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Featured National Recreation Trails

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Every kind of trail activity is represented in the listing of designated NRTs. Besides hiking and bicycling, the system includes water trails, motorized routes, snow tracks, greenways, and equestrian paths. The NRT program showcases the diversity of trails across America, from our cities and suburbs to the deserts, waterways, and high mountains.


Backbone Trail


Map of NC

This 67‐mile long‐distance trail connects the largest publicly owned natural and scenic parks within Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The route travels along the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains , offering views of the Pacific Ocean, chaparral‐blanketed mountainsides, shady oak woodlands, rock formations, and cityscapes in the distance.


photo of trail near creek

The Trail travels along the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains and offers views of the

Pacific Ocean and chaparral‐blanketed mountainsides.

The trail stretches 67 miles from Will Rogers State Historic Park on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles to Point Mugu in Ventura County, adjacent to the Oxnard Plain. It generally follows the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains range, with elevations between near sea level to just over 3,000 feet at Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the mountains. Trail users can experience the beauty and rich biodiversity of the Mediterranean ecosystem, found in only five regions in the world.

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 Southern Californians live within an hour’s drive of one of the trailheads. The trail is popular with a broad range of visitors, from those who played a role in building the trail decades ago to first-time recreational users. Several roads cross the trail at various points along its course, making segment hikes of 6 to 10 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 Tail.

A Santa Monica Mountains ridgeline trail has been a vision for more than 50 years. Originally, it was to run from Griffith Park to Point Mugu, but that idea never went forward. In the 1970s, with the establishment of large state parks in the mountains, the notion began to crystallize and a route was proposed that linked Will Rogers State Historic Park in the east with Malibu Creek State Park in the center and Point Mugu State Park in the west .

photo of bird

Photo by Jim Belsley

During the 1980s, many who shared the vision started working on the project with California State Parks, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and the National Park Service. By 1990, 43 miles of the trail had been completed. It followed ridges, traversed chaparral-covered hillsides, entered oak woodlands, and crossed creeks and valleys.

Like Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the Backbone Trail System has progressed little by little across a patchwork of public lands. It has been constructed by volunteers, public land corps groups like the California Conservation Corps, and professional staff from various parkland agencies. Parts of the trail were old animal paths that became single-track trails; other stretches were converted from fire roads.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area intends to work with its partners to complete the trail in honor of the National Park Service’s Centennial anniversary in 2016. The public agencies involved in the decades-long effort intend to host a public event commemorating the completion of the trail and, hopefully, its designation as a National Recreation Trail.



For more information:

See the NRT Database for more trail information and a map.

See the National Park Service website on the Backbone.



trail noteWe frequently add NRT information, photos and maps to these pages. Send suggestions and information requests to American Trails. Research additional NRTs in the NRT database. Trail managers can update online trail information in the NRT database. You may also e-mail information on minor changes or to update Featured NRT pages.



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The on-line database has details on the currently designated National Recreation Trails. The NRT Program online is hosted by American Trails:


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