Difficulty PG13 Distance 5.1 to 10 miles General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 7-8 Santa Monica Mountains (West) Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

Backbone Trail: Encinal Canyon Road to Etz Meloy Motorway


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Moon over the Backbone Trail
Backbone Trail between Mulholland Highway and Etz Meloy Motorway

Backbone Trail: Encinal Canyon Road to Etz Meloy Motorway

      • Location: Northwestern Santa Monica Mountains on Encinal Canyon Road.  From Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, 24.4 miles from the end of I-10, take Encinal Canyon Road for 5 miles.  Turn right to stay on Encinal Canyon and go a mile to a dirt turnout on the left side of the road (across from the fire station).  This is the parking lot for the Backbone Trail.  From Highway 101, take the Kanan Road exit and head south on Kanan Road for 6.2 miles.  Turn right on Mulholland Highway, go 0.9 miles and bear left on Encinal Canyon Road.  The parking area will be on the right in 2.4 miles.
      • Agency:  National Park Service
      • Distance: 7.2 miles
      • Elevation gain:  850 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance)
      • Suggested time:  3.5 hours
      • Best season: October – June
      • USGS topo maps: Triunfo Pass; Point Dume
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
      • More information: here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7

The 3.6 mile stretch of the Backbone Trail from Encinal Canyon Road to the Etz Meloy Motorway is one of the system’s newer segments. The lower stretch, from Encinal Canyon to Mulholland Highway, was completed in 2004; the upper stretch in 2007. As of now, parking is not available on Mulholland, but plans are in the works to change that.

This part of the trail is more popular with mountain bikers (be careful of them, because with many switchbacks, they can be hard to see) than hikers, so you’re not likely to have much company. The scenery isn’t quite as varied as it is on the Backbone sections in the nearby Point Mugu and Sandstone Peak areas, but it still takes in some nice views of the western Santa Monicas. Except for some intermittent traffic noise on the two roads, there are few sights or sounds of civilization.

From Encinal Canyon Road, the trail climbs gently to Mulholland Highway. After crossing Mulholland (there is no traffic light or cross walk, but traffic is usually light here), the Backbone passes through a meadow and starts climbing some more switchbacks. There is very little shade, although unless you are hiking at high noon, odds are the many ridges and hills in the area will block out the sun.

As you climb, the views get wider. To the east, you can see Castro Peak and the so-called “Mitten Mountain”. Finally, you reach the section’s end at the Etz Meloy motorway, where you get a nice 180-degree view to the south. This makes a good turnaround point (3.6 miles from Encinal Canyon Road).

To the right, the road heads downhill and soon reaches private property. You can, however, extend your trip by heading left (uphill). Until recently, this section of the Backbone ended here, but in May of 2016, the trail was extended to Yerba Buena Road, one of the last two links to create the long-awaited, unbroken route from Will Rogers State Park to Point Mugu. If you have arranged for a car shuttle you can continue another 1.9 miles to Yerba Buena Road – or stretch this trip into an 11 mile out and back hike.

Text and photography copyright 2016 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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