January 2004: Santa Monica National Recreation Area


Thousand Oaks, California

Santa Monica Mountain NRA is an amalgamation of 150,000 private, city, county, state and federal acres knitted into a single entity in 1978. The park stretches 46 miles from east to west, co-existing next to the most densely populated urban area in the United States - one in every 17 Americans live within an hour's drive of the Santa Monica Mountains. The Mediterranean climate in the park - hot, dry summers mixing with mild, wet winters in a coastal location - is the rarest in the world. Only four other areas in the world enjoy the same climate, the fewest acres of any ecosystem.

Santa Monica Mountains NRA is a paradise for canine hikers but not an unfettered one. Dogs are not allowed on state park trails so you will need to limit your explorations to national and city park lands. An easy introduction to the park near the Visitor Center in Thousand Oaks is at Rancho Sierra Vista (Satwiwa) where a loop trail slips 1.5 miles through grass- lands and chaparral-covered hillsides. The loop begins and ends at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center. Athletic dogs will want to test the many canyon trails at Zuma Canyon, Solstice Canyon, Franklin Canyon and more. Expect extended ocean views and scenic looks where the land has been folded into peaks and canyons by shifts along the San Andreas Fault.
Some of the sportiest canine hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains is at Circle K Ranch where trails ascend to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the park at 3,111 feet. One, the Backbone Trail, will one day stretch 65 miles across the entire national recreation area. Dog owners may want to skip the downhill hiking on the Grotto Trail. After going two miles, dogs are not allowed on the final 1/8 mile to The Grotto. 

The park features more than 50 miles of shoreline on the Pacific Ocean but the prime swimming beaches are off-limits for dogs. Several rockier beaches in the western end - County Line Beach, Thornhill Broome and the beach at Leo Carillo State Park - are open to dog paddling.

Just down the road in neigboring Los Angeles is Griffith Park - the largest urban wilderness area in America, including 53 miles of trails, fire roads and bridle paths. The seeds of one of the world's great city parks were sown with the arrival of Colonel Griffith Jenkins Griffith from Wales in 1865 to make a fortune in California gold mines. In 1882 Griffith came to Los Angeles and purchased 4,071 acres of an original Spanish land grant, Rancho Los Felix. In 1896 he gave more than 3,000 acres of California oaks, wild sage and manzanita to the city as a Christmas present - "a place of relaxation and rest for the masses." Many of the trails feature views of the famous Hollywood sign - the 6-mile Mt. Hollywood Trail climbs to the top. Dog-friendly touches include a dog park adjacent to Ferraro Soccer Field and rides for dogs on the Los Angeles Live Steamers miniature train.

The park is confined by US 101 (the Ventura Highway) to the north and US 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) to the south. The Visitor Center is off US 101 in Thousand Oaks.