- Location: 1501 Will Rogers State Park Road, Pacific Palisades. Take I-10 to its end, where it becomes northbound Pacific Coast Highway. Go 2.1 miles to Chautauqua Blvd. and turn right. Go 0.9 miles and turn right on Sunset. Go 0.6 miles and turn left on to Will Rogers State Park Road. Drive a mile to the park entrance. Parking is $12 per day per vehicle.
- Agency: Will Rogers State Historic Park/Topanga State Park
- Distance: 13.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
- Suggested time: 6 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
- Best season: October – May
- Dogs: Not allowed on the Backbone Trail (Will Rogers State Historic Park only)
- Cell phone reception: Good at the trail head and near the peak; none to weak in between
- Water: Available at fountains by the restrooms at the trail head; none on the trail
- Restrooms: Full restrooms at the trail head
- Camping/backpacking: None
- Public transportation: Metro bus 602 has a stop 0.8 mile from the park
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
- More information: Map My Hike report here; area trail map here
- Rating: 7
The eastern section of the Backbone Trail is entirely within the city limits of Los Angeles, but much of it feels pleasantly rugged and isolated. This is due to its relative inaccessibility: after leaving Will Rogers State Historic Park, the Backbone Trail doesn’t reach another trail head until Trippet Ranch at Topanga State Park, nearly ten miles into the route. This hike explores the first six miles of the Backbone Trail (plus 0.7 miles through Will Rogers State Historic Park to reach the eastern end of the Backbone) with a destination of 2,126-foot Temescal Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains east of Topanga Canyon.
The quickest, if not the most scenic route to the Backbone Trail is via the Bone Canyon Trail. From the parking area, head toward the horse corrals, make a hard right on the Inspiration Point Loop Trail and an immediate left on the Bone Canyon Trail. (If you are hiking with kids, dogs or just want a shorter trip, the Inspiration Loop Trail is a good choice). The Bone Canyon Trail passes the corrals and climbs steadily to rejoin the Inspiration Loop Trail. Head west toward the signed start of the Backbone Trail (you can take a short detour to Inspiration Point if time allows.)
The Backbone Trail makes a steady climb along an exposed ridge between Temescal Canyon (left) and Rustic Canyon (right). As you ascend the views get better and better. At 1.5 miles, you cross a walkway dramatically perched on a narrow ridge. Beyond the trail makes a short but steep climb to a knoll with great views in all directions. This is a popular turnaround point for many hikers; foot traffic drops dramatically beyond here.
Thus far you have gained almost one third of the entire elevation of the hike. Your work now gets easier as you descend briefly into the upper recesses of Temescal Canyon. The hitherto exposed terrain becomes more shaded, mainly by tall scrub oaks and a few live oaks. A gradual ascent brings you to a sharp bend to the left, just under three miles from the start, where a tall tree dubbed “Lone Oak” stands. A small clearing in the shade of the oak provides great views of Rustic Canyon and Sullivan Canyon.
The trail continues on a shaded, north facing slope before making an ascent, picking up about 400 feet in 3/4 of a mile. At 5.2 miles, the trail makes another pronounced bend to the west and then drops to a ridge with excellent views of the San Fernando Valley. If visibility is good you can see beyond to the Santa Susana Mountains and even the Liebre Mountains at the northern edge of L.A. County.
At 6.2 miles, you reach a junction. From here, you can reach Temescal Peak either by heading left and following a faint use trail to the summit or by heading straight, turning left on the Temescal Ridge Trail and following a use trail on the west edge of the peak.
Temescal Peak’s prominence gives it a vantage point that yields views more impressive than its 2,126-foot height would suggest. If visibility is good, the panorama includes the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Ana Mountains, Signal Hill, Catalina Island, Saddle Peak, Old Boney, Ladyface, the Simi Hills and more. Enjoy the view and rest your legs for the long return.
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.