Big Sycamore and Serrano Canyons in Point Mugu State Park are a study in contrasts. As its name suggests, shallow and wide Big Sycamore Canyon harbors stately California sycamores, set at spacious intervals. Serrano Canyon is narrow, private, filled with thickets of dark live oaks, pale sycamores, pungent bay laurels, and a green carpet of wild blackberry, ferns, and poison oak.
This season's early rains may be enough to get water moving again in both canyons, despite the past two years of generally sparse rainfall. Both canyons are accessible by foot: Big Sycamore Canyon by means of a graded dirt road, and Serrano Canyon by means of a primitive trail. Mountain bikers are allowed on Big Sycamore's road, but not on the Serrano Canyon Trail.
The 16,000-acre Point Mugu State Park, the largest contiguous piece of parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains, is located some 50 miles west of Los Angeles (and 20 miles west of Malibu) along Pacific Coast Highway. For San Diegans that means a drive of about three hours, heavy traffic notwithstanding. A trailhead parking area can be found just off Pacific Coast Highway at Sycamore Canyon Campground. The wide service road through Sycamore Canyon starts here and goes many miles north into the interior of the park. Some 1.5 miles up this road is a major fork in the canyon, Serrano Canyon branching east. From that juncture you have a couple of choices: Stay on "easy street" by proceeding farther north in Sycamore Canyon, or opt for the more challenging exploration of Serrano Canyon on the narrow and sometimes rough Serrano Canyon Trail to the right.
Sycamore Canyon boasts the finest example of what biologists call "sycamore savanna" in the California State Parks system. Some of the gangly sycamores soar to heights of about 80 feet. Look for deer, bobcats, and coyotes in the grass and owls and hawks nesting in the trees. In fall and early winter you may see masses of monarch butterflies in some of the trees.
The Serrano Canyon route starts with a stretch across a rather dry, open bit of landscape before you enter the steep-walled canyon itself. The seasonal stream in Serrano Canyon has carved its way in a couple of spots through bedrock, and you may find shallow pools there. Choose your own turnaround point ahead. By about three miles from the Sycamore Canyon junction, the trail veers left and climbs out of the canyon. You've seen the best by then.