Saddle Peak (East Approach)

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Sunset from Saddle Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

Sunset from Saddle Peak

View of the Santa Monica Bay from Saddle Peak, Malibu CA

Ocean view from Saddle Peak

Saddle Peak (East Approach)

    • Location: Santa Monica Mountains between Topanga and Malibu. From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway 9.5 miles to Las Flores Canyon.  Go right and take Las Flores Canyon 3.4 miles to Rancho Pacifico.  Go right on Rancho Pacifico for 0.6 miles and go right on Schueren for 1.8 miles.  Park at the Lois Ewen Overlook (Topanga Lookout Trailhead on Google Maps) at the intersection of Schueren, Stunt and Saddle Peak Roads. From the San Fernando Valley, take Highway 101 to Valley Circle/Mulholland. Turn left and follow Mulholland 0.3 miles. Turn right and follow Mulholland another 0.3 miles to Valmar. Turn right and follow Valmar, which becomes Old Topanga Canyon Road, 1.2 miles to Mulholland Highway. Turn right and follow Mulholland Highway 3.8 miles to Stunt Road. Turn left and follow Stunt Road 4 miles to the overlook at the junction with Schueren and Saddle Peak Roads.
    • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 1.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 400 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Best season: All year
    • USGS topo maps: “Malibu Beach”
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
    • More information: Backbone Trail information here; trip description here
    • Rating: 5

This approach to Saddle Peak doesn’t offer the scenic variety or same level of challenge as the route from the north, but it’s still an enjoyable hike. Sunsets are particularly enjoyable: the distance from the summit back to the car is short enough that you can watch the sun dip into the ocean and still have a little bit of light when you make your descent. Like the approach from the north, this hike utilizes the Backbone Trail.

Lois Ewen Overlook, Backbone Trail, Malibu, CA

0:00 – Trail head: Lois Ewen Overlook (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The vistas from the trail head, the Lois Ewen Overlook, are almost as good as those from the summit; you get a nearly aerial view of the Santa Monica Bay and the San Fernando Valley. After enjoying the panorama, follow Stunt Road briefly downhill and pick up a signed trail on the south side, opposite mile marker 3.99. The Backbone Trail climbs quickly, following the south side of a ridge with good ocean views before meeting a service road at 0.4 miles.

Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:02 – Start of the trail (times are approximate)

Follow the road uphill around the back of a water tank. After a few yards of semi-pavement, the trail becomes dirt again and enters an oak woodland. Keep an eye out for some interesting sandstone geology on the left, as well as some views of the Valley through the trees on the right.

Crossing the service road on the Backbone Trail

0:10 – Service road

At three quarters of a mile, you reach a junction. The Backbone Trail continues straight ahead but to reach Saddle Peak, turn left and follow a spur to a dirt road. Turn left again and climb a short distance to the summit.

Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains near Saddle Peak

0:20 – Junction on the Backbone Trail (left turn)

Saddle Peak is actually two different summits but this is the only one with public access (the other summit houses various radio and communications towers). You get a nearly 360-degree view including the ocean to the south, Castro Peak and Boney Mountain to the west, the Simi Hills, Santa Susana Mountains and Hollywood Hills to the north and the San Gabriels to the east. On a recent day with particularly good visibility, I was able to see Old Saddleback, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.

Dirt road on Saddle Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:22 – Dirt road toward the summit

After enjoying the view, descend by the same route. If you’ve arranged a shuttle at the lower trail head, you can descend north on the Backbone Trail; if you’re willing to walk 1.2 miles on Stunt Road, you can take the Backbone Trail north to the lower trailhead and then take the street back to the overlook for a loop of about 3.5 miles.

 

View from Saddle Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu CA

0:25 – Looking north from Saddle Peak

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

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Backbone Trail: Encinal Canyon Road to Etz Meloy Motorway

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Moon over the Backbone Trail

Backbone Trail between Mulholland Highway and Etz Meloy Motorway

Backbone Trail: Encinal Canyon Road to Etz Meloy Motorway

      • 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 to a dirt turnout on the left side of the road (across from the fire station).  This is the parking lot for the Backbone Trail.  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 right in 2.4 miles.
      • Agency:  National Park Service
      • Distance: 7.2 miles
      • Elevation gain:  850 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance)
      • Suggested time:  3.5 hours
      • Best season: October – June
      • USGS topo maps: Triunfo Pass; Point Dume
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
      • More information: here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7

The 3.6 mile stretch of the Backbone Trail from Encinal Canyon Road to the Etz Meloy Motorway is one of the system’s newer segments. The lower stretch, from Encinal Canyon to Mulholland Highway, was completed in 2004; the upper stretch in 2007. As of now, parking is not available on Mulholland, but plans are in the works to change that.

This part of the trail is more popular with mountain bikers (be careful of them, because with many switchbacks, they can be hard to see) than hikers, so you’re not likely to have much company. The scenery isn’t quite as varied as it is on the Backbone sections in the nearby Point Mugu and Sandstone Peak areas, but it still takes in some nice views of the western Santa Monicas. Except for some intermittent traffic noise on the two roads, there are few sights or sounds of civilization.

From Encinal Canyon Road, the trail climbs gently to Mulholland Highway. After crossing Mulholland (there is no traffic light or cross walk, but traffic is usually light here), the Backbone passes through a meadow and starts climbing some more switchbacks. There is very little shade, although unless you are hiking at high noon, odds are the many ridges and hills in the area will block out the sun.

As you climb, the views get wider. To the east, you can see Castro Peak and the so-called “Mitten Mountain”. Finally, you reach the section’s end at the Etz Meloy motorway, where you get a nice 180-degree view to the south. This makes a good turnaround point (3.6 miles from Encinal Canyon Road).

To the right, the road heads downhill and soon reaches private property. You can, however, extend your trip by heading left (uphill). The Etz Meloy Motorway is accessible for another mile or so before reaching private land – one of the two parcels that is necessary for the National Park Service to acquire to achieve the long-held goal of creating a continuous Backbone Trail from Point Mugu to Will Rogers State Historic Park. For more information about the trail and its progress, click 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.

Backbone Trail: Piuma Road to Stunt Road

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Crossing the creek in Dark Canyon on the Backbone Trail

Sandstone geology on the west ridge of Saddle Peak

Backbone Trail: Piuma Road to Stunt Road

    • Location: Piuma Road, near Malibu Creek State Park.  From Pacific Coast Highway, take Malibu Canyon Road north for 4.6 miles.  Turn right on Piuma.  In 1.2 miles, at a hairpin turn in the road, look for a small dirt turnout on the left (next to a driveway at the address 25575 Piuma Road.)  Park here to access the Backbone Trail.  From Highway 101, drive south on Las Virgenes for five miles and turn left on Piuma.
    • Agency:  National Park Service
    • Distance: 6.8 miles
    • Elevation gain:  1,400 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
    • Suggested time:  3.5 hours
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo maps: Malibu Beach
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7

This lightly-traveled section of the Backbone Trail features a lot of the types of scenery that draws people to the Santa Monica Mountains: panoramic views, interesting geology, quiet and shaded canyons and more. This part of the trail alone is quite a good workout, but if you really want to challenge yourself, you can continue on to Saddle Peak.

From the small turnout on Piuma Road, head northeast on the Backbone Trail. Stay right at a junction and head downhill, soon coming to a creek that is a tributary of nearby Cold Canyon. After crossing the creek, the trail begins a fairly steep ascent, switchbacking up out of the canyon. For the most part, the terrain isn’t too tough here, but there a few places where the hiking poles will come in handy. As you climb, you’re rewarded for your efforts with nice views of the Goat Buttes of Malibu Creek State Park.

Soon the trail levels out, entering a meadow on the southwest side of Saddle Peak. Across the canyon, you get a great view of the peak’s interesting sandstone geology. After climbing some more, the trail enters another nice shaded area, covered by oaks and chaparral.

Shortly afterward, you arrive at the junction with the trail to Saddle Peak. If you want to continue onto Saddle Peak, turn right. This route, however, stays left and continues 0.3 miles to Stunt Road. During this last stretch, you get nice views of nearby Calabasas Peak. Stunt Road itself might seem a little anti-climatic as a destination, but on this hike, the variety of scenery and the relative isolation makes the journey itself the real reward.

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.

Saddle Peak

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As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. guidebook!

Santa Monica Bay from Saddle Peak

Sandstone geology on the Backbone Trail near Saddle Peak

Saddle Peak

    • Location: Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu.  From Mulholland Highway, take Stunt Road south for 2.9 miles (the miles are marked).  There is a small turnout near marker 2.9 and a larger one at 3.0.  The trail begins at marker 2.9.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway 9.5 miles to Las Flores Canyon.  Go right and take Las Flores Canyon 3.4 miles to Rancho Pacifico.  Go right on Rancho Pacifico for 0.6 miles and go right on Schueren for 1.8 miles.  Take a hard left on Stunt Road and go 1.2 miles.
    • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 3.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 950 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
    • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo maps: “Malibu Beach”
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7

Saddle Peak (elevation 2,805) is one of the tallest peaks in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains. Its proximity to the ocean makes for some dramatic views from the summit; on clear days, you can also see downtown L.A., the San Gabriels, the Santa Susana Mountains, Catalina Island and much more. Interesting geological formations near the top are another highlight.

There are several ways to reach Saddle Peak. The route described here, on the Backbone Trail, is a nice, quick workout. There’s enough shade that it is doable during the summer. From the parking area, walk down Stunt Road and look for an easy-to-miss sign for the Backbone Trail. It will be on the south side of the street. You head uphill, soon coming to a split. The right fork heads downhill to Piuma Road, as described here. The route to Saddle Peak heads left.

You start making some switchbacks, getting nice views of Calabasas Peak and the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, the manzanita and chaparral – while providing shade – cuts down on the view, but the moderately graded stretch of the Backbone Trail is still enjoyable.

At about 1.3 miles from the start, you round a corner and suddenly you get in-your-face views of the sandstone formations that you may have noticed earlier. You make your way through a maze-like passage, getting up close and personal with the rocks.

Soon, you reach a split where the Backbone Trail continues downhill toward the intersection of Stunt Road and Schueren Road (an alternative starting point). Head right on a spur that heads toward the ocean, and you’ll come to a dirt road. Go left, and follow the road to the summit, where you get a nice 360-degree view of the area.

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.