Backbone Trail

The Backbone Trail is a 67-mile trail system following the east-west trending crest and canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains. The trail connects three California State Parks and traverses National Park Service-owned Zuma/Trancas Canyons and Circle X Ranch, all within Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

photo: Ocean view from Backbone Trail, Ray Miller Trail in Point Mugu State Park Type: Backcountry, Equestrian Trail, Fitness Trail, Mountain Bike Trail, Nature Trail
Length: 67.00 miles
Loop Trail? No
Allowed Uses: Bicycling (off pavement)
Camping
Dogs - On leash
Equestrian - Riding
Pedestrian - Walking/Hiking/Running
Wildlife Observation
Agency: National Park Service
Entry Fee? No
Parking Fee? No

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Directions

Location: The Backbone Trail runs along the east-west ridgelines and canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, from Will Rogers State Historic Park in the city of Los Angeles to Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County.
States: California
Counties: Los Angeles, Ventura
Latitude: 34.08624   Longitude: -119.03655

The Backbone Trail can be reached from the 101 Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway and taking the cross-mountain roads to several trailheads, some where the trail crosses the road. To reach the eastern terminus in Will Rogers State Historic Park, turn onto Will Rogers State Park Road at the Sunset Boulevard traffic signal. To reach the western terminus, turn off Pacific Coast Highway at La Jolla Canyon in Point Mugu State Park; take off from Ray Miller Trailhead.

Description

The Backbone Trail is one of the most attractive long-distance trails in southern California, amazing for its urban-wildland contrast. The Backbone Trail is situated adjacent to one of the most densely populated and ethnically diverse metropolitan areas in the United States. Approximately 17 million Californians live within an hour’s drive of the trail. Yet, visitors can take in a great diversity of scenery, with several trail experiences to choose from: narrow footpaths close to nature, multi-use trails that are not steep and are easy on the heart and knees, and fire roads. The trail is enjoyed by a broad range of visitors, from those seeking a one day outing within their comfort level in an outdoor setting, to those training for a backpacking trip.

The trail stretches 67 miles from Will Rogers State Historic Park in Los Angeles to Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County where the mountains meet the Oxnard Plain. It generally follows the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, with elevations from near sea level to just over 3,000 feet at Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the mountains.

Early visions from 50 years ago called for a “Ridge Trail,” aligned from Griffith Park in the City of Los Angeles to Point Mugu State Park. That idea, however, never went forward owing to difficulty weaving a trail among development in the Hollywood Hills and along Mulholland Drive. In the 1970s, with the establishment of State Parks in the mountains, the notion began to crystallize and a route, now widely referred to as the “Backbone Trail,” was proposed to start at Will Rogers State Historic Park and Topanga State Park in the east, pass through Malibu Creek State Park in the center, and terminate in Point Mugu State Park in the west.

During the 1980s, inspired community members partnered with California State Parks, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and the National Park Service. By 1993, 31 miles of new trail had been constructed by one remarkable individual and youth training organizations including California and Los Angeles Conservation Corps. With existing fire roads, 51 miles were then open to the public. The remaining 16 miles across a six-mile stretch of private land took another 23 years to complete.

Over 180 transactions to piece together land and public access rights were needed, with a story to tell about each acquisition. Just three privately owned gaps tenaciously lingered until the impasse was broken by a unified vision to complete the trail during the National Park Service’s 2016 Centennial Celebration. The remaining gaps were closed just in time for the Secretary’s announcement of new National Recreation Trails on National Trails Day, June 4, 2016.

Trail users today can experience the beauty and rich biodiversity of the coastal Mediterranean ecosystem, found in only five regions in the world. The trail crosses roads at several points where there are trailheads, making segment outings of six to ten miles readily feasible. Additionally, most of the other 450 miles of trails within the recreation area connect in one fashion or another to the Backbone Trail. The whole trail is open to hiking and horseback riding. Portions of the trail are open to mountain biking. Dog-walking is allowed on parts of the trail owned by National Park Service. The trail is still a work in progress when it comes to camping, with only two camps along the trail, and three more a moderate distance from the trail. Currently, the best way to enjoy the trail is in a series of day trips.

Additional Details

Width: 53 inches.
Primary Surface: Soil, Compacted
Secondary Surface: None
Average Grade: 8%
Elevation Low Point: 25
Elevation High Point: 3,007
Year Designated: 2016

Supporting Webpages and Documents

Website: National Park Service information on the Backbone
Website: Featured article on the Backbone Trail

Contact Information

For more information and current conditions, contact the trail manager (listed below). For questions, suggestions, and corrections to information listed on the website, contact American Trails.

Public Contact:
David Szymanski
Superintendent
National Park Service
401 W. Hillcrest Dr.
Thousand Oaks , CA 91360
(805) 370-2342
david_szymanski@nps.gov

Trail Management:
Craig Sap
District Superintendent
California State Parks
1925 Las Virgenes Rd.
Calabasas , CA 91302
(818) 880-0396
craig.sap@parks.ca.gov

Trail Management:
Joseph Edmiston
Executive Director
Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
5750 Ramirez Canyon Rd.
Malibu , CA 90265
(323) 221-9944
edmiston@smmc.ca.gov

Trail Management:
Joseph Edmiston
Executive Officer
Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority
5750 Ramirez Canyon Rd.
Malibu , CA 90265
(323) 221-9944
edmiston@smmc.ca.gov

 

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