Leo Carrillo State Park contains a number of scenic paths. Hikers often choose to venture along this park’s trails because of their stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains. Nicholas Flat Trail takes you steadily upward toward its namesake, Nicholas Flat. If you choose to go all the way up to the flat, you are facing a 7-mile-long out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of nearly 1,700 feet. Many people opt to hike upward until they reach the junction of Nicholas Flat Trail and Willow Creek Trail, at which point they turn down the latter. This creates a 2-mile loop.
Due to the trail’s lack of shade, the plants and cacti that you see along the way will be hearty. Purple sage, laurel sumac, chamise, buckwheat, and the prickly pear cactus all do well in direct sunlight. You are likely to see Cooper’s hawks, white-tailed kites, and California quails flying overhead, and if you keep your gaze on the ground you might just see a coast range newt or a Pacific rattlesnake. Large mammals such as mountain lions and coyotes live in the area as well.
If you are visiting from out of town you may decide to spend the night in Leo Carrillo State Park. The sprawling campground boasts picnic tables and barbecues. You can even take a hot shower for a small fee. Sleeping right in the park allows you to rise early and hit the trail before the temperature rises too much. You will also avoid the crowds, as this trail is quite popular. If you decide to stay for a couple of days you can explore other parts of the park, including the Yellow Hill Fireroad Trail, the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, and the park’s beach. There is an underpass beneath the Pacific Coast Highway that allows you to walk straight from Nicholas Flat Trail to the beach without having to dodge traffic.