Okay, okay. This isn’t a hike with a neat little trail and an amazing view at the end. But it’s a part of creepy California history (the best kind!), and if you’re in the area and have a curiosity about Charles Manson and the Family, then stopping at Spahn Ranch is a must.
Although, I have to be honest here. Sometimes going to look for the out-of-the-way Manson stuff gets me a little nervous. There are the morbid curiosity seekers (us), and then there are some real nutters who consider themselves followers of his. I’d really rather not run into them.
This is a real possibility when it comes to some of the more out-of-the-way places the Family spent time, like Spahn and Barker ranches. So, just be prepared, alert and safe.
Spahn Ranch history
Spahn Ranch, for the uninitiated, was an old movie set and ranch owned by George Spahn. He came to be associated with the Family when they moved in and lived there for free while helping the blind Spahn run his business and maintain the ranch.
Spahn Ranch was the starting point from which the Manson Family left to kill Sharon Tate and her friends one night, and the LaBiancas the next.
Unfortunately, Spahn Ranch burned down in 1970 and you would never know anything had occupied the land. Thousands of people must drive by there every single day and not know that they’re looking at an infamous piece of Los Angeles history.
Today, the area that was Spahn Ranch is now part of Santa Susana State Historic Park.
If you plan a visit to Spahn Ranch, I suggest getting there early for two reasons:
- To beat the heat, as it can get hot in Simi Valley.
- To avoid attracting attention, because you’re going to be climbing over guardrails and you will have to park in a church parking lot, since there is no roadside parking.
To get to the ranch, take 118 West and exit Santa Susana Pass Road. At the exit, cross the bridge and turn left. Follow the road around until you see the Church at Rocky Peak up on the hill on your left.
Drive up there, park in the lot. Please, please be discreet and quiet. Please don’t ruin the opportunity to see Spahn Ranch and the Family Cave for others by acting like an idiot, kthanks.
Walk down the hill back down to Santa Susana Pass Road and cross the street (look both ways!). You will see a wide open grassy area right in front of you. You will also see a small patch of dirt between the bushes right off the road – that’s a good point to cross into the ranch.
And now you’re standing on it!
The Family Cave
The old Spahn Ranch location is pretty cool, but the main draw to this area has to be the Manson Family Cave, so called because of this famous photo:
That’s exactly what it looks like today, only today it’s in color and 100 percent Squeaky Fromme free.
To get to the cave from where you’re standing in Spahn Ranch, head down into the brush between the ranch and the road. You’ll see a creek down there that will probably be bone-dry or very shallow. Follow it along for about five minutes or so. On your right, you’ll see the small cave with the flat overhang. It’s so recognizable, you will not miss it.
The first time we went there, we used this video to find it. You may want to watch it before you go so you can get the lay of the land.
When we were there this last Saturday, someone had left a photo behind:
Spahn Ranch tips
- There’s a lot of poison oak in this area. Wear long pants, socks and closed-toe shoes. Bring a change of clothes for when you’re done climbing around in there, and keep your poison oak clothes in a plastic bag to wash when you get home.
- Watch out for debris. There’s a lot of twisted metal around here, and the general belief is that most of it is from Spahn Ranch and possibly even the Family. O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-h-h-h-h-h.
- Watch out for rattlesnakes, too!