Difficulty PG Distance 5.1 to 10 miles General information: Dogs allowed General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 7-8 Santa Monica Mountains (West) Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

Backbone Trail: Corral Canyon Road to Newton Motorway


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

Ocean view from the Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA
Ocean view from the Backbone Trail in Upper Corral Canyon
Oak woodlands, Backbone Trail, Upper Solstice Canyon, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA
Woodlands on the Backbone Trail, Upper Solstice Canyon

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: Corral Canyon Road to Newton Motorway

  • 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.  Park at the Backbone trailhead.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: September – June
  • USGS topo map: “Point Dume”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Area trail map here; Backbone Trail segment descriptions here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

This section of the Backbone Trail crosses Upper Corral Canyon, linking paved Corral Canyon Road with the Castro Crest Motorway.  While it doesn’t have the scenic variety of some of the other stretches of the Backbone – such as Hondo Canyon or the Sandstone Peak portion – it’s still a worthwhile destination, providing good ocean vistas, geology and views of Castro Peak, the highest summit in the eastern Santa Monicas.

From the parking area, follow the Backbone Trail downhill, reaching a service road at about 0.5 miles and crossing under power lines.  The trail leaves the service road and continues west, descending through a meadow and into an oak woodland.  Watch out for poison oak growing off to the sides of the trail.

At about 1.5 miles from the start, you begin a steady climb out of the canyon, gaining almost 600 feet in just over a mile.  The early part of the ascent is shaded; then you leave the woods and climb some exposed switchbacks to meet up with the Castro Crest Motorway.  Here, you are rewarded for your efforts with views to both sides – Catalina Island and Santa Monica Bay to the south and east and Boney Mountain and Point Dume to the west.  If visibility is good you may see the Channel Islands.

You can turn around here for a moderate hike of 5.4 miles, or you can continue west to Latigo Canyon Road, a scenic 1.4 mile trip though some remote woodlands.  You can also head uphill (northeast) on Castro Crest for half a mile before reaching private property that is the center of an ongoing dispute between the land owner and the National Park Service.  Though a barbed wire fence blocks progress, the views from higher up are impressive.

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