Circle X Ranch (Grotto Trail)

HikeSnobs rate this: 2.5thumb


Visited: March 2, 2014

Description: Beautiful hike to a grotto with a little bit of bouldering.

Length: 3.5 miles roundtrip

Elevation: 500 feet

Duration: 2 hours

Difficulty: Moderate. Pretty easy trail. A bit of climbing towards the end to get down to the grotto!

Terrain: Dirt trail

Wildlife: Unknown… we don’t want to know ❓❓❓

Pets: Dog on-leash. Prohibited in the grotto.

Parking: Lot (34.109308, -118.932407)

Best time to go: Anytime

Bring: Camera, water, sunscreen, snack (if you chill at the grotto)

On a rainy spring weekend, the HikeSnobs decided to check out Circle X Ranch in Malibu. Nestled in the Santa Monica mountains, Circle X Ranch provides accessible trails to Sandstone Peak, the tallest peak in the area and a grotto trail which leads to a semi-circular cave with a seasonal waterfall. After seeing photos of the grotto, we knew that would be our next hike.

Instead of parking at the Circle X Ranch lot, we decided to park in a smaller lot closer to the trail head (34.109308, -118.932407). Since it was raining, we knew the trail would be empty. We found the dirt lot, quickly parked and headed off towards the trail. A few feet from the trailhead, we reached a T intersection and decided to go right.

5 minutes in, we were already a little lost. We thought that the trail was just unpaved and we continued in this direction until we bumped into the largest excrement we have ever seen! It was waaay too big to be a dog or even a human, it had to have been an animal of the larger variety 😳

Nope. nope. nope. This cannot be the way!

Before finding out who left that surprise for us, we decided to head back. We reached the T intersection again and went the other way this time instead of right and of course, that was the way to the trail. Oops!

A little shaken up from what we found, we hesitantly moved forward. The trail was well-maintained, it was obviously the correct trail.


Even with the gloomy weather, the views were amazing. With the light rain and the gray skies, the ominous weather was actually a nice change to the usual California sunshine we are used to. We were the only two on the trail and we didn’t mind it one bit. There was something very peaceful about being on an empty trail.

The first portion of the hike is pretty straight-forward. The canyon opens up so you can catch views of the surrounding mountains. This portion of the hike was really muddy. Our shoes were caked with half an inch of mud.


Look at those tracks we left behind!


After that section of the trail, it narrows out and becomes a bit more rocky. There are a ton of trees and fallen leaves. With the rain, the trail was bright and colorful.

What a gloomy, eerie but beautiful day!

Once you get to a dead end, the grotto should be close.

Can anyone spot Alice?

Luckily, we  bumped into the only other person on the trail who gave us advice to stick to the right side when we didn’t know where to go. We had to do a little bit of climbing.


It was raining, so the rocks were slippery. We had to carefully make our way up, down, over, and in between every rock. HikeSnobs love to get down and dirty so this was no problem.


You’ll climb down one more big boulder and you should almost be there! All smiles here 😁

A few short steps away, we made it to the grotto. Even though it had been raining that day, there wasn’t enough water in this grotto to actually be waterFALLING. The stagnant water had a particular odor that was unappealing, so we didn’t spend much time down there.


We explored the area a bit more before we began making the scramble back up. After an overall successful day, we were ready for some hot chocolate and a good meal!

@HikeSnobs Tips:

  • Wear shoes with a good grip!
  • Watch out for mysterious animals.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Leave us a message below!

2 thoughts on “Circle X Ranch (Grotto Trail)

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