Canyonback Trail, Los Angeles

Upper Canyonback/San Vicente Loop

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  • Location: Northeastern Santa Monica Mountains, near the Getty Center.  From I-405, take Mulholland Drive west for 2.1 miles.  At the corner of Muholland and Encino Hills Drive, take a sharp left onto the dirt road.  Drive a short distance and park in the area before Mulholland  bends to the right, and begin hiking on the trail past the yellow metal gate.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area/Westridge Canyonback Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 4.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash (exercise caution on warm days)
  • Cell phone reception: Weak to fair at the trail head and on Dirt Mulholland; none for most of the route
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: At San Vicente Mountain Park (about 3/4 mile west of the trail head)
  • Camping/backpacking: None
  • Recomended gear: sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; description from a Meet-Up event here
  • Rating: 6

Updated July 2018

This enjoyable loop features panoramic views, secluded canyons and a little bit of local history. The latter comes at San Vicente Mountain Park and the site of LA-96C, a Nike missile site active during the Cold War era.

There are several options for hiking this loop. This write-up assumes starting at the Upper Canyonback Trail Head, conveniently located to the San Fernando Valley, and then going clockwise (the best choice for later in the day, when the sun will be setting behind West Mandeville Ridge during your ascent). It is also possible to start at the bottom of the hike on Mandeville Canyon Road, although parking is more limited and the trail head may require a longer drive for some hikers.

Start by heading south on the Canyonback Trail, where you will have the choice of a fire road or a use trail that climbs the ridges. On clear days, both options provide impressive views which may extend to Orange County’s Old Saddleback and Catalina Island. Just under a mile from the start, you reach a junction with the Hollyhock Trail on the right, your route down into Mandeville Canyon. A short spur on the left climbs to a view point known as the Canyonback Cairn, a good detour if you don’t mind a little extra leg burning.

The Hollyhock Trail descends for just under a mile, the last bit of which travels through a serene grove of oaks and sycamores. At the bottom, turn right and follow Mandeville Canyon Road uphill for 0.4 mile to Garden Land Road. Turn left and follow it a short distance. As the road bends, you will notice another trail head on your left. Pass the fence and begin your ascent. The climb is steady, but not too intense, picking up almost 300 feet in half a mile.

Make a hard right and continue the ascent, now more gradually (200 feet in the next 0.9 mile.) As you climb, you can enjoy views of the canyon below and the distant San Gabriel Mountains. Now on the Mandeville Fire Road, bear right and head north for 0.6 mile to San Vicente Mountain Park, where there are picnic tables and restrooms. You can also enjoy views from an open deck at the top of the former Nike site. Interpretive plaques describe the history of the area.

From here, it’s an easy 0.8 mile back to the trail head on Dirt Mulholland. This section of the road receives some light traffic so keep an eye out as you walk back toward your starting point.

Upper Canyonback Trail, Los Angeles
Looking northeast from the Canyonback Trail
Hollyhock Trail, Los Angeles, CA
Descending the Hollyhock Trail
Hollyhock Trail, Los Angeles
Oaks on the lower Hollyhock Trail
Big Wild, Los Angeles, CA
Ascending from Mandeville Canyon
Mandeville Fire Road, Los Angeles
View from the Mandeville Ridge Fire Road
San Vicente Mountain Park, Los Angeles
Warning sign at San Vicente Mountain
San Vicente Mountain, Los Angeles, CA
Encino Reservoir from the Nike site
Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles
San Fernando Valley view from Mulholland Drive

Text and photography copyright 2018 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.

One comment

  1. I am so sad to report and heartbroken, on October 29, 2019 all the single track trails in the Upper Canyoback park have been bulldozed crisscrossing the fire road as a prevention in case the fire decide to turn backwards towards this area.
    All the single track trails that I grew up running on and shown in earlier photos of the park are now gone, instead now its a flat three lane very wide tractor cleared boundary of crumbling dirt and small rocks that now resembles more of a newly graded construction site than a nature park. You cant really walk on it, let alone run or bike on it.

    This was easily my favorite playground to go in the evenings and would regularly go on my runs there (15-20mi/wk) and get my important dose of nature.

    Our fire department has done an incredible job protecting and fighting the fires and very thankful for their service however I question whether it was necessary to remove and destroy such a wonderful single track trails system in the park? RIP

    Hopefully it won’t take 20 years to grow back and develop back into nice single track trail system.

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