Backbone Trail: Old Topanga Canyon to Trippet Ranch
- 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: 3.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 850 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
- USGS topo maps: Topanga
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
- More information: Dead Horse Trail description here, area trail map here, Everytrail report here
- Rating: 6
This pleasant hike links Hondo Canyon to the popular Trippet Ranch area of Topanga State Park. It uses a lightly traveled section of the Backbone Trail which becomes the Dead Horse Trail on the east side of Topanga Canyon Blvd. The hike isn’t too difficult, but there are two street crossings with no crosswalks or lights (one right at the beginning of the hike), and poison oak, so exercise caution, especially with children.
The first 0.7 miles of the hike, from Old Topanga to Topanga, doesn’t have the scenic variety of the neighboring section through Hondo Canyon, and also suffers from the noise of the two nearby roads, but it also adds considerable challenge (about 1.4 miles and 400 feet of elevation gain) to the hike.
From the turnout on the south side of Old Topanga, carefully cross the street and pick up the Backbone Trail, just before the bridge. Stay left at the first junction and begin your climb, taking in some nice views of the canyon. You reach a water tank, pass beside a fence and arrive at a paved road above the school. Take a hard left onto the Henry Ridge Motorway, a fire road.
Almost immediately, look for the Backbone Trail heading off to the right. You enter a wooded area and take a left turn on a staircase, just above an amphitheater. At the top, take a right and head out into a meadow that slopes down the side of the hill. You get a picturesque view of the higher summits of Topanga State Park.
The trail makes a sharp descent, dropping back into the woods. Stay left at the next junction, passing by some signs describing the flora (including purple sage, toyon and poison oak). At 0.7 miles, you arrive at Greenleaf Canyon Road. Turn right and carefully cross Topanga Canyon Blvd, picking up the Backbone Trail a little ways to the left.
The Backbone Trail heads uphill, soon reaching the Dead Horse Trail parking lot. When the lot is open, you can park there for $7 per day as an alternative. Head uphill, staying straight and following the signs at the next two intersections. You drop down into a canyon, cross a footbridge, and begin an ascent along some stairs.
The trail enters an exposed area, and finally you reach a wide green meadow, scenically perched beneath some higher summits. A fence runs along the pasture. Follow it to the end of the Dead Horse Trail, a road that leads to Trippet Ranch (right) or Musch Camp (left). Either of those are options if you want to extend the hike.
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.