The Grotto Falls Hike in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains

The Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu are one of those places that feel very remote even though they are so close to Los Angeles. I have done many hikes in the area, such as Sandstone Peak, and I love exploring any chance I get. The Grotto is one of those places that I wanted to go to for a while, but since it is far from where I live, I didn’t get a chance until recently. This hike is best in the spring when the waterfall inside the Grotto is on full display, but it is still a nice introduction to the Santa Monica Mountains at other times of the year as well. Here is all the information on this short hike (don’t underestimate it though).


  • 2.6 miles round trip
  • 500 feet of elevation
  • Free parking
  • Location: Circle X Ranch parking area
  • This information is from my hike in 2017
  • Read more about Malibu here

Video from my visit in 2023

I tried to find the falls in 2023, you can see my attempt here.

Getting There

From Pacific Coast Highway, in the north part of Malibu, you will want to turn right on Yerba Buena Road. This small, windy road will take you up into the mountains, and it can be slow going since it is so narrow. Eventually, you will make it to Circle X Ranch, where you will turn right. From here, you can follow signs that lead you onto the dirt road and down a few turns to the day use parking area.

The Grotto Trail

From the day use parking area, you will want to head down the dirt path to the campground to get to the actual trailhead.

The trailhead starts by heading downhill, and it will go downhill most of the way, so be sure to note that it will be uphill the entire way back.

The trail goes in and out of shaded areas on a well-traveled dirt path.

At about a third of a mile, you will reach an area with no shade that has excellent views of Sandstone Peak behind you.

From here, the trail loses the most elevation, and it will be the part that you are cursing on the way up (especially if it is hot).

Eventually, it flattens out, and you come to a small creek. This creek will lead you the last .6 miles to the Grotto.

When we went in the late summer, there was not much water left, so it was a mostly dry creek we were following.

When you get to an extensive collection of rocks in the middle of the stream, you will know you are at the top of the Grotto.

From here you can scramble on the rocks and stay to the right to remain on the small trail. This part is not easy and will feel like a full body workout on the way back up, so if you are not in the mood for scrambling, you can turn around here.

After making your way up and over rocks, you will reach a small path up to the right near the largest rock. After going up, you will then head down to the base of the grotto and to the picture you have undoubtedly seen of this place. Also, note that this scrambling area can become impossible when there is substantial water flow, so do not attempt it.

The Grotto

The Grotto is a big rock with a small circular cave and pool around it.

In the back of the Grotto, there is a seasonal waterfall, but it was pretty much just a drip when we went.

This is a cool spot to sit and have some food before starting the tough climb back out of the canyon. Be sure to note any splits in the trail on the way down so that you can take them on the way back up as the signs are not great.

All in all, this is an excellent hike in Malibu, one that, while not long, is still a good work out. If you go, let me know what you think and be sure to share some pictures if you have been when the waterfall is flowing.

Similar Posts