Sandstone Peak

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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.

Sunset from Sandstone Peak
My response to people who ask me if Sandstone Peak ever gets old

Sandstone Peak

  • 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.


  1. Can’t wait!! I’m crossing my fingers for the clouds to roll in like your photos… just stunning!

  2. Hi David,
    Thanks very much for this trail report. It’s always great to learn about someone’s favorite hike. I followed your route two days ago and had a good time. It was the first time I’ve ever hiked solo, which was interesting (although not preferred), although the specifics of the day put it somewhere in the middle my favorite California hikes so far (not at the top). I’m sure I’ll take some friends/family up to Sandstone Peak hike again, but for me, having running water nearby is almost a necessity for an enjoyable hike out here. Descending into the picnic/creek area, it sounded like a miniature squadron of WW2 fighter planes were buzzing around the dark trickle of water. The air was literally thick with mosquitoes, so I squeezed through Split Rock and kept going.

    Exposed/desert hiking is just brutal. I do carry and use an umbrella for shade these days, so that makes a big difference. I also carried two Camelbaks full of water this trip and was glad I did. Hiking solo, I probably brought a little more gear than I needed, just in case. Again, thanks for this recommendation. It wasn’t quite the amazing time I imagined, but it had a lot to offer and I think with different weather and some company it could be a great time for me.

    1. Hi Marc, thanks for reading. Having done Sandstone at several different times of the year, I’m partial to the late winter or early spring, when the area is greenest, the air is clearer and the temperatures are mellow. It sounds, however, that even though the circumstances may not have been ideal during your trip there, you were still able to get a sense of the amazing scenery the trip has to offer. I’m sure visiting again will not be a disappointment. Happy hiking!

  3. Thank you so much for this recommendation! Just got back from an amazing hike with friends. Totally blown away by this one! It’s one of the first I’ve done in the LA area since I’ve moved out, and I think I may have set the bar a little high right off the bat. Don’t know how I could beat this.

    1. Hi Katy, glad you enjoyed Sandstone. You’re right that it’s a tough act to follow – but there are a lot of other good hikes in the Santa Monicas. Check out the Rising Sun/Sostomo Loop in Solstice Canyon Park, or maybe the Big Sycamore Canyon Loop in Point Mugu. Have fun hiking in L.A.!

  4. This hike was amazing!
    I live in Orange County, so it was a bit of a drive for me, but after reading this post I knew I had to check it out. I’m so glad that I did.
    Everything about this hike was perfect, and I can’t wait to go back.
    Thank you so much for all you do!

    1. Hi Kelly, glad you enjoyed the hike. With all of the trips I’ve done Sandstone is still one of my favorites and I always enjoy sharing my experiences with everyone. Keep hiking and having fun!

  5. Never in the summer or any warm weather!!! Did it once and regretted it. Late fall, winter or early spring are great times to go. I especially enjoyed the challenge after the rains. Awesome hike done it three times and plan to return again and again

  6. Good day! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site?

    I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options
    for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

    1. Actually I use WordPress too – I’ve been fortunate not to have any problems. I know that Blogger is probably the other main platform out here.

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