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

Mesa Peak from Corral Canyon


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Wildflowers on the Mesa Peak Motorway
Wildflowers on the Mesa Peak Motorway
Skull-like rock on the Mesa Peak Motorway
Skull-like rock on the Mesa Peak Motorway

Mesa Peak from Corral Canyon

  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains, near Malibu.  From the Pacific Coast Highway, take Corral Canyon (2.3 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road, 0.7 miles east of Latigo Canyon Road) north for 5 miles to its end.  Park at the Backbone trailhead.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Distance: 6.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain, terrain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Point Dume, Malibu Beach
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles sunblock sun hat
  • More information:  here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Heading east on the Backbone Trail from the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)
0:00 – Heading east on the Backbone Trail from the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

You already know how to get to Mesa Peak from the east, so now, let’s try the western approach, from the end of Corral Canyon Road.  The trailhead is actually higher than Mesa Peak, but there’s a lot of up and down in both directions, amounting to a substantial workout.  This hike doesn’t quite have the scenic variety that the eastern approach does, but there are still good ocean views and a lot of interesting geology.

0:07 - The trail heads to the left of the outcrop (times are approximate)
0:07 – The trail heads to the left of the outcrop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head east on a rough path leading through some sandstone outcrops. You drop into a pleasant, wooded area (some of the only shade on the entire route), and begin a climb to a ridge. Keep an eye out for the ruins of a car wreck on the left side of the trail. At the top of the ridge, you’ll notice the Mesa Peak Motorway below, which you will soon join. First, you make your way through some more geological formations. Look for a tall outcrop with a cave carved through it, and follow a passage downhill through the rocks, joining the motorway about half a mile from the start.

0:10 - Don't text and drive
0:10 – Don’t text and drive

Head left on the motorway and continue east, passing by a rock garden and more caves, including one said to have been a frequent hangout of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison and has sadly been vandalized to the point of having access blocked. You follow the ridge over several hills, with views of Malibu Creek State Park and the Goat Buttes to the north (left) and the ocean and Corral Canyon to the south.

0:17 - Sandstone cave on the Backbone Trail (head to the left of it)
0:17 – Sandstone cave on the Backbone Trail (head to the left of it)

At about 1.7 miles, you reach the high point of the section (2,200 feet) and begin a descent, starting to contour south.  On the way down, look for a second, smaller circle of rocks on the left side of the trail.

0:18 - Head through the rocks downhill to the motorway
0:18 – Head through the rocks downhill to the motorway

At 2.8 miles, head right on the Puerco Motorway toward Mesa Peak, as the Backbone Trail continues its descent toward Malibu Creek State Park.  Follow the fire road south, as you would from the eastern approach to Mesa Peak, and at 3.1 miles, head uphill on a use trail that passes a summit with an antenna installation, drops to a saddle and then climbs briefly to Mesa Peak.  Here, you can sit and enjoy the view before heading back.  If you’ve arranged a shuttle, you can continue east on the Backbone Trail and descend toward Malibu Canyon.

0:25 - Caves and circle of rocks
0:25 – Rock garden outside Jim Morrison’s cave

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

1:35 - View of Point Dume from Mesa Peak
1:35 – View of Point Dume from Mesa Peak
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