Backbone Trail through Trancas Canyon from Encinal Canyon Road
- Location: Northwestern Santa Monica Mountains on Encinal Canyon Road. From Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, 24.4 miles from the end of I-10, take Encinal Canyon Road for 5 miles. Turn right to stay on Encinal Canyon and go a mile, just past the fire station, to a small dirt turnout at the side of the road. From Highway 101, take the Kanan Road exit and head south on Kanan Road for 6.2 miles. Turn right on Mulholland Highway, go 0.9 miles and bear left on Encinal Canyon Road. The parking area will be on the left in 2.3 miles, just before the fire station.
- Agency: National Park Service
- Distance: 3.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 750 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Best season: Year-round (hot during the summer)
- USGS topo maps: Triunfo Pass; Point Dume
- More information: here
- Rating: 7
This secluded stretch of the Backbone Trail is a pleasant surprise for hikers, especially those who think they’ve seen it all in the Santa Monica Mountains. One of the Backbone’s newer segments, it starts on the south side of Encinal Canyon Road and ends at one of the few parcels of private land that breaks up the continuity of the trail.
From the small dirt turnout, head downhill past a metal gate, passing a couple of side trails. You head south, dropping into scenic Trancas Canyon, passing by a large boulder perched high on the hill in a manner similar to famous Balanced Rock on the Sandstone Peak trail. Stay straight as a smaller trail branches off to the right.
After crossing a footbridge, you reach the bottom of the canyon, entering a pleasant grove of live oaks. You begin a gradual ascent, cross a second footbridge that spans a seasonal stream, and start climbing more rigorously on the exposed side of the canyon. For your efforts, you get nice views of the area, including a glimpse at the ocean, and the Boney Mountain peaks above the closer hills. The trail makes its way along a twisted course before reaching the top of a ridge.
At 1.6 miles, you reach a private dirt road, the turnaround point. It might seem a little anti-climatic as a destination, but it’s a pleasant enough place to sit and enjoy the scenery before heading back. If you have more time, you can continue west along the Backbone Trail on the other side of Encinal Canyon Road, as described here.
Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.