Update July 2014 – People in the comments of this post are talking about getting tickets and about different parts of the hike being boarded up, so make sure to read the signs when you visit and check out the comments for latest information from readers.
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.
- Street parking is free
- 4 miles round trip and about 600 feet of elevation
- Over 500 stairs so make sure you can handle it
The history on this area is a little jumbled but I will do my best to describe what I have heard. In the early 1900’s, during WWII, 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 and there would be a time of anarchy in the United States. During that time the Stephens’ would be able to live in their self-sustaining community and then come out when the opportunity presented itself to help with the German take over. Thus, they set out to build a massive area they could use to keep them safe during the war.
As we all know, the Germans lost. Around the time of Pearl Harbor the Stephens’ were taken into custody from their home. All in all it is said that over 4 million dollars was invested into this ranch and there is an 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 apparently never occurred.
All that is left standing today is the power station, water tank, gardens and the collapsed machine shed.
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.
After parking, 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.
Here you will see the yellow road block stating you are entering Topanga Canyon. Continue on the dirt road for about another 3/5ths of a mile. When you get to 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.
About 100 yards from here there is a cut out in the chain link fence that you can walk through to get to the top of the stairs.
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.
First thing to note, when I was there on a Saturday morning there was no one 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 be warned.
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. 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.
After the long climb down proceed to the left which will drop you in this small field complete with a graffiti covered wall.
About 50 yards past this area you will see the powerhouse.
The powerhouse itself is actually really well-kept. 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.
You can even climb the ladder in the middle that will get you all the way onto the roof.
Here are some of my favorite pictures from the area.
The Machine Shed
If you head north from the powerhouse you will shortly reach the remains of the machine shed.
As you can see the machine shed is not much more than some broken down pieces of rubble, but it is still fun to photograph and explore.
After the machine shed I went back to the powerhouse and took the stairs to the right up to the gardens
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 because there are a decent amount of them. This also provides a good view of the powerhouse from above before heading back to the dirt road.
As you proceed up these steps they will lead to 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. I recommend doing this because it will take you to the main gate.
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.
The gate was simply the main entrance to the compound 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. That completes the loop. On the way back you will see what looks like another entrance down to the ruins if you miss the first one.
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 1200 words so I would amazed if anyone read to the end!
Other Resources on this hike