Murphy’s Ranch: Abandoned Nazi Camp in Santa Monica

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When I first heard about this place it seemed almost too crazy to believe, an abandoned Nazi camp in the rich area of the Pacific Palisades that you can hike to. Then after reading countless reviews on friends blogs I knew I needed to see it for myself so I set out.

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Details

  • Street parking is free
  • 4 miles round trip and about 600 feet of elevation
  • Over 500 stairs so make sure you can handle it

History

The history on this area is a little sketchy and put together but I will do my best to write what I have heard. In the early 1900′s, during the first world war, Winona and Norman Stephens were convinced by a German named Herr Schmidt that when Germany ultimately won the war, the American government would not be able to stay afloat thus leading to a time of anarchy in the United States. During that time they would be able to live in their self-sustaining community and then come out when the opportunity presenting itself to help with the German take over. So with that convincing they set out to build a massive area they could use to keep them safe during the war.

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As we all know that didn’t happen and around the time of Pearl Harbor they were taken into custody from their home. All in all it is said that over 4 million dollars was invested into this ranch and they were able to create a pretty amazing set of structures with that money. Among what they made was a power station, machine shed, fully irrigated hillside for growing food, raised gardens, a massive water tank and even a place to store diesel fuel. They also built multiple cement stairs up the side of the neighboring hill to help with the farming and to patrol the area. They planned to build a four story mansion here as well but it was said to have fallen through.

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All that is left standing today is the power station, water tank, gardens and the collapsed machine shed.

Getting there

It is hard to give an exact trailhead address for this hike but the address I put in my phone was the corner of Capri Drive and Casale Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 which will take you to the start of Sullivan Ridge Fire Road, the road that you will be walking. Just make sure you read the parking signs, but there was a lot of street parking here.

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The Hike

After parking you will want to proceed on Sullivan Ridge Road. This will wind down around some beautiful houses before turning to a run down area that you walk through to get to the main dirt road.

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Here you will see the yellow road block telling you are entering Topanga Canyon and you will just continue on the dirt  road for about another 3/5ths of a mile. When you get to about the max elevation you will see a beautiful view of the Malibu and Santa Monica coastline to your left and the start of the chain link fence in front of you.

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About 100 yards from here you will see a cut out in the chain link fence that you can walk through to get to the top of the stairs.

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If you don’t see this one there is another 3 minutes further next to a water tank and 10 min further is the old abandoned gate for the road down to the compound so you have a lot of chances to get there.

The Stairs

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First thing to note, when I was there on a Saturday morning there literally was none one else here. From the moment I got to the stairs till when I got back to the road I didn’t see a soul. This made for good pictures for me but others could find this creepy so just be warned.

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These stairs are not for the faint of heart. They drop 250 feet of elevation in only a hundred yards or so and they seem to just drop off in front of you. Just continue down and you get some cool views of the canyon around you and the overhanging plants that form a tunnel over some parts of the stairs.

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After the long climb down proceed to the left which will drop you in this small field complete with a graffiti covered wall.

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About 50 yards past this area you will see the powerhouse.

The Powerhouse

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The powerhouse itself is actually really well-kept together. Sure, it is covered in graffiti, but it still seems structurally sound. I walked in and explored it and while I hate graffiti it was pretty crazy the urban decay on this place especially for photography.

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You can even climb the ladder in the middle that will get you all the way onto the roof.

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Here are some of my favorite pictures from the area.

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The Machine Shed

If you head North from the power house you will shortly reach the remains of the machine shed.

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As you can see the machine shed is not much more than some broken down pieces of ruble but it is still fun to photograph and explore.

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After the machine shed I went back to the powerhouse and took the stairs to the right up to the gardens

The Gardens

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All that is left of the gardens are some raised cement beds that have become overgrown with the grass of the area. They are unique in that there are a decent amount of them though. This also provides a good view of the powerhouse from above as well before heading back to the dirt road.

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As you proceed up these steps they will empty you out on a dirt road. If you want to go back to the first steps head right but if you want to go up to the entrance of the compound head left and proceed a half mile up the road which I recommend as it will take you to the main gate.

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You will know you’re getting close when you reach the massive water tower they have right next to the road and when you round the bend you will see the gate.

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The gate was simply the main entrance to the compound all of those years ago. It has been kept together well and is a great photo opportunity  After that head up Sullivan Fire Road, which you are now on again and back to your car, completing the loop. On the way back you will see what looks like another entrance down to the ruins if you miss the first one.

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For the photographer I cannot recommend Murphey’s Ranch enough, it is a super unique place to capture a ton of different photos while exploring this strange part of LA history. You can see the rest of my pictures below and get directions to go check it out for yourself. I would also love it if you would leave a comment as well as this post is over 1100 words so I would amazed if anyone read to the end!

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  • http://twitter.com/last_adventurer Last Adventurer

    Yes, I read all 1100 words. That is crazy stuff – where did you hear about this? Also, it seems really CLEAN – where is all the trash?

    • Snook

      It’s actually quite dirty there with many spray paint bottles, beer bottles, plastic bags, etc. You can’t really tell from the pictures but it’s one of the more dirty abandoned sites I have ever been to.

  • http://twitter.com/TheSoCalHiker Jeff Hester

    Awesome trip report. Awesome-er photos! This looks like a fun place to explore, and definitely a must-hike for photography fans looking for some urban decay.

    BTW, feel free to hit me up to hike anytime you’re up this way again.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! Ya it is a cool place to explore! I didn’t know you were up that way, would love to meet up for a hike again

  • Snook

    Really great pictures of the place! make me want to go back again.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks! It really is a photographers playground!

  • http://www.facebook.com/yvonne.ruiz3 Yvonne Ruiz

    Yes, very interesting and very strange! Cool write-up!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! It is worth checking out for sure!

  • Ba d’Water

    Try hauling a drum set, three amps and three guitars through these trails! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iii32W-3Rts

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      haha Wow that is crazy! Does make for a cool background for the video though! Kinda makes hauling it worth it right?

  • Candace Agnew

    Wow, I had seen this location before and had it on my list but now I’m definitely planning a trip there. Probably will be there forever as I’m a wimp when it comes to uphill stairs but I’m determined so will do it! Took me about 5 rest stops to complete the Thousand Steps beach in Laguna last weekend….Course that was also right after a three mile hike too…..

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      It is worth conquering the stairs for, but there are a lot on the way down. On the way up I just walked the old fire road and didn’t go up all the stairs. Have fun!

      • Candace Agnew

        I’ll keep that in mind, the Old Fire Road. Going down is no problem, it’s the going back up that kicks my hiney, but I am determined so will try and master it.

  • Tyler Tanner

    Hi Josh,
    My friends and I hiked this last weekend, thanks to your blog, and we had a blast! Your directions were spot on and we could not believe how close it was. What was really interesting were the comparisons from your photos to what we saw in terms of the graffiti. It seems that the art, at power house especially, is constantly changing. Making us want to go back in a few months and see whats new.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Tyler, thanks for the comment! I didn’t even think about that but I bet it is interesting to see how everything changes there.

  • Angela Wendel

    Hi Josh, thanks so much for this post. I took a group to photograph the ranch and had a great time and didn’t get lost thanks to your terrific directions. I look forward to reading about more interesting places. If you haven’t checked out sunken city in San Pedro, it’s worth crawling under a fence to see!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and the suggestion! Glad my post helped out, it is a crazy place

  • zebraradar

    I was just there this morning! 1st we went through the gates to the horse stables though. don’t think you pictured that one! https://vine.co/v/hUqiKKaiKJX

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for sharing! I did forget to mention the horse stables that is a great reminder!

  • Russel Ray Photos

    I’m commenting to let you know that I read the whole post. Well, that and to let you know that I really enjoyed the whole post!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for reading it all the way through! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Dan Heuschele

    I read it all and found it interesting. If I lived in LA area I wold go check it out. Thanks for the blog.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading it all!

  • diggit86

    Awesome read man!!! I am ways away from there but thanks to your pictures I feel like taking a trip there. This has inspired me to see this as I am a history guy!!!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and so glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Karen Eckland

    Read the whole thing…..planning on going Saturday

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Have fun! Let me know how the adventure is!

  • Tess Alessandra Field

    I stumbled upon your blog and this area is really interesting. Your pics and your tour made it so fascinating and I felt as if i had actually seen it with my own two eyes! Thank you so much!!!!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem! Glad you found the blog and glad you enjoy it! Lots of other crazy adventures to explore on here as well!

      • Tess Alessandra Field

        I definitely will take a look-see! Thanks, again!

  • mallory

    I went here yesterday cause I found this post. thanks for the info! just posted some pictures here if you’d care to check them out. http://lapommedeterre.tumblr.com/post/75079541088/panoramas-from-exploring-murphys-ranch-in-pacific

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Awesome pictures, thanks for sharing!

  • Kelly

    Very interesting. I’m definitely going to check it out! Looks scary though so I don’t think I’ll go alone haha

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      haha It is always more fun to hike with a friend anyway!

  • faithinme136

    Went to check this place out yesterday and it was incredible. You’re guide led me to the path with no problem. The only part that sucked was when I reached the bottom of the stairs I lost signal so my friend and I just had to wing it. Got around no problem though. Thank you for taking the time to write this out!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and I am glad the site helped you to get there well!

  • Suzanne

    Great photos and interesting info. Unexpectedly found this place today when my friend and I hiked down into rustic canyon from the backbone trail which begins near inspiration point right by will rogers state park. Most people seem to come in the way you did, but coming from the other direction we saw a giant, dilapidated, graffiti-covered barn. This entire area definitely made for one of the most surreal hiking experiences I’ve had in southern CA!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! That certainly sounds like a unique experience!

  • shawnacy kiker

    awesome. Can’t wait to get out there!

  • zanevorhis

    Is this place still there?

    • Harvitronix

      Yep.

  • Betty Blue

    Fascinating!! Thank you! Read the whole thing with great interest. Now I can wait to go!!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! Have fun on your adventure there!

  • Kristins

    This hike was fantastic–my favorite so far! It was such a contrast between nature and the urban art. We passed quite a few people on our trip, including a group that was filming some horror shoot.

    For those of you who want to also see the barn–it’s not exactly an intuitive trail. Basically once you pass the machine shop, keep on the “main” trail and just keep going. It’ll seem like you’re going the wrong way (it’s not exactly “well traveled”) but just keep with it and you’ll eventually come to a meadow type area, and you’ll see the barn. Also, the barn is fenced up but you can still get in–just be aware that it’s fenced for a reason, including a massive beehive!

    If you keep going past the barn, there’s a fire road that will take you back up to the main road so you don’t have to go up those brutal stairs :)

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and the extra information!

  • Robert

    Awesome. My wife and I have started exploring different places for pics. I just heard about it and came across your blog. Going there this weekend to check it out and of course for picture taking.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment, have fun!

  • http://www.letopho.blogspot.com letopho

    Amazing write up! Went this weekend and caught some kids adding more art to the walls. Loved it

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment, I am glad you got to go check it out!

  • jagoldhill

    just went there last week, my kid was at the camp next door (jesepho (sp?)) it is crazy awesome. lots of people going down last week and a few police sightings as well. such a cool hidden gem in LA

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