Backbone Trail

Hikers on the Backbone Trail (National Park Service Photo)

The Backbone Trail opened officially today, June 4, 2016.  The trail begins at Thornhill Broome Beach in Point Mugu State Park on the coast just west of Malibu, California.  It extends 67 miles up, into and through the length of  the Santa Monica Mountains to Will Rogers State Historic Park near Santa Monica, California.

Decades of Development

View of the ocean from Circle XRanch [NPS Photo]The trail has been under development for decades, with work beginning in the 1980’s.  Not only is trail construction challenging in the rugged terrain, but the trail passes through a variety of ownerships.  A partnership between the National Park Service, responsible for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and the  California Department of Parks and Recreation, responsible for state parks along the way, was instrumental in developing the route and working closely with private landowners to make the complete trail a reality.

The public has acquired more than 180 parcels, valued in excess of $100 million, to complete the route. California State Parks owns more than 60% of these lands.Recently a 40-acre parcel of land in Zuma Canyon was donated by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and fitness entrepreneur Betty Weider. The property, valued at more than $500,000, represents the single largest private donation for the Backbone Trail.


“The Backbone Trail shows what a dedicated community can do if they set their minds to it. The Backbone Trail has been a 40-year labor for elected officials, parks agencies, volunteers and philanthropists. When finished, the trail will form the spine of a 500-mile network of trails that connects the residents of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties to their public lands.” – David Szymanski, superintendent for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area


BackboneHikersBackbone Trail Conditions

The original idea to connect existing trails together resulted  in trail conditions ranging from single-track trails to old fire roads.  Further,  various uses are limited on certain sections of the trail.  Hikers are welcome anywhere on the trail, but mountain bikes, for example, may only use segments posted as open for that use.

The trail is unique in that it is a rugged wilderness experience, but always within a few miles of major urban areas.  Some segments are even within the city limits of Los Angeles and Malibu.  Part of the wilderness experience comes from the sage and chaparral ecosystems that offer only low brush and virtually no trees for shade.  This will be a hot and dry hike most of the year.  In addition the trail is a bit of a roller coaster with elevations ranging from the coast to the 3,111 ft (948 m) top of Sandstone Peak with  drops and climbs into and out of canyons and from peak to peak throughout its length.

Hiking the Backbone Trail

If you are planning to hike the trail, be aware that camping along the trail is limited.  There are a number of campgrounds close to the trail, but it is often difficult to get reservations to use them.  Efforts are underway to provide campsites along the trail itself for through hikers.  In the meantime,  there are many trailheads with parking that make series of day hikes practical.




Backbone Trail Map

More information

On the Backbone Trail [National Park Service Photo]

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