Cellular Service Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles Dogs allowed Hikes with free parking Rating: 7-8 Santa Monica Mountains (West) Season: All year

Backbone Trail: Yerba Buena Road to Etz Meloy Motorway

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Etz Meloy Motorway, Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
View of the Conejo Valley from the Etz Meloy Motorway
Etz Meloy Motorway, Backbone Trail, Malibu, CA
Boney Mountain as seen from the Etz Meloy Motorway

Backbone Trail: Yerba Buena Road to Etz Meloy Motorway

      • 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/Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
      • Distance: 3.8 miles
      • Elevation gain: 550 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Best season: October – June
      • USGS topo maps: Year round but hot during the summer
      • Recommended gear: sunblock sun hat
      • More information: Articles about the completed Backbone Trail here and here; Map My Hike report here
      • Rating: 7
Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
0:00 – Start of the hike on Yerba Buena Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

In May of 2016, the National Park Service secured access to the three parcels of land that allowed the long-awaited completion of the Backbone Trail, spanning the length of the Santa Monica Mountains, starting at Will Rogers State Historic Park and ending 67 miles west at Point Mugu State Park. One of the final sections was the Etz Meloy Motorway east of Yerba Buena Road, straddling border of L.A. and Ventura Counties in one of the loneliest parts of the Santa Monica Mountains. This segment of the trail will likely mainly be traveled by through-hikers, but it also provides an opportunity for an enjoyable day hike.

Backbone Trail, Etz Meloy Motorway, Malibu, CA
0:15 – Approaching the Etz Meloy Motorway (times are approximate)

From the turnout on Yerba Buena, follow the road  east 0.1 mile to a bend (across from the access point to the westbound Backbone Trail), carefully cross it and begin hiking on the newest section of the Backbone Trail which makes a few gentle switchbacks, passing through oak chaparral pockets and taking in views of Boney Mountain and the terrain to the south, sloping down toward the ocean. At 0.6 mile, you join Etz Meloy Motorway and continue east. The fire road gradually ascends for another 0.6 mile with views of the Conejo Valley and Lake Sherwood to the north and the coastline to the south. At 1.2 miles, you reach the high point on the route, about 2,400 feet above sea level and begin a descent to a saddle. After a smaller ascent, the trail descends to a junction (1.9 miles from the start). Etz Meloy Motorway continues at this point toward private property while the Backbone Trail branches off to the right and continues east.

Etz Meloy Motorway, Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA
0:33 – High point on the route

This peaceful spot makes a good turnaround point, but if you have set up a car shuttle, you can continue another 3.5 miles to Encinal Canyon Road (description of that section of the Backbone Trail here). You can also simply continue as long as you like before returning to Yerba Buena Road, keeping in mind the amount of ascent you will have on the way back.

Etz Meloy Motorway, Backbone Trail, Malibu, CA
0:55 – View from the turnaround point

Text and photography copyright 2016 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.


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