Topanga State Park’s Musch Trail Camp is a small campground located in the eastern part of the Santa Monica Mountains. On a run last year with a couple of neighbors, we jogged past two campers. My husband and I live adjacent to a trail that leads to the park’s entrance and it piqued my curiosity to camp one night without ever having to hop into a car. We never knew the elusive campsite was there. We planned to dust off our hiking backpacks and follow Musch trail to campsite number 8.
Musch Trail Camp is a first-come-first-served campsite. There are eight sites next to one another, with the potential for up to six campers per site, although that means people would be snug in the assigned space. The fee is $7 dollars per night. There is a toilet and picnic tables, but no campfires or smoking allowed. The trail from the paved road in the park is moderate, and when you do reach switchbacks, it’s forgiving in that it winds in and out of sun and coolness in the tree shadows. We timed our arrival for sunset. The panoramic view, crickets and bird chirps in the sunlit grass, was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed, and that is not hyperbole.
When planning hikes, camping, anything really, I am food motivated by nature. What would we pack for our camp meal since campfires are prohibited? Sandwiches wrapped in paper, a canteen with drinks, sensible fruit and cheeses, a bar of chocolate. We also packed a couple of electric lanterns and a backgammon game. This is the place to try a night hike on a full moon, bring a book, or if you’re so inclined a guitar, but certainly not a portable speaker. You likely won’t have service so pack a fully charged phone with a downloaded map of the park for emergencies.
A fully charged headlamp or two would lend itself to a peaceful night of reading in your tent. There was a flurry of gnats that came and went uneventfully, and after a couple rounds of backgammon and pecking on cheese we were ready for bed. I thought it was 11 pm. It was just after 7.
That night there was an accident on Topanga Canyon Blvd and a helicopter briefly circled around nearby. I turned my phone on and had received a text from a neighbor joking he could pick us up if we wanted to “tap out”. I chuckled and didn’t even have enough service to send out a reply. I relished the freeing feeling of not having service, not being able to reply to anyone who would try to reach me. How far and few between, and under appreciated those moments are. The helicopter posed a rare distraction to restful sleep. I make a mental note to pack my ear plugs next time. Would I, or wouldn’t I want to know if there was something nearby in the sage bushes? The helicopter flies away. I feel the last bit of heat leave the earth’s crust. I zip my sleeping bag up a little higher.
The following morning we wake to the sounds of joggers, first a couple and then some, their panting is distinctly athletic. I unzip my tent, and poke my head out with one eye open. A woman with a halo of frizz, eyes impressively clear and ponytail bouncing about waves and smiles with a tuft of steam out of her mouth. “Good morning!”
“What’s going on?” I ask, regretting the unintentional morning, accusatory tone I had used towards a perfectly bright eyed and bushy tailed stranger.
“It’s the Tough Topanga 10K,” she yells and waves goodbye. We don’t know the race route, so we decide to get out of Dodge, and hike our way down before we are in a crowd of competitive humans so early in the day. It even puts pep in our step. On our way through the parking lot we see friends from our running group who are participating. Our MVP Mike grinning ear to ear. Mike had been training for weeks, sometimes even going on runs alone, before our runs as a group—runners, hikers, campers, outdoor enthusiasts are forces of nature. Especially if they have a bagel and a hot cup of coffee on their minds, Godspeed.
To speak to a ranger about hiking at Musch Trail Camp call (310) 455-2465.
Editor’s note: Musch Trail Camp in Topanga State Park is one of a trio of campgrounds on the 70-mile-long Backbone Trail (BBT) that are intended to help facilitate thru-hiking. The other camping sites are Danielson Ranch at Point Mugu State Park, a group campground only—contact California State Parks for reservations at 818-880-0363, and La Jolla Valley Hike-In, located 0.5-miles off of the BBT in Point Mugu State Park. This campsite offers only 3 tent spaces, and no water is available onsite. Payment can be made at the trailhead parking lot. Fires are not allowed at any of the hike-in campsites.
Malibu Creek State Park, which is adjacent to the BBT, offers full-service camping, including car and RV sites, fire rings, restrooms, and water. Reservations can be made at https://www.reservecalifornia.com/Web/