Yerba Buena Trail (Backbone Trail)
- Location: Western Santa Monica Mountains near the Circle X Ranch. From the east, take Pacific Coast Highway northwest from I-10 for 24.4 miles to Encinal Canyon Road. Turn right and follow Encinal Canyon Road for 5 miles, past Charmlee Wilderness Park, and continue onto Lechusa Road. Go 0.1 miles to the end of Lechusa and take a right on Decker Canyon Road/Highway 23. Go 0.8 miles and turn left on Mulholland Highway. Go 0.4 miles and turn right on Little Sycamore Canyon Road. Go a total of 2 miles (Little Sycamore Canyon Road becomes Yerba Buena Road). At mile marker 9, look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road. From the west, take Pacific Coast Highway south from Oxnard for 13 miles. Turn left on Yerba Buena Road and drive 9 miles. The dirt turnout will be on your right. From Highway 101, take the Highway 23/Westlake Blvd. exit and head south for 7.2 miles. Turn right on Mulholland Highway, go 0.4 miles and turn right on Little Sycamore Canyon Road. Follow it 2 miles, during which it becomes Yerba Buena Road, and park in the dirt lot on the left side of the road.
- Agency: National Park Service
- Distance: 9.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance)
- Suggested time: 4 hours
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo maps: Triunfo Pass
- Recommended gear: insect repellent; sunblock; sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
- More information: Trail map and description here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
This section of the Backbone Trail links the end of the Etz Meloy Motorway to the Circle X Ranch and Sandstone Peak. There’s not a whole lot of elevation gain, but the distance makes it a good training hike. There are times when it might be a little tedious to veteran hikers, but that’s not to say there isn’t variety: ocean, mountain and city views, geology and more. Since the hike doesn’t have a clear destination, apart from being a segment of the Backbone Trail, one doesn’t have to hike the entire route for it to be enjoyable.
From the dirt parking area, turn right and head east on Yerba Buena Road for a few hundred yards. There’s no sidewalk, but traffic is likely to be pretty light. Just before the road bends to the east (left), at about mile marker 9.10, look for the Backbone Trail, heading downhill to the right.
For the next few miles, the Backbone Trail roughly parallels the road, following the south side of the ridge, taking in some nice ocean views. The terrain is substantially exposed, although a few pockets of chaparral provide some shade, and if you get off to an early start, the heat is not likely to be too bad, even during the summer. Mulholland Highway is visible below, and sharp-eyed hikers might be able to pick out the Malibu Springs Trail making its way up the east side of the canyon.
At 1.7 miles, look for a trail split beneath a big eucalyptus tree. Bear left and continue following the side of the ridge. You circle the south flank of a 2,685-foot summit signed on some maps as Triunfo Lookout. At 2.2 miles, you round a sharp bend and get some nice views to the southwest. Soon after, you reach a saddle where you get a good look at Boney Mountain and Sandstone Peak. To the north are the Santa Susana Mountains. If visibility is good, you may be able to see the Topa Topa range north of Ojai.
Here, the trail makes a hairpin turn and descends gradually. At 3.5 miles from the start, you make another hairpin turn to the left and continue the descent, as a spur leads to Yerba Buena Road. You pass by a small green meadow, and the trail ascends to the parking area that marks the turnaround point. You can cross Yerba Buena Road and get a nice view down into Triunfo Canyon, toward the Thousand Oaks area.
Here, you can return by the same route, or if you’ve arranged for a shuttle, your work is done. Through-hikers can continue along the Backbone Trail across the street, where it will lead to Sandstone Peak and Point Mugu State Park.
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.