Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA

Backbone Trail: Corral Canyon Road to Latigo Canyon Road


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  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains, near Malibu.  From the Pacific Coast Highway, take Corral Canyon (2.3 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road, 0.7 miles east of Latigo Canyon Road) north for 5 miles to its end in a large dirt lot. The Backbone Trail heads downhill from the west side of the lot.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Distance: 8.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: September – June
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash (exercise caution on warm days; watch out for poison oak)
  • Cell phone reception: None for most of the route; weak at the western end of the hike (Latigo Canyon Road)
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping/backpacking: Day use only. The nearest camping is available at Malibu Creek State Park.
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Area trail map and descriptions here; L.A. Country Trails description/map of the trail here (Corral Canyon to Castro Crest) and here (Castro Crest to Latigo Canyon)
  • Rating: 7

Updated May 2018

This central section of the Backbone Trail makes for an enjoyable moderate day hike, with secluded woodlands, interesting geology, spring wildflowers and some panoramic views. While it may seem a little long for a hike that doesn’t pay off in a major summit or other recognizable destination, its relatively light visitation makes it one of the better spots in the Santa Monica Mountains for solitude.

From the parking area, follow the Backbone Trail downhill and west, descending through oak chaparral. You soon merge briefly with a service road and then continue southwest, dropping into the upper reaches of Solstice Canyon. The trail meanders across a meadow, through a mixed woodland of oaks and sycamores and crosses a couple of stream beds (usually dry) before beginning the first major ascent of the route. You climb a little over 500 feet in a mile, the upper part of which is exposed, to reach a saddle called Castro Crest (2.7 miles from the start). This spot, the highest point on the route, provides views in both directions and makes a good turnaround point for those short on time, traveling with kids or on warm days. Castro Peak, the highest point in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains, towers above. It used to be possible to make a loop by heading back on the Newton Canyon Motorway but that is no longer the case due to an ongoing dispute with a land owner.

The Backbone Trail continues west, skirting the upper edges of Latigo Canyon and briefly climbing to a ridge with panoramic views to the west, including Boney Mountain. The Latigo Canyon Road trail head is clearly visible but still about a mile away from the trail. The Backbone makes switchbacks down into the shaded canyon (keep an eye out for poison oak) before climbing about 200 feet to reach the parking area on Latigo Canyon Road.

Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Trail head at Corral Canyon Road
Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Descending into upper Solstice Canyon
Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Meadow in upper Solstice Canyon
Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Oak woodlands in upper Solstice Canyon
Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Looking east from Castro Crest
Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Looking west from Castro Crest
Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Oaks in Latigo Canyon
Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
Heading back from the Latigo Canyon Road trail head

Text and photography copyright 2018 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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