Charmlee Wilderness Park

Last Sunday was the first free Sunday I’d had in a while, so I wanted to get away from my computer and todo list. I’d read about Charmlee Wilderness Park, a hike/park in the Santa Monica mountians on lamag.com and it sounded charming.

Waze said it would take me 7 fewer minutes to get there if I took the 405 to the 101 and entered the mountains from the east, but I wasn’t trading the PCH for the freeways for a difference of 7 minutes (even though I knew there was construction on the PCH).

I was a little sad about being out there alone (none of my friends were available), but it’s hard to be sad on a Sunday morning in a car on the PCH, with the windows open, the ocean on your left mountains on your right and the prospect of road, hike and views before you.

Charmlee is pretty far, past Paradise Cove and the north end of Malibu, but it’s a straightforward drive.The park is a couple miles up a mountain road and is easy to spot. At the park, there’s a parking lot, a nature center with copies of a crude trail map, and luckily for me, bathrooms. (The bathrooms are in a stone structure, but the doors are inexplicably in the back so it’s impossible to know what they are unless someone tells you.)

At the entrance to the trails there is a shaded picnic area where some people were setting up a baby shower. They told me that the expecting parents had had their reception here. Good party spot for the outdoors minded, and for those with friends willing to drive the hour to get there.
The lady at the nature center had highlighted a route for me so I followed her instructions, but I could have just guessed. There are lots of trails but the park is rather small and centered around a meadow. I doubt you could get lost if you tried. I was amazed to find a meadow in the mountains. I tried to frolic but the grass was itchy and tall and I wasn’t wearing long enough leggings.

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You do have to walk past the meadow to get to the western edge with the ocean views, which are breathtaking. There’s the familiar j shape of the beach, which you can see all through the Santa Monica mountains (from Temescal further south for ex.) but the park is far enough north that you can also look up the coast.

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The map has an area labeled ‘ruins’,’old well’, and the sinister sounding ‘black forest’. The ruins weren’t much, the well probably was originally a well, and I’m pretty sure the ‘black forest’ referred to a cluster of trees that didn’t resemble a forest or anything remotely sinister.
My favorite part was that along the trail there were these shaded spaces, full of trees that enclosed the area into a private oasis. The trees were perfect for climbing and sitting on their sturdy limbs, and you could just barely hear the traffic from the PCH. But mostly it was incredibly quiet, private and beautiful.

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I kept wanting to take pictures and post them to tell everyone to stop what they were doing and come up here and enjoy this peace, which of course made me be not-in-the-moment anymore and not so peaceful, but my excitement was genuine. On my way up I’d seen so many crowds at the beaches and I wondered if they knew they had this option too. Luckily there wasn’t a good enough signal to upload or share anything, which is why I’m doing this now instead.

I did hang out in a tree for a while, took pictures of the sun through the branches with my crappy phone camera. I was visible from the trail but there were so few people in the park (another perk) that it didn’t matter. I didn’t achieve nirvana and my digital-ADD mind didn’t really quiet completely, but it was a start.

The nature center lady had told me that the route she’d highlighted should take about an hour, longer if I had time to “mosey around”. I don’t think I was there for longer than an hour and a half, and I definitely moseyed. With the drive there and back (an hour each way), it could have been less than 4 hours.

On my way back I stopped at Latigo Canyon beach, a little beach that can be accessed via a staircase hidden on a road off the PCH.

I took a walk in the surf, adopted some sand, and drove home barefoot.

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