Note: This area was damaged in the 2018 Woolsey fire. Though the trails have been opened, conditions may be different from those described in this post.
- Location: Western Santa Monica Mountains, between Malibu and Oxnard. From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway 30 miles to Yerba Buena Road. Yerba Buena Road is just past the Ventura County line. Mulholland Highway is the last major street before Yerba Buena. Take a right on Yerba Buena and drive 6.5 miles. The trail head is on the left. Parking is free.
- Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area/Circle X Ranch
- Distance: 6 mile loop
- Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (terrain, elevation gain)
- Best season: Year round
- USGS topo map: “Triunfo Pass”; “Newberry Park”
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- More information: here; trip reports here, here and here
- Rating: 10
This is a risky blog for me to write, because anybody who knows me knows that once I start talking about Sandstone Peak, I have difficulty stopping, so if I gush in this post, please bear with me. As of this writing I am gearing up for my seventh ascent of the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains, and all of the people who I’ve brought there agree that it lives up to its hype.
From the parking lot, a steep trail ascends 0.3 miles to a T-junction. Take a right on the connector trail, enjoying great views of the Santa Monica Mountains, and on clear days Mt. Baldy and even San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. After 0.2 miles, pick up the Mokwa Trail. The Mokwa Trail is one of the more challenging portions of the hike, with many short but steep up and down stretches and rocky terrain. After about half a mile, you will get a great view of the Echo Cliffs, popular with rock climbers, looming above Triunfo Canyon. A large boulder, the appropriately named Balanced Rock, is perched on the edge of the cliffs.
After another tricky three quarters of a mile or so, the trail dips into a wooded area and begins a descent into a clearing where hikers find another geological landmark: Split Rock. An unspoken requirement is that hikers walk through the gap in this boulder. Picnic tables and a serene creekside setting make this a great place for a break.
When ready, pick up the trail leading out of the right side of the clearing, and begin a mile long ascent on the backside of Sandstone Peak, crossing two canyons, passing some interesting geological formations and arriving at the Backbone Trail. Stay left at the next couple of junctions, and start enjoying ocean views to the south and views of Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks to the north. The grade becomes steep at this point, although never too difficult. After about a mile, the trail makes an “S” curve and a sign directs hikers up a staircase to Sandstone Peak. This final push to the summit is steep, and ultimately there really is no trail, just rocks to scramble over. A plaque at the top identifies the peak by its alternative name, “Mt. Allen” (in honor of local Boy Scouts figure W. Herbert Allen). Below you, the cliffs drop off seemingly vertically, and on clear days, six different Channel Islands can be located. Because this final ascent is so difficult, some hikers I’ve made the trip with opt to stay down below at the base of the staircase. This has resulted in another tradition among my hiking circle, less wholesome than walking through Split Rock, which involves the hikers who reach the summit and those who don’t mooning each other. However, you don’t have to carry this particular tradition to enjoy the Sandstone Peak experience.
After enjoying the view, head back down to the main trail, and head right up a slight slope before beginning a steep mile-long descent. You will get some more great coastal views and a bird’s eye look at Balanced Rock. Arrive at the first junction and head right back down the hill to the parking lot.
It might be a little melodramatic to say that hiking Sandstone Peak changed my life, but it definitely changed my relationship with hiking from hobby to obsession. This is a truly great hike that has too much to offer for mere words to describe. If you are still reading this, do yourself a favor: log off your computer, get in your car, drive, and experience this awesome trail for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.