M*A*S*H at Malibu Creek State Park

 

Just about an hour north from Los Angeles on the 101 freeway is Malibu Creek State Park near Calabasas, California. Covering over 8,000 acres of rolling hills and treelined streams, the park also contains 2,000 acres of what was once owned by 20th Century Fox as a movie ranch. Like nearby Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area, the Hollywood studios often owned property outside of the city which could be used for locations spanning just about every setting imaginable.

20th Century Fox bought the property in 1946 after having filmed How Green Was My Valley in the area a few years earlier. The Ranch was purchased by the State of California in 1974, and was opened to the public in 1976. Another familiar classic, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, was also shot here, and the “dream house” remains in use as a administrative building.

But perhaps most famously, Century Ranch doubled as 1950s Korea in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970). The television version, which began in 1972, allowed Fox to continue to use the outdoor sets they had constructed for the film. The hugely popular program shot exteriors here throughout the 11 season run of the show while the rest was filmed on a soundstage replica of the set back at Fox Studios.

As was written into the storyline of the show’s finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” the outdoor set was burned in a brush fire in 1982 during the production of the finale. There’s still a few burnt and rusted vehicles out at the site which are leftovers from the fire. After the series wrapped up, the site had returned to its original wild state. In 2007, the park worked on restoring the clearing where the set once was, and it remains a popular hiking destination within the park.

The hike from the main parking lot is almost 5 miles roundtrip on an out-and-back type trail. The route starts on Crags Road, one of the main pathways through the entire park. This wide service road runs alongside Malibu Creek and is covered well with trees from both sides. From there the road climbs out of this valley and over the only really steep part of the hike, which is a gradual hill up and over into the next little valley area. Once on the other side, the trail turns left into more of a single-track trail through some wooded areas. Emerging out of the trees, a restored Army ambulance on the right marks the entrance to the M*A*S*H site.

Standing in the valley it’s easy to see and match up the same familiar rock formations around the 4077th. The park has set up several informational signs which highlight these locations, and staked into the grassy ground are rope outlines of where the buildings like the Hospital and The Swamp once stood. Near where the hill to the helicopter landing pad once was the park has set up several picnic tables under a shade structure. A replica signpost completes the atmosphere.

These photos were taken on two separate trips, one in February of this year, and one in May. The February trip was perfect, with the hills in all their green splendor. By May, especially with the drought, much of the foliage was already dry.

Malibu Creek State Park offers so many opportunities for hiking, most of them being fairly flat trails. The hike to the M*A*S*H site is one of the most scenic routes I’ve come across out here, and the end destination is a fun location to look around, especially if you’re a fan of the show. The park is open from dawn until dusk and all day parking is $12 per car.

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