Backbone Trail: Newton Canyon

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Featured in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook!

Backbone Panorama
Looking west toward Boney Mountain
Backbone trees
Oaks on the Backbone Trail

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.

Backbone Trail: Newton Canyon

  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains, near Malibu.  From the Pacific Coast Highway, take Kanan Dume road north for 4.5 miles and park in the lot on the left (just past a footbridge) at mile marker 9.5.  From Highway 101, take Kanan Road south for 7 miles (it becomes Kanan Dume) and look for the parking lot on the right, just before the bridge.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Distance: 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Point Dume”
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Kanan Dume Road marks the approximate midpoint of the Backbone Trail.  This hike leads eastward, crossing through Newton Canyon toward Latigo Canyon Road.  Though the western portion of the hike suffers from traffic noise and overhead power lines, once you get toward the secluded middle portion of the hike, all sights and sounds of civilization vanish.  In the shaded areas of the trail, keep an eye out for poison oak.

From the parking lot, make a short but steep ascent paralleling the road.  At the top of the climb, head left and cross over the road, entering an oak woodland.  You follow a ridge for a while, getting some nice views of some vineyards to the north.  The trail crosses a service road at about 0.4 miles and continues eastward, climbing more before beginning a descent into a canyon at about a mile.

After making a hairpin turn to the left, you begin climbing out of the canyon, getting views of Castro Peak to the east and Boney Mountain to the west.  You’ll also see Latigo Canyon Road cutting across the hillside in the foreground.  At 2.2 miles you reach the road, the turnaround point for this section of the hike.  (The parking lot on the east side of Latigo Canyon Road is an alternative trailhead; you can plant a car here and do the hike point-to-point.)  You can extend the trip beyond Latigo Canyon, reaching the Newton Motorway in 1.4 miles.  If there have been recent rains, you can also take the opportunity to head west from the parking area toward the lower and upper falls in Newton Canyon.

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