Backbone Trail: Hondo Canyon to Lois Ewen Overlook

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Ocean View from the top of the Hondo Canyon Trail
Sandstone geology in Hondo Canyon

Backbone Trail: Hondo Canyon to Lois Ewen Overlook

      • Location: Topanga Canyon.  From Pacific Coast Highway, head north on Topanga Canyon Boulevard (Highway 27) for 4.3 miles and turn left on Old Topanga Canyon Road. Go 0.4 miles and look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road. From Highway 101, go south on Topanga Canyon Blvd. for 8.3 miles and turn right on Old Topanga Canyon Road.
      • Agency:  Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy/Topanga State Park
      • Distance: 8.6 miles
      • Elevation gain:  1,900 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
      • Suggested time:  4 hours
      • Best season: September – June
      • USGS topo maps: Topanga, Malibu Beach
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
      • More information: Trip reports here and here
      • Rating: 8

This section of the Backbone Trail has something for everyone – quiet canyons, sandstone geology, open fields and ultimately great ocean views. It’s popular as a point-to-point hike in the downhill direction (west to east), but done as an out-and-back as described here, it’s a great workout, not to mention being one of the most scenic hikes in the eastern Santa Monicas. There’s a decent amount of shade on the route, so unless the weather is very hot, it can be done during the summer, especially if you get off to an early start.

From the south side of Old Topanga Canyon Road, head into Hondo Canyon on the Backbone Trail. You climb out of the oak-lined canyon, cross through a meadow and enter another wooded area. At three quarters of a mile, you leave the woods and make a steep climb. Your efforts are rewarded as you reach a saddle, with great views of some sandstone geology across the canyon and to the north.

You continue uphill on a series of switchbacks, with chaparral providing some shade. You get closer and closer to the geological outcrops, and as you ascend, you may notice a radio tower on the ridge above. While the trail doesn’t go by the tower, it heads in that general direction, so you can use it as a landmark. As you get higher in the canyon, look for nice views of the San Gabriel Mountains if the air is clear; you may see as far as San Jacinto.

At 3.6 miles, the Hondo Canyon section of the Backbone Trail ends at Saddle Peak Road. This makes a good turnaround point, but to get a great ocean view, take a hairpin turn to the right on the Fossil Ridge Trail. As you head uphill, don’t miss the panorama of the ocean on the left. The Fossil Ridge Trail descends to meet the Topanga Tower Motorway in 0.6 miles. Turn left and follow the road to the Lois Ewen overlook. Here, you get great views to the north, including Calabasas Peak, as well as the ocean to the south.

You can extend your hike along the Topanga Tower Motorway to an overlook, 0.8 miles northeast of the junction with the Fossil Ridge Trail. If the hike up here hasn’t tired you out, you can also extend it across the street, following the Backbone Trail to the top of Saddle Peak. However, most hikers will probably find the 4.3 mile climb along Hondo Canyon and the Fossil Ridge Trail to be a good day’s work.

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.


  1. Hi David – we did this hike today as you describe it. It’s a lovely canyon trail that turns into, as you describe it, wonderful scenery with great geological formations. It’s a gradual ascent, in our view. We gave it 4 stars – because it’s better than 3, and this will put its average up! Your description of the elevation gain, hours, and miles were right on. We also looked at the hike in the Moon Outdoors Book – Hike Los Angeles – hikes w/in 2 hours of LA – and those stats were all off. I do think this is a less visited canyon in the range. I was disappointed at the impact of civilization on the last stretch – the .7 to the lookout. Lots of graffiti on the Fossil Ridge Trail, and loud people with their cars at the top. Still, lovely.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, perhaps I’m due for a revisit. From what I remember (sadly) you’re right about the upper end of the hike. Too bad some people can’t have nice things.

  2. Thanks for the great description, and having done the hike a number of times, it is correct. Shade a lot of the way helps it in summertime. I’m leading a Sierra Tuesday Moderate Hikers hike on June 20th, ’17 and you are welcome to join us to revisit the trail. Good points as to where to turn around or go on for additional milage. Love this hike, that is why I choose to lead it when I can.

    1. Hi Ken, thank you for your kind words, glad you found my write-up helpful. Unfortunately I have another obligation on Tuesday but feel free to keep me posted on other hikes you host. Have a great weekend and a great hike Tues.

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