The Grotto Falls

Santa Monica Mountains / Circle X Ranch / Malibu / Thousand Oaks, California, USA

About The Grotto Falls


Hiking Distance: 3-3.4 miles round-trip (incl. 1/4-mile boulder scramble)
Suggested Time: 1.5-2.5 hours

Date first visited: 2021-01-30
Date last visited: 2021-02-08

Waterfall Latitude: 34.09843
Waterfall Longitude: -118.92722

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The Circle X Ranch Grotto Falls pertains to a series of hidden waterfalls nestled within a jumble of volcanic boulders and chockstones confined to a narrowing of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit drainage.

The hike is on the popular and well-maintained Circle X Ranch Grotto Trail.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_226_01302021 - The (Circle X Ranch) Grotto Falls
The (Circle X Ranch) Grotto Falls

Although these waterfalls tended to be short-lived or very seasonal (and its performance depends on whether we’ve had a dry Winter or not), it seemed like the bouldering aspect and aptly-named Grotto were this place’s claim-to-fame.

We actually timed our first visit to this place on the day immediately after an all-day rain storm during a Winter season that saw little or no appreciable totals for the year.

With this timing, we’d assure ourselves of at least seeing some water, but at the same time, the place wouldn’t be so flooded that the Grotto itself wouldn’t be safe to access either.

Indeed, timing is a big part of the overall experience, because it could be too dangerous if there was too much waterfall and too disappointing if there was too little water!

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_048_02082021 - The namesake (but hidden) 'Grotto' with its hard-to-see waterfall at its head
The namesake (but hidden) ‘Grotto’ with its hard-to-see waterfall at its head

That said, I guess that’s kind of what makes such excursions adventures because there’s that uncertainty of outcome where you’re never really sure of what you’re getting until you go there and see for yourself.

The Circle X Ranch Area

The Circle X Ranch Grotto Trailhead is accessed from the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station (see directions below).

On the day that we visited, it was possible to drive past the gate adjacent to the ranger station and descend towards additional parking by a building that was the former Boy Scout Camp here.

In fact, we also could have driven all the way down to the Circle X Campground, where there were even more parking spots (as well as the official trailhead itself).

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_006_01302021 - Looking over the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station from the Plate Boundary Observatory Station
Looking over the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station from the Plate Boundary Observatory Station

Had we known better, we could have parked down here and saved ourselves a quarter-mile (and 100ft of elevation loss) of additional hiking in each direction (or a half-mile round trip).

That said, there was an interesting hill behind the Circle X Ranger Station where I managed to get good views of Boney Mountain as well as the drainage of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit.

That creek drained further downhill away from the ranger station, and it was the general direction of the Grotto Trail itself.

In addition to a picnic table, the hill also harbored a Plate Boundary Observatory Station, which has a GPS receiver reporting its position so researchers can track changes (and hence movement) in the earth’s crust.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_010_01302021 - Looking down at the additional parking lot adjacent to a long building that I suspect was the Old Boy Scout Camp called called Camp Circle X
Looking down at the additional parking lot adjacent to a long building that I suspect was the Old Boy Scout Camp called called Camp Circle X

In case you’re wondering about the heritage of the Circle X Ranch, this was once the location of Camp Circle X, which was a Boy Scout Camp.

I suspect that the large building by one of the additional parking lots beneath the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station was the main building where most of the Boy Scout activities were conducted.

Hiking to The Grotto Falls

For most of this 3.5-mile round-trip trail, it was on a well-maintained path that lost about 525ft (from the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station to the top of the boulders) according to my GPS log.

Our Ann Marie Brown book said it was 550ft total elevation loss, which kind of corroborated these stats.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_394_01302021 - The return hike along the Grotto Trail yielded nice views towards Boney Mountain, which helped to make us not notice the elevation gain as much
The return hike along the Grotto Trail yielded nice views towards Boney Mountain, which helped to make us not notice the elevation gain as much

On a subsequent visit, we did the slightly shorter hike starting from the official trailhead, where my GPS logs (from both Gaia GPS and the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro) suggested about 3 miles round-trip with 400ft elevation loss.

Therefore, this was an upside-down hike where it was downhill (with minor undulations) on the way to the waterfalls (and the boulders giving rise to the Grotto) and uphill on the way back.

At least the relative discomfort of the return hike was alleviated by the scenery (as views of both Boney Mountain and Sandstone Peak were prevalent) as well as the elevation change being spread out over the 1.5 miles or so.

I also noticed that there were seasonal waterfalls that I found were more noticeable on the return hike than on the way to the Grotto.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_133_02082021 - Context of Julie standing above what I believe is Botsford Falls near the Canyon View Trail junction
Context of Julie standing above what I believe is Botsford Falls near the Canyon View Trail junction

One of the waterfalls was apparently called Botsford Falls (it was dry during our visit), and that one was just downhill from the Canyon View Trail and Grotto Trail junction.

Further downstream from what I’m calling Botsford Falls was a seemingly taller one that actually had a streak on it, when we noticed it on our second visit (and somehow overlooked it on our first visit).

We could only get distant views of that second waterfall as the steep and overgrown ravine didn’t appear to have sanctioned access to get a closer look.

Finally, there were other waterfalls that we noticed (though they appeared to be unnamed), which were on side gullies that weren’t within the West Fork Arroyo Sequit.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_009_iPhone_02082021 - This waterfall with a wet streak on its underlying wall was on the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit further downstream of Botsford Falls
This waterfall with a wet streak on its underlying wall was on the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit further downstream of Botsford Falls

These were also seen a little further down the Grotto Trail from Botsford Falls, but we had to look beyond the main ravine and towards the hanging gullies in the distance.

On our first visit, it appeared that one such waterfall had streaks which suggested that it was flowing, but it might put on more of a show during wetter times.

When we came back a week later, that waterfall wasn’t flowing anymore.

Even though the Grotto Trail passed through an area that appeared to be extensively affected by the Woolsey Fire in 2018, it still felt like there was a fair amount of shade (at least during our visits in the Winter time).

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_404_01302021 - Distant view towards a thin unnamed ephemeral waterfall (not on the West Fork Arroyo Sequit that appeared to be flowing with Sandstone Peak looming to the topright
Distant view towards a thin unnamed ephemeral waterfall (not on the West Fork Arroyo Sequit that appeared to be flowing with Sandstone Peak looming to the topright

That said, I’m sure there would have been even more shade had the vegetation persisted.

Aside from a few seemingly out-of-place water pipes, the Circle X Ranch Grotto Trail was an opportunity to really soak in the scenery of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Eventually, the trail coincided into the bed of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit, where the drainage started to narrow and flatten out.

That was where the trail went into the somewhat rocky “stream” itself before ultimately reaching the top of the boulder scramble marking the more difficult and adventurous part of this hike.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_103_01302021 - Julie and Tahia descending deeper into the drainage of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit along the Grotto Trail
Julie and Tahia descending deeper into the drainage of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit along the Grotto Trail

Overall, this benign section of trail hiking took us on the order of an hour, where we hiked as a family.

A week later, I did this hike solo and managed to do it in about 45-50 minutes, which included a 15-minute out-and-back detour just to see what the Canyon View Trail was like.

Therefore, I’m sure that more hurried individuals could do this section in as little as 30 minutes.

Scrambling & Bouldering Around The Grotto

Roughly 250ft downstream from where we essentially started to hike within the stream bed of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit was where the route finding and risky boulder scrambling began in earnest.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_176_01302021 - Julie and Tahia scrambling and bouldering their way deeper towards the Grotto
Julie and Tahia scrambling and bouldering their way deeper towards the Grotto

We generally kept to the right where some faint trails-of-use along with boulders that were jagged enough to be suitable handholds and footholds allowed us to descend further.

The first “flat” area allowed us a rather unsatisfying top-down view of the mostly-concealed Grotto save for some puddles and sounds of a hidden waterfall underneath.

There were also chockstones or wedged boulders providing for interesting scenery, but I generally didn’t find it safe to attempt to descend into the darkness around there.

Instead, we continued down more boulders on the right side before reaching a dicey section where we then had to climb a rather steep and slippery (especially since it was muddy after the rain) section.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_309_01302021 - Looking down at a pair of wedged chockstones above a narrow crevace that I believe was part of the Grotto
Looking down at a pair of wedged chockstones above a narrow crevace that I believe was part of the Grotto

While waiting for other people to go down this section, there was an opening to the left, where I could see the pool and hear another hidden waterfall dropping into that pool below.

After carefully scaling the slippery ascent on the right side when it was our turn to make the traverse, we then went around another ledge before making the final steep and muddy descent among the overgrowth before finally reaching the streambed below.

From there, we briefly walked a few paces upstream before reaching what appeared to be the bottom of the Grotto section, where there was a giant boulder in a pool concealing the main Grotto Falls.

That boulder seemed have created its own little “cave” or grotto, and it was behind that boulder that I was finally able to see the waterfall itself though I had to change out of my boots and wade into the ankle-to-knee-deep water to explore.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_220_01302021 - Julie and Tahia looking behind the giant boulder concealing the lower part of the Grotto Falls
Julie and Tahia looking behind the giant boulder concealing the lower part of the Grotto Falls

The scrambling took us around 20 minutes, and given the persistent dropoff hazards here, I can totally see why it wouldn’t be a good idea to do this in high water or if the terrain was boulders themselves are wet!

Nevertheless, even if there wasn’t much water, I can totally envision how this could be a fun little place to explore and test out one’s ability to boulder.

But as a parent, I would definitely keep a watchful eye on my child doing this scramble to ensure she made the right moves to minimize the likelihood of injury or death.

The Elusive Hidden Part Of The Grotto

During our first visit to the Circle X Ranch Grotto Falls, we had completely missed the larger Grotto section that was directly beneath the chockstones.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_186_01302021 - If you get to this ascending part of the dicey scramble to the very bottom of the Grotto, then you would have missed the hidden entrance to the main Grotto
If you get to this ascending part of the dicey scramble to the very bottom of the Grotto, then you would have missed the hidden entrance to the main Grotto

So I actually made a second visit a week later to ensure that I completed the overall Circle X Ranch Grotto experience.

The key to finding this place was that from the “flat” section (which was actually atop a huge boulder that gave rise to the Grotto below), I had to look for a scrambling path on the left further downstream from the chockstones.

This was towards the downstream end of the “flat” boulder slab, but if I found myself scrambling down to the dicey part where I then had to ascend a gully towards the right, then I had missed the hidden entrance to the Grotto.

Indeed, once I found the the sloping ridge that then reached an even steeper slope between the large flat boulder and a separate one that left a gap, I then carefully descended that slope that deposited me right into the Grotto itself!

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_104_02082021 - This was the hidden entrance to the main part of the Grotto
This was the hidden entrance to the main part of the Grotto

This section of the Grotto was seemingly like a somewhat spacious cave, but it was actually caused by a huge boulder where its tip seemed to be barely hanging onto its current position.

While this Grotto has been known for decades, I do wonder how much longer it will be before that tip eventually gives out and collapses this section.

Anyways, at the head of the Grotto was another well-hidden waterfall that I’d imagine would put on a better show under higher flow.

However, given the confined nature of this spot, if there’s too much water in the creek or if there’s wet weather, I wouldn’t consider going in here.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_080_02082021 - Closer look at the waterfall right at the head of the main Grotto
Closer look at the waterfall right at the head of the main Grotto

Not only can the water rise quickly and make it too dangerous to even consider going into the Grotto, but going back up from the Grotto requires decent grip on the slope (something that is not guaranteed if it’s wet).

Authorities

The Circle X Ranch Grotto Falls resides in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area at the Circle X Ranch near Malibu in Los Angeles County, California (though it’s seems to be geographically more into Ventura County). It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_002_iPhone_02082021 - Back on the attractive drive up the Yerba Buena Road leading up to Circle X Ranch with Boney Mountain in the background
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_003_iPhone_02082021 - Another look further up the Yerba Buena Road as we got closer to the Circle X Ranch on our second visit in early February 2021
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_002_02082021 - On our second visit to Circle X Ranch, which took place in February 2021 (one week after our first visit back in late January), we learned our lesson and parked all the way at the Circle X Ranch Campground, which saved us a half-mile round trip and 100ft elevation loss
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_003_02082021 - Because it was quieter on our second visit to the Circle X Ranch Grotto Falls, I noticed this rabbit right by the side of the trail towards the upper center part of this photo
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_010_02082021 - Just out of curiosity, on my second visit in early February 2021, I decided to check out the Canyon View Trail just to see what was going on there.  I noticed lots of burnt trees and sun exposure here
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_011_02082021 - Looking into the drainage caused by the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit from the Canyon View Trail
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_017_02082021 - Another look at the context of the Canyon View Trail during my February 2021 visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_021_02082021 - This was as far as I went on the Canyon View Trail, which yielded this view of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_029_02082021 - Context of the Grotto Trail on the opposite side of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit drainage as I was heading back on the Canyon View Trail during my early February 2021 visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_033_02082021 - The familiar wide open view of the canyon carved out by the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit as I was quickly making my way down to The Grotto on early February 2021 visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_038_02082021 - Quickly making it down near the floor of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit during my early February 2021 visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_041_02082021 - It was a somewhat good sign that one week after my late January 2021 visit, there was still water in the West Fork Arroyo Sequit (albeit not much) near this spring
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_043_02082021 - Context of the remnant pools of water still present in the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit not far upstream of the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_044_02082021 - Making it back to the jumble of boulders just above the Grotto on my second visit here, which took place in early February 2021
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_045_02082021 - Starting on the right side of the scramble as I made my way down towards the 'flat' boulder down below, which also happened to be the boulder responsible for the Grotto itself
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_051_02082021 - After finally finding the Grotto on my second try, I took a look back at the entrance, where I met up with this family
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_063_02082021 - The jumble of boulders concealing most of the light-flowing hidden waterfall comprising the upper tier of The Grotto Falls
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_080_02082021 - Focused look at the lone flowing part of the upper waterfall in the main Grotto as seen in early February 2021
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_084_02082021 - Looking up at a very precarious pinch point, which appears to be the weakest part of the large flat boulder responsible for yielding the main Grotto.  I wonder how much longer this pinch point is going to last before the boulder finally caves the Grotto in
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_087_02082021 - It looked like there might be dicier alternate entrances and exits to the main Grotto as evidenced by some graffiti here
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_090_02082021 - Trying to show as much of the context of the interior of the main Grotto as I could in this one shot looking towards its head during my early February 2021 visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_094_02082021 - Contextual look at the head of the main Grotto with the hard-to-see hidden waterfall and some chockstones and other boulders all wedged here
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_106_02082021 - After having my fill of the main Grotto during my second visit here, I finally got back onto the top of that flat boulder and continued the bouldering back out
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_111_02082021 - Looking forward to the return hike back to the Circle X Ranch from the Grotto with Boney Mountain in the distance
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_113_02082021 - Continuing on the pleasant return hike from the Grotto to the Circle X Ranch after concluding my second visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_122_02082021 - Closeup look at the seemingly taller and wet streak of a waterfall in the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit further downstream of Botsford Falls as seen in early February 2021
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_124_02082021 - Full context of that lower waterfall downstream of Botsford Falls on the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit, which we only noticed or paid attention to on the way back from our second visit, which took place in early February 2021
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_128_02082021 - Julie decided to get some exercise and join me when I was on my way back from the Grotto during my second visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_136_02082021 - Finally making it back to The Grotto Trailhead and our parked rental car, which concluded our second visit to the Circle X Ranch (taking place in early February 2021)
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_020_iPhone_01302021 - The drive up Yerba Buena Road was scenic itself as we got glimpses of Boney Mountain as we got closer to the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station.  This shot and the rest of the photos in this gallery were taken on our first visit in late January 2021
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_001_01302021 - Arriving at the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station and Day Use Parking area
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_005_01302021 - Looking at the Plate Boundary Observation Station, which was up the steps from the day use parking area by the Circle X Ranger Station
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_013_01302021 - Looking back towards Boney Mountain from the picnic area and Plate Boundary Observation Station at the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_019_01302021 - Julie and Tahia walking past the gate by the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station, where we could have kept driving further down to reduce the amount of hiking a little more
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_034_01302021 - The first lot of the additional parking at the Circle X Ranch area was actually not busy at all when we started our hike around noon, which attested to how much less crowded this place was compared to other places in the Malibu area
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_038_01302021 - Julie and Tahia continuing to hike down past the Camp Circle X Boy Scout Camp area towards the Circle X Campground
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_048_01302021 - Approaching the end of the unpaved road where the Circle X Ranch Campground and Grotto Trailhead was located
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_051_01302021 - Julie and Tahia starting the hike on the Grotto Trail
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_054_01302021 - Julie and Tahia approaching an area recovering from the Woolsey Fire along the Grotto Trail
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_074_01302021 - Julie and Tahia walking past this signed junction for the Canyon View Trail as we kept right to remain on the Grotto Trail
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_075_01302021 - Julie and Tahia going past a seasonal drainage above the so-called Botsford Falls along the Grotto Trail as seen during our late January 2021 visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_418_01302021 - This is the view back towards Botsford Falls from the Grotto Trail with Boney Mountain in the background
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_079_01302021 - Julie and Tahia continuing to descend deeper into the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit drainage in pursuit of the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_088_01302021 - Julie and Tahia continuing further through more burn-affected areas en route to the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_090_01302021 - Looking back towards Boney Mountain as we were headed to the Grotto, which planted in my mind that the return hike would be quite scenic
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_405_01302021 - A little further downstream, we noticed this ephemeral waterfall across the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit drainage along the Grotto Trail in late January 2021
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_095_01302021 - Julie and Tahia passing through an open part of the Grotto Trail
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_104_01302021 - Julie and Tahia continuing to descend deeper into the drainage of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit en route to the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_119_01302021 - Julie and Tahia descending a section of the trail that briefly switched back for resuming its downstream trajectory towards the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_125_01302021 - Even though it was delightfully uncrowded along the Grotto Trail, there were still quite a few people here attesting to how popular all the waterfall trails can be in Southern California
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_141_01302021 - You can see here that the area throughout the Grotto Trail had still been affected by the Woolsey Fire
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_149_01302021 - Julie and Tahia going past a sign that kept us on the Grotto Trail instead of a false trail to our right
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_163_01302021 - The West Fork of Arroyo Sequit started to close in as the cliffs got closer and closer
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_165_01302021 - Julie and Tahia going past some seemingly out-of-place water pipes
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_167_01302021 - By this point, we started to be level with the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit, and we even started to notice some standing water within the stream bed itself, which is always a good sign that there ought to be water in the waterfall
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_172_01302021 - Julie and Tahia now walking within the streambed of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_173_01302021 - Julie and Tahia approaching the start of the tricky boulder scrambling to get closer to the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_174_01302021 - Julie and Tahia starting to scramble deeper into the Grotto area
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_178_01302021 - Tahia and Julie continuing to slowly and carefully scramble their way down towards the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_180_01302021 - Looking down towards a pair of chockstones above a seemingly inaccessible part of the Grotto below us
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_182_01302021 - Looking upstream at more chockstones concealing other mysterious parts of the Grotto down below
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_185_01302021 - Julie and Tahia continuing to keep right as they scrambled further down the lower sections of the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_187_01302021 - Julie waiting for other people to descend a rather slippery and dicey part of the Grotto scramble as we pursued the lower waterfall
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_190_01302021 - Looking further downstream towards some attractive knobby mountains overlooking the narrow Grotto area
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_194_01302021 - Tahia and Julie scrambling up the slippery and precarious stretch leading us further downstream towards the lower drop of the Grotto Falls
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_196_01302021 - Tahia looking back at Julie doing more precarious scrambling in pursuit of the lower drop of The Grotto Falls
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_201_01302021 - Tahia and Julie going around some overgrowth as we sought the easiest way to make it down to the stream bed of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit and the lower drop of The Grotto Falls
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_207_01302021 - Julie making the final descent to join Tahia at the stream bed of the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_209_01302021 - Approaching the giant boulder concealing the lower drop of The Grotto Falls
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_036_iPhone_01302021 - Julie taking a picture of me wading into the smelly knee-deep pool where the hidden drop of The Grotto Falls was
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_213_01302021 - Approaching the rather isolated grotto containing the lower drop of the Grotto Falls though even from here, I had to go further in order to actually see the part of the waterfall that was flowing
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_241_01302021 - Finally getting a look at the lower drop of the Grotto Falls
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_250_01302021 - A more contextual look at the lower drop of the Grotto Falls where I could wade around the boulder and explore other nooks of this pretty neat spot
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_262_01302021 - Looking up towards some sandstone cliffs rising above the confines of the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_266_01302021 - Context of other people showing up just as I had my fill of the lower section of the Grotto Falls
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_280_01302021 - Tahia starting to make her way back up the scramble as we had our fill of the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_283_01302021 - Tahia and Julie still making their way up the steep scramble to get out of the Grotto area
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_291_01302021 - Context of Tahia and Julie continuing to scramble up while there are other onlookers waiting for us to scramble past them
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_294_01302021 - Tahia and Julie scrambling back down the dicey part
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_295_01302021 - Tahia waiting for Julie to slowly make her way back down the dicey part with someone waiting for us down below
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_299_01302021 - Tahia and Julie continuing to scramble back up above the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_303_01302021 - Tahia waiting for Julie to get past more large steps, which further gives you an idea of how tricky this part can be especially if it's wet
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_306_01302021 - Context of Julie and Tahia almost making it out of the boulder scramble section of the Grotto hike
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_308_01302021 - Julie and Tahia waiting for other people to scramble down as we were about to end our bouldering adventure at the Grotto
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_310_01302021 - Tahia and Julie route-finding on the last stretch before the West Fork of Arroyo Sequit finally would flatten out
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_323_01302021 - Julie and Tahia finally back on the main trail as we headed back to Circle X Ranch
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_327_01302021 - Looking up at what we think is a graceful California Condor
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_330_01302021 - Julie making her way back along the Grotto Trail towards the Circle X Ranch with Boney Mountain in the distance
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_375_01302021 - Looking towards what I suspect to be Sandstone Peak, which is the highest point of the Santa Monica Mountains
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_398_01302021 - Finally starting to see Circle X Ranch beneath Boney Mountain
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_414_01302021 - Approaching the dry Botsford Falls with Boney Mountain the background as seen during our late January 2021 visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_419_01302021 - Julie making it back above the Botsford Falls, which was dry during our late January 2021 visit
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_435_01302021 - Finally making it back to the Circle X Ranch Campground
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_441_01302021 - Julie and Tahia walking around the old Boy Scout Camp facility on the way back up to Circle X Ranch Ranger Station
Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_451_01302021 - Julie and Tahia finally making it back to the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station and the uppermost of the parking lots


The Grotto Falls is accessed from the trailhead at the Circle X Range Ranger Station, Campground, and Day Use Area.

According to my GPS log, Circle X Ranch itself is located about 5.3 miles from PCH on Yerba Buena Road.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_018_iPhone_01302021 - Driving up the twisty Yerba Buena Road from PCH en route to Circle X Ranch with Boney Mountain in the background
Driving up the twisty Yerba Buena Road from PCH en route to Circle X Ranch with Boney Mountain in the background

More generally, the Yerba Buena Rd turnoff was about 28 miles from where the 10 Freeway ends and the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) begins as it follows the coastline through Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, and Malibu.

This turnoff does not have a traffic light so we had to pay close attention to the road leaving PCH just west of the Neptune’s Net Restaurant.

Given the amount of traffic as well as traffic lights on this stretch of road, this part of the drive generally consumes about an hour.

Once we get to the Circle X Ranch Station, there’s limited day use parking immediately in front.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_453_01302021 - The signed turnoff along the Yerba Buena Road for the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station and Day Use Area
The signed turnoff along the Yerba Buena Road for the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station and Day Use Area

However, if the gate is open or the uppermost lot is full, you can drive the unpaved road to the left of the ranger station.

This unpaved road leads down to additional parking by the former Camp Circle X (Boy Scout facility) building.

That said, the road also continues to the left of the fork (the right fork went to the Boy Scout Camp) down another switchback before terminating at the end of the road at the Circle X Ranch Campground.

Down here, there’s additional parking as I’d imagine overnight camping use was prohibited due to the COVID-19 pandemic during our visit.

Circle_X_Ranch_Grotto_446_01302021 - One of the additional parking lots beneath the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station. This particular lot was adjacent to a long building that I suspect was once the Camp Circle X Boy Scout facility
One of the additional parking lots beneath the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station. This particular lot was adjacent to a long building that I suspect was once the Camp Circle X Boy Scout facility

The Grotto Trailhead starts right at the Circle X Ranch Campground, which itself is about a quarter-mile from the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station (so there’s a half-mile total hiking distance depending on which lot you parked at).

Even though the Circle X Ranch was technically part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, we didn’t have to pay to park in any of the lots here during our visits in early 2021.

For context, Malibu is about 19 miles (under 30 minutes drive) south of Thousand Oaks, 29 miles (over 30 minutes drive) southeast of Oxnard, about 33 miles (roughly an hour depending on traffic) west of downtown Los Angeles, about 67 miles (over an hour drive) southeast of Santa Barbara, and 69 miles (about 90 minutes drive) northwest of Irvine.

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360 degree sweep from the top of some hidden upper waterfall within the Grotto while noting the sounds of whimpering dogs, who didn't seem to like this place that much


Long video starting with a view of the trickling waterfall before wading clockwise around the large boulder concealing the falls to reveal the dark interior of the so-called Grotto


Video starting at the base of the Grotto Falls before wading counterclockwise around the boulder back towards the official end of the hike where some people just showed up


Comprehensive exploration of the Grotto from its entrance all the way to its lightly pouring waterfall


Exploring the Grotto from the entrance the source of the trickling water sounds caused by the waterfall at its head

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Tagged with: circle x ranch, the grotto, malibu, thousand oaks, santa monica mountains, national recreational area, boney mountain, sandstone peak, california, waterfall



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