Nicholas Flat - Trail Running

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Intense trail running through Santa Monica Mountains.

Written by

Noah Goldberg-Jaffe


0.1 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

39.5 miles


1 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

1 hours

1-2 Hours


All Seasons

Dog Friendly


Fees Permits


Day Fee



It is no surprise that one of the most beloved preserved spaces in LA County was conserved by one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars. Leo Carrillo, a 1950’s TV star made famous by his role on the show Cisco Kid, can be thanked for much of Southern California’s conserved space. His most notable public acquisition as a conservationist is the famous Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA. For this and other notable work, the State of California gave his name to this beautiful park.

What Makes It Great

Leo Carillo Park itself is more well know for the camping, its beautiful beaches and the surfing that you can do right out from the main point, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other fun things to do there. There are a few nice trails that start right from the campground that allow for some awesome trail runs throughout the park. The best option to consider is called Nicholas Flat Trail.

The trailhead is between PCH and the campgrounds check-in-booth, about 150 feet from the booth; hard to miss. The trail begins mildly on an easy inclined single-track trail that starts to gain elevation at a surprising rate. In about ¾ of a mile, you will reach a beautiful viewpoint that will give stunning views of the Pacific Ocean to the South, and the Santa Monica Mountains to all other directions. This first section is a great way to get awesome views without putting too much time in.

This first section, although steep is not very far and proves to be a nice warm-up. Once you hit this viewpoint, Nicolas Flat trail will continue into neighboring Nicholas Flat Nature Preserve. The trail retains the same single-track look and feel so be careful not to slide off the side of the hill. At this point you do not have as much steep incline with switchbacks to deal with and will not have a trouble sustaining some long distances if you want.

The trail can get hot, as it is exposed for almost the entire time, but the silver lining is the ocean is always there when you get back to your car, and it is rarely too cold to take a dip in the beautiful Pacific (just don’t plan on being in the water for too long).

Leo Carillo is a great place for an overnight getaway or a daytrip. If you are interested more in the whole Leo Carillo State Park experience, including details about the campground. Check out the other profile on this website, titled Leo Carillo—Camping.

Who is Going to Love It

Runners interested in a long and intense run with lots of elevation gain and exposed sun will love this place. Everything you put in, you will get it back as the views are awesome. You can make the out and back trip as long as you want, and the entire thing offers great views and exciting terrain, just be careful on the way back as the switchbacks can have some crumbly trail surface. You will not forget the Pacific Ocean views that you get really throughout the trail.

If you are an experienced runner, you know that this kind of trail can really tire you out so you should make sure to bring lots of water!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The entrance to the campsite is on the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), 28 miles north of Santa Monica. For day use, you can park in the state park’s lot for a day fee or for free if you can find a space along PCH (make sure you keep an eye out for the few no-parking signs). 


Leo Carillo State Park

35000 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA, 90265
34.044134, -118.934743

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