It might not be of the same scale as the Appalachian, Pacific Crest or John Muir Trails, but the nearly 70-mile Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains is one of the most varied, challenging and easily accessible hiking resources in the L.A. area. Crossing through popular state parks such as Topanga, Malibu Creek and Point Mugu as well as more remote areas of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, passing seasonal waterfalls and climbing summits, threading narrow canyons and oak woodlands, the Backbone Trail simply cannot be ignored. It is a popular destination for through-hikers, but if you don’t have the time or endurance to knock off the whole thing, you can still have an enjoyable day hike on the trail. From east to west, here are ten sections of the Backbone Trail that make enjoyable day hikes.
Topanga State Park: Eagle Rock Loop
The destination of this popular hike is Eagle Rock, a distinctive sandstone outcrop resembling a skull, from which the views are outstanding. However, the loop also includes a 2.5-mile stretch on the Musch Trail, which is also part of the Backbone Trail.
Trippet Ranch to Old Topanga Canyon Road
This stretch descends from the Trippet Ranch area of Topanga State Park via the Dead Horse Trail, crosses Topanga Canyon Blvd. and continues to Old Topanga Canyon Road. While not one of the more dramatic sections of the Backbone, it does form an important link between Hondo Canyon and Topanga State Park and provides some nice views of Topanga Canyon, plus some secluded oak woodlands.
Hondo Canyon: Old Topanga Canyon Road to Lois Ewen Overlook
With meadows, sandstone geology and panoramic ocean and mountain views, this is one of the most scenic segments of the trail. The 8-plus mile round trip is a challenge, but it can also be done as a one-way shuttle.
Lois Ewen Overlook to Saddle Peak
This eastern approach to Saddle Peak is shorter and not as scenic as the more common route from the north, but it’s still an easy way to experience some excellent ocean views. The 2-mile round trip can conveniently be squeezed in before or after work or into a busy weekend schedule. The views from the trail head alone are worth the drive.
California Wildlife Center
This quiet stretch of the trail explores some woodlands between Saddle Peak and Malibu Creek State Park. Most of the trail is shaded and the noise from nearby Piuma Road is largely blocked out. As an added benefit, you can see hawks and other birds at the California Wildlife Center.
Mesa Peak (east approach)
From Tapia Park, an annex of Malibu Creek State Park, the Backbone Trail climbs steadily, gaining over a thousand feet. Scenic highlights include excellent views of the ocean and Malibu Canyon, the Goat Buttes and more.
Mesa Peak (west approach)
While the route from Corral Canyon to Mesa Peak doesn’t have quite the dramatic scenery as its eastern counterpart, it still showcases some fascinating sandstone caves and wide-ranging ocean views. It also has free parking.
Quiet Trancas Canyon, located between Encinal Canyon Road and Kanan Dume Road, is one of the more secluded sections of the Backbone Trail. This moderate hike dips down into the canyon and climbs to a ridge that offers some nice ocean and mountain views.
Linking the Etz Meloy Motorway to the Circle X Ranch, this 4.6-mile stretch of the Backbone loosely follows Yerba Buena/Little Sycamore Canyon Road. Views include the ocean, Leo Carillo State Park and toward the end of the hike, dramatic views of Boney Mountain and Sandstone Peak.
Point Mugu State Park: Overlook Trail Loop
This 9-mile loop explores Big Sycamore Canyon and climbs to a ridge where it picks up the Overlook Trail, also a section of the Backbone Trail. Heading south back to the trail head, hikers are treated to excellent views of Boney Mountain, Big Sycamore Canyon, La Jolla Valley and the ocean. The area is still recovering from the Spring Fire of 2013 but even as it awaits its return to its former bucolic state it makes a worthwhile hiking destiantion.
These ten hikes comprise less than half of the Backbone Trail. For more ideas on day hikes on this trail, follow the link below.