Space to Breathe. And Hike. And Run. And Ride. And More.

Space to Breathe. And Hike. And Run. And Ride. And More.

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Trailhead in West Hills for the open space preserve.

If, like me, you’re not a native Angeleno and your arrival here included views from the window of a plane landing at LAX, you were probably stunned by the density of the residential sprawl that makes up the greater Los Angeles area. A proverbial ‘concrete jungle’, as it were. But with both feet on the ground and some time to explore this mighty metropolis, you soon learn there is a vast amount of parks, parkland and protected natural spaces where you can enjoy the outdoors and leave the city behind. In fact, there is so much protected open space, you could spend a lifetime exploring it. This post is dedicated to just one of those resources: The Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve. And its backstory is as fascinating as the land is beautiful. Rolling hills with an oak tree in the distance. This swath of land, which is owned and operated by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, covers more than 5,600 acres spanning two counties – Los Angeles County on its west end, and the east end of Ventura County. There are three points of entry to the park: the Victory Trailhead at the end of Victory Boulevard in West Hills, the northern end of Las Virgenes Canyon Road in Calabasas, and via connecting trails on National Park Service Land in Cheesebro Canyon. Hiking path with vista of green hills and rocky outcropping.

With an extensive network of trails throughout the Preserve, there are routes that range from less than a mile to nearly 12 miles, all of which are light-to-moderately demanding in terms of their grade. These trails are used daily for hiking, running, dog walking, mountain biking, horseback riding, bird watching and more. This time of year the rain can make for some pretty muddy trails, but that moisture doesn’t stick around for very long. The photo above is along the Ahmanson Ranch House Trail, looking toward the rocky outcropping of Castle Peak in West hills.

Winding path with oak trees on a hill side.

Over the course of any given year the ground cover changes dramatically, beginning with verdant grasses and wildflowers during the wet winter and spring seasons and evolving to warmer yellows and reds during the dry seasons. These color variations are even more pronounced depending on the time of day and weather conditions. To give you a sense of this chameleon-like landscape, compare the photo above, which was taken in early March after a winter with record rains, and the photo below, taken from the same location the previous April after a period of drought.

Winding path with oak trees and colorful ground cover.

The fading sunlight at the end of the day adds to the warmth of the scene and makes it one of my favorite times to hike.

Rolling hills, golden grass, and oak trees.

The colors and light can also be dramatically different depending on the direction of view. The photo above and the photo below were also taken in the late afternoon, about 3 minutes apart, from two locations opposite one another. That’s the magic of the Golden Hour.

Hiking trails surrounded by golden grass and oak trees.

The oak in the foreground here is the same tree on the left side of the preceding photo. These Valley Oaks, which are centuries old, dot the hills throughout the preserve and sycamores line the canyons. This picturesque landscape was the deal backdrop for countless film productions over years going all the way back to the 1910’s.

A lush meadow overlooking the community of Hidden Hills.

For long-time residents, the preservation of this space was a cause for celebration after an 18-year legal battle over its use was finalized in 2003. The Washington Mutual company acquired the land as part of its acquisition of the H.F. Ahmanson Co. in 1998 and they intended to follow through on the development of a master-planned community initiated by Ahmanson in 1986, which included building 3000+ homes, schools, hotels, golf courses, a commercial center. But thanks to nearby residents and preservationists, this effort was not allowed to succeed.  It doesn’t hurt that some of the nearby residents are among the most wealthy in the area and live in the adjacent gated community of Hidden Hills, seen above.

A hawk glides in the sky in search of food.

A hawk soars above the hills in search of prey. The crest of the Santa Monica mountains in the Red Rock Canyon area can be seen in the distance.

A roadway on Lasky Mesa leading to the historic ranch house.

Continuing along the Ahmanson Ranch House Trail will lead you to the plateau seen above, which is commonly referred to as Lasky Mesa. This name comes from its use as a production set in the Golden Era of Hollywood when film pioneer Jesse L. Lasky, who founded Paramount Pictures with Adolph Zukor, built a film studio on this mesa. From that moment in time, a long history of film productions began here, starting with Rose of the Rancho in 1914.

The driveway of the historic Barrett ranch house.

Over the past 240 years, ownership of this land has changed several times. In the 1930’s it was owned by a William Randolph Hearst company, which unsuccessfully drilled for oil. It was then purchased by George E. Barrett, a wealthy financier and landholder. Barrett built a ranch vacation home on the mesa, which still exists today and can be rented for special events. Pictured above is the driveway entrance leading to this historic ranch home.

A giant oak tree in front of the historic Barrett ranch house.

In addition to vacationing here, the Barrett family raised horses and allowed the property to continue being used for filming (presumably for a fee). A huge oak tree occupies the front yard of the Barrett Ranch House. Given its size, it must’ve been here since long before the present when the Barrett family purchased the property.

Large cloud formations above the Lasky Mesa.

Unless you’re a true film history expert, you probably are not familiar with Rose of the Rancho. However, you have no doubt heard of Gone With The Wind. The scenes of the cotton fields on the Tara planation were filmed on this mesa.  A more recent movie filmed here that you may have seen is Django Unchained.

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A production scene from a film shot on Lasky Mesa in the very earliest days of Paramount’s history.

Field of mustard surrounding a hiker on a trail.

Here is a photo snapped with my iPhone during my very first hike through the Preserve 6 years ago. It was in May and fields of mustard were in bloom as far as the eye could see.

Hikers on a path and golden grasses.

For a bit of history that goes even further back in time, two Native American tribes inhabited the Preserve in Paleolithic times. This particular area was the domain of the Chumash people. But it’s also considered to be part of a boundary area what was shared by the Tongva. Although Barrett’s purchase of the land was for the purpose of investment, thanks to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, we all get to partake of this incredible resource. And this isn’t the only Barrett land that is now public space. Parts of Cheeseboro Canyon, Point Dume, Escondido Canyon and Latigo Canyon also come from his portfolio.

Rolling hills and overcast skies.

For those interested in the outdoors for the purpose of studying habitats, this area is home to endangered species such as the California red-legged frog, the San Fernando Valley spineflower, and the Southwestern willow flycatcher. All of these species are protected here.  And the area also encompasses headwaters of Malibu Creek, which flows to Santa Monica Bay and supports the Southern steelhead trout.

Motorcycles riding along a trail at sunset.

I’m not sure if motorcycles are allowed in this area, but they sure did make for a cool photo.

Sun setting behind the hill's crest in the distance.

I highly recommend walking through the Preserve at Sunset. It can be truly spectacular. If you’re interested in learning more about the trails in the preserve, Alltrails is a great resource. Here is a link to the Preserve on that site. If you would enjoy living in close proximity to this area, you can find homes ranging from under $1 million for a 3 bedroom / 2 bath ranch style home, all the way up to showcase homes for several million dollars.  I would be happy to help you find a place that suits your needs in any price range. Feel free to give me a ring.

2500 1663 David Kubiczky
2 Comments
  • This is such a great park. We moved to West Hills in 2017 and lived here for several months before I really even knew about the space. Now we come hike here at least once a week. It’s such a great resource!

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