Murphy Ranch – A Hike to a Former Nazi Compound in the Santa Monica Mountains

03-20131228_142650Believe it or not, there is a former Nazi hideout compound in Rustic Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The place is called Murphy Ranch and it’s only accessible by hiking a couple miles up a fire road and then turning off the trail, through a break in the fence, down a steep and endless staircase, into the canyon.  These days, it’s a network of crumbling structures and concrete compounds that are covered almost entirely in graffiti.   I found the story of this unlikely place online.  Here is what we know:

In the 1930s, a Nazi named Herr Schmidt convinced his millionaire friends Winona and Norman Stephens to build a compound on their estate in the Mountains outside Los Angeles. They sunk 4 million dollars into the compound, building a sustainable community for Nazi supporters. They believed that when the Nazis conquered Europe, it was only a matter of time until America also fell to the Nazis. And they wanted a safe place to hang out with their Nazi buddies and wait out the apocalyptic collapse of The United States.  Of course, things didn’t go exactly as planned.

The compound was raided and shut down in 1941 and left abandoned for years.  Apparently Murphy Ranch was reborn in the 60s as a hippie artist community, but that didn’t last too long either. After the Mandeville Canyon Fire in 1978, the places was abandoned for good.

You really have to see this place for yourself. The hike is only about 4 miles in total, and other than the treacherous staircase, it’s a pretty easy hike.

Start on the corner of Capri Drive & Casale Road. You can find street parking in that area.  Walk up and to the left, and then follow the trail to the paved Sullivan Ridge Fire Road that is the entrance to Rustic Canyon.  You walk about a mile up and keep an eye for a chain link fence on your left, with a break in it that leads to the endless staircase.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my DSLR with me, so I shot all these photos on my phone, but I think they turned out pretty good!

There are over 500 steps from the trail to the bottom of the canyon.

There are over 500 steps from the trail to the bottom of the canyon.

Seriously – watch your step on these stairs! They seem to go on forever and descend pretty steeply into the canyon.

At the bottom of the stairs, follow the trail to the left and you’ll come to the large concrete building that apparently used to house the generator for the compound. The power building is almost completely covered with graffiti and it’s and sort of creepy to walk inside, snoop around, and climb onto the roof.

The old generator building

The old generator building

Barred windows give the building a pretty creepy prison vibe.

One of the windows.

Continue down the trail and you’ll come to a huge rusted metal structure that is almost completely destroyed, except for a large archway.

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Pass through the archway and there is an old, barely recognizable Volkswagen Van (a favorite of Nazis and hippies!).

The old Nazi Hippie Van!

The old Nazi Hippie Van!

From here, the trail turns into a narrow track that winds through the canyon for a half mile to a beautiful clearing where there is a big old graffiti-covered barn that is partially collapsed.

The barn, surrounded by barbed wire.

The barn, surrounded by barbed wire.

The barn is surrounded by chain link fencing and barbed wire, but I climbed through a hole in the fence to poke around. The stables look more like prison cells now, and the place feels like a haunted house.  I half-expected to find a dead body in the feeding trough.

The back of the barn.

The back of the barn.

Continue up the path and you’ll see the huge old water tank and the large stone and metal gate that used to mark the entrance to the Murphy Ranch Compound.  Be sure to peak over the edge of the giant, graffiti-covered water tank – give a good yell into the tank and listen to the echo!

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Echoo-ooo -ooo! I tried to snap a panorama of this cool old water tank. Click for full size!

The gates are crumbling and awesome.

The gates are crumbling and awesome.

Pass through the gates, and you’ll find yourself back on Sullivan Ridge Fire Road. Follow the road to the left for about 1.5 miles and you’ll be back at the start of your hike!

Murphy Ranch is a fun and easy hike with some unique sites to check out and a really interesting history. I recommend bringing a picnic lunch, and some beers.

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  • contented traveller

    Incredible photos; just goes to show how much phones have improved – or maybe it is the user :) Really interesting post.