One of my favorite hikes with the kids is Mishe Mokwa Trail to Split Rock at Circle X Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu.
The first challenge to this excursion is getting there. We are spoiled in the Conejo Valley, with trailheads into the Conejo Open Space pretty much within a mile of anywhere you live. Getting to Circle X Ranch is a bit more time consuming, taking upwards of 30 minutes for the 12 to 13 mile drive from Thousand Oaks via Decker Canyon. But we love it.
The Mishe Mokwa trailhead is the first parking lot off of Yerba Buena Road/Little Sycamore Canyon Road from Mulholland Drive, roughly five miles of twisty, turny roads. There are dirt lots on both sides of Yerba Buena.
(If you drive another .6 miles west/southwest on Yerba Buena Drive, you'll get to the Sandstone Peak trailhead parking area...another must do hike in the Santa Monica Mountains.)
Park and head to the clearly marked trailhead and start your 3 1/2 mile round trip journey to Split Rock. The trail itself is fairly moderate but wear good hiking shoes as there's plenty of rocks you'll be stopping on and over on this hike.
Springtime is my favorite time to hike this trail, when it is still on the cooler side and there's plenty of green surrounding you on the trails.
You will soon start be seeing the Echo Cliffs area and Balanced Rock. The closer you get to Split Rock, the better the view. Shout out and you will see how Echo Cliffs got its name. And there's no question as to how Balanced Rock received its moniker.
There are a few areas where you have to do some low-key rock climbing as you get closer to Split Rock, but they are generally of moderate difficulty.
Split Rock you will clearly see is named after a very large rock that is split in several places, including one crack that is large enough to walk through. There is a picnic table at this shady area and a nearby creek for a peaceful area to take a break.
You can head back at Split Rock or continue onward towards the Backbone Trail and Sandstone Peak for a full six mile hike. For something a bit more daring, you can side track back to Balanced Rock via a trail that is not maintained by the National Park Service.
We took this trail roughly about a third of a mile to Balance Rock and it does get a bit challenging, between dealing with overgrown areas and finding the right trail (there seems to be multiple trails) and some challenging sections. Not for everyone but certainly do-able. And once you get to this wonderful geologically unusual formation, any frustration with the trail seems worth it.
Once you reach Balanced Rock, you'll be amazed not only by its size but by the amount of shade it renders. We also discovered a "sign in" box in a crevice below the rock.
Learn more about Circle X Ranch at www.nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/circlexranch.htm.