If you're looking for a hike that combines lush shaded trails, exposed steep climbs, a solid workout and gorgeous ocean views than this is the hike for you. Quite honestly, coming into this hike we weren't prepared for the workout we were about to get, but the effort it took to reach the peak of this hike made it all worth it.
Skull Rock, the large head-shaped rock formation that is the "goal" for this hike, is reached through a branch off of the Temescal Canyon Loop. The entirety of this hike (The Loop + extension hike to Skull Rock) totals roughly 4-4.5 miles.
There is easy access parking just inside the park entrance to the left. The parking fee is currently $7, but you can also park free of charge on the street - either Sunset or Temescal Canyon Road.
Park as far west as you can in the lot - make sure you display your parking pass clearly on your dash, there are a lot of rangers on duty! On the western edge of the lot you will see an entrance to a trail head that leads down past a debris dam and on into the woods - this is where your hike will begin!
This part of the trail is very enjoyable on a hot sunny afternoon like the day we hiked. The trail will wind you through a heavily shaded wooded area, over a few small foot bridges and past some trees with beautiful windy branches and roots that reach out across the creek bed.
Along this trail you will notice a number of smaller offshoot trails - ignore them, generally staying to the left. You will travel about 1/2 a mile through this wooded area before reaching the Temescal Canyon Trail (to your right) and the Temescal Ridge Trail (to your left). There are a number of signs here, making it pretty obvious. Due to the heat we decided to follow the trail on the right. While this trail is very steep and rocky, it offers much more shade and coverage and as I mentioned earlier, the hard work we put into trekking up this trail really paid off when we reached the top.
From this point on, if you're traveling with your pup, unfortunately, you will have to turn back - no pooches allowed. This small section of the trail is pretty clear and easy to follow with only a slight incline. About a quarter of a mile in you will reach bit of pavement just past a camp building, ignore the other trails, and continue along in the same direction. The trail is a little hard to see here, but it's not too hard to follow. Eventually you will come upon another abandoned camp building where the trail leads begins to ascend up the mountain. This is where the difficulty of the trail increases a bit - it is a fairly steep climb and a bit more rugged than the previous trails.
Around 1 1/2 miles in you’ll arrive at the Temescal Waterfalls - which unfortunately, at this point in time, can hardly be called a puddle. Typically there is a small cascade of water flowing down the rocks into the creek, but due to this terrible drought we're in the midst of, all we got to see was a stagnant pool of water, algae and flies. Still, even without the falls, this is a nice place to take a break, hangout on the large boulders, have a snack and just take in the beauty of the area.
After you cross the bridge the incline in the trail continues to become steeper. From this point it's about another 1/2 mile before you reach another junction. At this point you will ignore the trail to your left (the Sunset Trail) and continue straight in order to join the Ridge Trail. Here you will keep making your way up - but I promise, you're almost there and the views begin to really open up.
Once you reach the main ridge, continue northward - it's just about another 1/4 mile until you reach the base of Skull Rock. You should be able to begin making out Skull Rock in the distance ahead from this area.
The trail will lead you directly up to the Skull Rock and from here there are a few trails leading all around the sandstone rock formation allowing you to explore this area and find some really great vantage points to look down and out on to the Pacific Ocean below. It's a fun spot to take a break - you can club in, on and all around the rock - I honestly didn't want to leave, I could have stayed up there and taken in the views all afternoon.
Once you've had your fill exploring Skull Rock you will head out on your descent to finish your loop. Head back the way you came until you return to the Temescal Ridge Trail junction. If you're tracking your mileage, you'll be about 2.8-3 miles into your hike at this point. Where earlier, you ignored the Sunset Trail, this time you will follow this trail up to your right. You’ll pass by the Bienveneda Trail on your right, but be sure to follow the Sunset Trail signs to lead you back down to where you began.
It's a more exposed and steep descent, but from here the views of the coastline just keep getting better and better!
It's only about 1 1/5 miles back down to the parking lot where you began - the trail will drop you back at your first junction (Temescal Canyon Trail vs. Temescal Ridge Trail) and from here you'll do some backtracking through the wooded area where you began your hike - again ignore the offshoot trails, this time staying to the right. It took us a while to get back to the car because we kept getting distracted by the incredible views and photo opportunities!
How to get there: Both the trailhead and parking area are located in the Pacific Palisades right at the cross streets of Sunset Blvd. and Temescal Canyon Rd.
Address: 15900 Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272