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View of Malibu Creek State Park from the Backbone Trail

Shade on the Backbone Trail

Backbone Trail: Piuma Road to California Wildlife Center

    • Location: Piuma Road, near Malibu Creek State Park.  From Pacific Coast Highway, take Malibu Canyon Road north for 4.6 miles.  Turn right on Piuma.  In 1.2 miles, at a hairpin turn in the road, look for a small dirt turnout on the left (next to a driveway at the address 25575 Piuma Road.)  Park here to access the Backbone Trail.  From Highway 101, drive south on Las Virgenes for five miles and turn left on Piuma.
    • Agency:  National Park Service
    • Distance: 3 miles
    • Elevation gain:  650 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  1.5 hours
    • Best season: Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo maps: Malibu Beach
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6

This segment of the Backbone Trail is one of the more enjoyable short hikes in the Malibu Creek area of the Santa Monica Mountains.  In addition to offering panoramic views of Malibu Creek and the geological formations of Saddle Peak, there are some pleasant, shaded woodlands that make for nice rest spots.  The only drag about this hike is that it never really escapes the noise of traffic on the roads nearby, but for the most part, civilization is out of sight.

From the parking area on Piuma Road, carefully cross the street (note the mirror mounted on a post to help you see oncoming traffic) and begin hiking on the Backbone Trail, where a sign informs you that it’s 2.1 miles to Tapia Park. The trail climbs moderately, providing nice views of the whole area, especially the Goat Buttes of Malibu Creek State Park.

After half a mile and 250 feet of elevation gain, the trail levels out and then begins a descent, going through a forest of chaparral, oaks and laurels.  The trail descends about 400 feet in the next mile, making a few switchbacks, before finally arriving at the California Wildlife Center.  This hospital for animals found in the wild makes a good turnaround point, although the trail continues downhill, meeting up with Piuma Road again in 0.2 miles.  From there, you can continue to Tapia Park, a section of Malibu Creek State Park.

If you decide to make the wildlife center your turnaround point, you can peer over the fence and see some hawks and other birds in cages.  The center is open only for staff and volunteers (no public parking).  For more information about the California Wildlife Center, click here.

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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