.1 miles round trip. A wide path that leads from the parking lot up to the area’s main attraction – a waterfall and the dramatic ruins of the Roberts Guest House.  It’s an easy first adventure for kids because it is relatively flat and safe, and is usually full of other families doing the same time. Best of all, parents can tease the story of the Roberts family along the way and hold out the waterfall itself as incentive.

Keller House Ruins

The trail runs by the ruins or an early hunting canyon (Keller House), one of the earliest in all of Malibu. Traipsing around the ruins helps kids imagine that people lived in the canyons before the land became accessible to the public.

The waterfall itself is hidden behind the ruined mansion and kids will love scrambling around boulders to get to the base. It is slightly precarious, so make sure they’re wearing sneakers and are thoughtful about where they place their feet.

Be sure to bring a picnic and set up in the ruins, and is all that is left of the Roberts Ranch House, a modern home designed by the famous architect Paul R. Williams in 1952. The Roberts family developed a successful chain of grocery stores, and hired Williams to build their retirement retreat – which was set into the hillside and was the basis for a cattle ranch. Roberts owned over 1000 acres in Solstice Canyon, purchasing them in bits and pieces over the years.The land was previously the site of the Chumash village of Loxostoxni. Between 1961-73, the Roberts family leased some of their land to Space Technology Laboratories, Inc. (part of Thomson-Ramo-Woolridge, Inc.) to test rare calibrated satellites.

Roberts Ranch House by Paul R Williams

Over the years, because of the box canyon’s vulnerability to fires, the home’s elaborate fire-proof systems preserved the landmark. But tragically, after Mr. Roberts’ death, the fire-protection lapsed and the homestead burned down in 1982. Some 500 acres of the Canyon was acquired by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy in 1988. Here’s the full story on the Paul R. Williams site, including photos by the architectural photographer, Julius Shulman.

Residence, Roberts Ranch House by Julius Shulman

To Hike More:

For a slightly longer, more elevated hike, take the Rising Sun Trail route, which is 1.5 miles and allows for better views out through the canyon to the ocean.

If you take this first, and loop back on Solstice Canyon Trail, the total distance is 3.4 miles – and takes between 1.5-2 hours. You’ll be treated to lovely views of the Pacific, beautiful sycamore trees, and a lot of sky.

More experienced hikers can trek higher on the Sostomo Trail/Deer Valley loop (additional 3.9 miles). Be sure to bring a map, because the trail is not as well-marked in higher elevations. There is a random chimneys sitting atop a ridge, plenty of bushwhacking over fallen trees, and more wonderful views. Our dog (necessarily on a leash!) enjoyed splashing in the water and despite feeling lost more than once, we felt connected to the history of early Malibu settlers and grateful for the Conservancy for preserving this special coastal enclave.

Where to stop in Malibu:

A shopping center at the base of Pepperdine has a Ralph’s (for hiking snacks), a Starbucks and a great frozen yogurt shop (Malibu Yogurt and Ice Cream). You’d have to be more dressed up to enjoy brunch at Ollo  – but that looks like it’s worth a return visit. The Malibu Farm Pier Cafe is a pretty perfect casual spot, or stop in to Cross Creek, where you can pick up a sandwich to go at Malibu Kitchen and Gourmet Market or John’s Garden.

To Learn More:

The Paul Revere Williams website categorizes all the work of LA’s pioneer African American architect, who designed many of the homes and public buildings in LA.

SOLSTICE CANYON: Intersection of Corral Canyon Road and Solstice Canyon Road, Malibu 90265. Main parking area open from 8:00 am to Sunset.