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

Sunset on the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

Sunset from Latigo Canyon Road, Santa Monica Mountains

Oaks on the Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Malibu, CA

Oaks on the Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Montains

Backbone Trail: Latigo Canyon Road to Newton Motorway

  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu.  From Pacific Coast Highway, take Latigo Canyon Road north for 7.3 miles.  Look for an easy to miss (and I speak from experience) turnout on the right side of the road and park there.  From Highway 101, take the Kanan Road exit and head south for 6.8 miles (Kanan becomes Kanan Dume Road on the way).  Turn left on Latigo Canyon Road and drive 2.9 miles.  The parking area will be on the left.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round (Hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: “Point Dume”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: trip reports here; Backbone Trail segment descriptions here; area trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

This scenic section of the Backbone Trail packs a lot of variety into less than a mile and a half.   You can actually see the destination from the trail head, and vice-versa, but while the distance is short as the crow flies, the Backbone Trail follows a convoluted path down into and up out of the canyon.  This trip makes an enjoyable self-contained hike, but it can also be combined with two neighboring  segments of the Backbone Trail: from Corral Canyon Road to the Newton Motorway and from Kanan Dume Road to Latigo Canyon Road (through Newton Canyon).

From the parking area, you climb a knoll and begin a descent into a canyon shaded with oaks and alders.  On the way down, you can see antenna-covered Castro Peak, one of the tallest Santa Monica mountains outside the Sandstone/Boney group.   You make a few switchbacks and reach the bottom of the canyon, passing by a seasonal stream.  Twisted oaks provide shade and solitude; signs of civilization are virtually nil.

Next you begin a moderately steep ascent up an exposed slope.  At 1.1 miles, the grade levels out and you can enjoy a nice, scenic stroll to the Newton Motorway.  Here, you can enjoy panoramic views in both directions: Upper Solstice Canyon and the ocean to the east, and the geological outcrops of Boney Mountain to the west.

Text and photography copyright 2012 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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