Mesa Peak from Tapia Park via Backbone Trail
- Location: Tapia Park, south of Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains. From Pacific Coast Highway, take Malibu Canyon Road north for 4.4 miles. The parking area is on the left, just before Piuma Road (you might want to drive up to Piuma and take a U-turn at the traffic light.) From Highway 101, take the Las Virgenes exit and head south for 5 miles. The park is on the right, just past Piuma Road. Parking is $10 per vehicle.
- Agency: Malibu Creek State Park/Tapia Park/Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
- Distance: 5.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,500 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness)
- Suggested time: 3 hours
- Best season: September – June
- USGS topo maps: Topanga, Malibu Beach
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
- More information: Summitpost page here; Tapia park homepage here; Malibu Creek State Park homepage here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 8
This challenging and scenic hike could be considered a sort of “greatest hits” of the Backbone Trail and the Santa Monica Mountains, offering much of what makes the region popular: panoramic ocean, mountain and canyon views, attractive groves of oaks and interesting geology. It could also be seen as a mainland version of Catalina; in particular, the stretch near the end resembles the trip to Lone Tree Point on the island. If you prepare accordingly, this hike is very enjoyable. Be aware that most of the climbing is done in the first two miles–so you’ll be shifting into overdrive right from the start–and also that much of the trail is exposed. However, it can be done on warm days, with an early start and adequate water.
From Tapia Park, an annex of Malibu Creek State Park, follow the signs for the Backbone Trail. You begin climbing almost immediately, gaining almost 300 feet in just 0.4 miles. As you ascend, you get a view of the Goat Buttes of Malibu Creek State Park.
The grade levels out at a saddle and then dips down to meet a service road. Head left and make another steep ascent. Most of this section of the trail is shaded by oaks, making the work a little easier; you also get some views of the distant Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.
At one mile from the start, the trail makes a hairpin turn to the right and begins an exposed climb along a ridge. Here, you get nice views of the ocean, and of Calabasas and Saddle Peaks to the east. You enter another scenic oak grove and continue your climb. The grade mellows out slightly before making another sharp turn to the right and beginning another ascent (the last major one, thankfully, on this route). You pass by some interesting sandstone outcrops – including one that resembles a baseball glove.
At 2.3 miles from the start, you reach an intersection. The Backbone Trail continues toward Upper Solstice Canyon and Castro Crest, but to get to Mesa Peak, turn left (south) on a road signed on some maps as the Puerco Motorway. Bear left at the next junction, where you get a great view of Point Dume, and follow the fire road on a bumpy ridge.
You’ll see Mesa Peak, with its antenna structure, and just before you get to it, look for a rough, single-track trail climbing up the slope. Past the antennas, the trail dips down again and arrives at a second, more scenic summit.
Here you can sit and enjoy the hard-earned view, including the ocean, Castro Peak, Saddle Peak and more.
Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W.
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