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Great Hikes: Rustic Charms:

I’ve written about the secret Rustic Canyon crossover trail before, but our recent visit there was so stunningly beautiful, and seasonally changed, that it’s more than worth some added description.

The very approach to this hike is extraordinarily special. Walk into Will Rogers and go beyond the huge grassy polo field. In the far northeast corner, you’ll discover an unceremonious trailhead that at first glance might appear to be a side exit to the park, or a maintenance access road. In fact, it’s a gently sloping down trail that takes you on a loopy descent from the level of the main park down into the depths of the lower canyon floor.

The way down is Knotts Berry Farm charming, with handcrafted wooden steps and railings, tight switchbacks and the unmistakable sound of flowing water. Everything narrows as you get closer to the floor, and when you hit bottom there are a couple of steep step-downs, the flora suddenly surrounds you with a dense green canopy and you know that you are in an entirely different eco-system than just a few moments before.

 It’s darker and cooler in this wet and verdant little valley. This time of year, it’s all about the water: rock hopping and crossing-over to stay dry, following the water flow upstream. The sound of water tumbling over the rocks fills the air and the hike is now more of an acrobatic slow-walk, stepping over and around the trees, dodging pools and climbing small mossy boulders.

This passageway is surely one of the most beautiful spots in the Santa Monicas, with steeply rising cliffs on both sides and a private jungle to play in. First timers can’t believe that this is blocks north of Sunset Boulevard, and regulars come back just to breathe in the moment.

  If you continue following the stream, the ground level will gradually rise and the terrain shifts several more times from between deep canyon flora and more familiar California scrub. Eventually, you’ll be on the backside of the park, past the “barn” and ready to loop back over the mountain up to the Backbone Trail and back down to the main park.

However, there is a seldom-used discreet “cut-over trail” that offers an entirely different experience. It’s almost impossible to accurately describe the directions in a sentence, so don’t do this trek alone. About 15 minutes into the canyon floor wetlands, there is a small single file trail on the west face that appears to loop in the reverse, or southern, direction.

Cross over to the west side of the canyon and take this little trail up. It quickly bears to the right and begins a steep ascent, zigzagging up to higher ridges that connect to the main Backbone Trail. Until you reach the ridge’s plateau, this is not easy going. The trail is narrow, rocky and challenging, but progressively reveals stellar views of the entire Westside. In 30 minutes you will have emerged from a wet jungle to a scenic overlook – a remarkable transition that is unique to this great hike.Fearless readers interested in free Monday and Wednesday night hikes should call Scott Regberg at (310) 475-5735.

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