If you were asked to name the largest “urban” national park, chances are you might cite Manhattan’s Central Park or perhaps even Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Actually, it’s the copious Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. According to California State Parks, one out of 17 Southern Californians lives within an hour’s drive of the area. Given this statistic, finding your center is a footpath closer than you think.

Stretching west of Highway 101 (the Ventura Freeway), the granddaddy of urban parks courses across the San Fernando Valley, offering a bountiful 500 miles of trails issued through myriad canyons and state parks. Reaching the northwest end of Malibu, it skips across the Pacific Ocean to settle at the Channel Islands.

Throughout this extensive and uniquely diverse environment some of the most exhilarating hiking trails meander through Malibu and its environs. Here’s a sampling of notables.

Get grounded at Point Magu (Chumash for “beach”) State Park, north of Malibu on scenic Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway), where the term “national park” is evident by the park’s vastness, RVs, friendly docents and a $10 parking fee, which allows for unlimited in-and-outs at any state park location throughout the day.

Here, a variety of trails afford slower ambles on wide dirt paths or clipped-paced climbs on tortuous dirt trails that wind through sage-thronged hills providing ocean views. Even on relatively level hikes, however, the heat quickly mounts, so slather on plenty of sunscreen before, during and after your trek, and pack a hat and plenty of water.

If a scaled-down, rural setting is more to your liking, Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa is a fitting match. An interlacing of fire roads and single-trail paths located within the five-mile Satwiwa Native American Indian Natural Area, Satwiwa (“the bluffs”) receives visitors at the incipient Wendy Trail that cuts across a Wyeth-esque valley meadow.

Indeed, this solitary hiker found its offerings instantly gratifying. Obscuring the din of civilization, birds’ calls mingle with the soft hissing of dry grasses wafting in the breeze, guiding you through your trek or run on the well-marked intersecting trails.

Or you can climb up the one and a half-mile Hidden Valley Overlook Trail for a serene respite or the two-mile Upper Sycamore Trail, leading back to Point Magu State Park.

You are sure to gain stimulation from the mix of humidifying scents of sage, oaks and the anachronistic edifices at Paramount Ranch, north of Satwiwa on the 101 at Kanan Road and just north of Mulholland Highway. An “Old Western Town,” literally an assortment of former clapboard movie set pieces encircled by oaks, sits at the center of the site.

However, the grouping of easy-to-moderate converging footpaths will win your attention. Enveloped by high chaparral and the surrounding verdant wooly hills, these level trails offer a calming release from daily technologically entwined congestions. Yield to the sounds of crunchy dried-oak leaves underfoot, the intoxicatingly fresh air and the rustling of abounding wildlife.

Couched in a rare Mediterranean-type ecosystem – one of only three globally – the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area provides restorative landscapes fit for introspection as well as recreation. And you’ll find plenty of this and more at the sprawling Malibu Creek State Park and natural preserve, open at dawn, offering hikers more than 30 miles of myriad trails.

Trail lovers unite here on National Trails Day, Saturday, June 3 at 8:30 a.m., to participate in a day of trail tending. For more information, call the National Park Service at (805) 370-2301.

Florid beauty dominates at Temescal Gateway National Park, where the scenery is duly rooted in the word enchanting. The recessed site is one mile north of PCH at Sunset and Temescal Canyon in Pacific Palisades and just about a mile from UCLA.

Here, you can also access the rambling Backbone Trail, the area’s most distinguished and longest trail, spanning approximately 60 miles. On the other hand, simply enjoy the lushly bordered rolling ridge trails allowing for quick zips or measured walks, although the profusion of trail bends does prompt the whimsical question, “Which way?”

The park’s caveat is the four-mile loop of well-marked, hand-railed trails that warrant against both Alice’s and your disappearance down a rabbit hole. Enter into Nature’s equipoise at the Backbone Trailhead at Las Virgenes Road, about two miles south of Mulholland Highway off Kanan Road.

Cool, serpentine woodland trails reward trekkers with surprise waterfalls and ocean views from canyon vistas. To witness a mesmerizing vision, stay until dusk and watch as the slow creeping of the milky marine layer settles in and envelops the canyon.

Nature has its threats, such as the bête noire of the woodlands – the ubiquitous poison oak – most commonly found in the shady or wet areas along trails. Indeed, the woodlands are very much alive, a notion belying their analogy to stillness.

Ironically, a journey along a trail path is certain to evoke a similar sensation. It’s just as easy as placing one foot in front of the other.

For more information, visit www.nps.gov/samo.