Hike above the mists to the top of Saddle Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Saddle Peak, a notable high point along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, consists of two 2800-foot summits: one topped by antennas and fenced off, the other one barren but viewful. Both preside over a coastline that is only 2.5 miles away. During the early morning, especially this time of year, the peak often stands head and shoulders above a mock ocean of coastal fog. If you can somehow arrive early for a visit, the magic of warm sunlight on the pillowy upper surface of the clouds is a memorable sight.

You can make use of one of the newer sections of the Backbone Trail, starting at Stunt Road, for the climb to the top. From Woodland Hills or Calabasas in the San Fernando Valley, take Mulholland Highway about 5 miles southwest to Stunt Road, and follow Stunt Road 2.9 miles uphill to a small roadside turnout (or drive an additional 0.1 mile to a larger turnout).

The hike begins at the mile 2.9 turnout. Proceed uphill on a 0.2-mile-long connector trail leading to the Backbone Trail. Then go left, rising and zigzagging through a chaparral-covered landscape that at first may seem tedious. This section of trail is but one small segment of the not-quite-finished 55-mile footpath running along the backbone of the Santa Monica Mountains.

By 1.2 miles into the hike, you reach some blocky sandstone outcrops that lend a spectacular air to the spacious views stretching north -- assuming you are not still enveloped in fog. Listen for the whoosh of the wings of cliff swallows as they soar and dive among these crags.

At 1.4 miles, turn right (south) on a side trail heading uphill 0.1 mile to a gravel road. Make a left to reach the nearby east (and publicly accessible) peak or a right to reach the "saddle," or low point, of the Saddle Peak summit.

It is also possible to reach Saddle Peak using an east segment of the Backbone Trail, starting from Saddle Peak Road. This is a slightly shorter and decidedly less scenic approach. Or, if you are a glutton for exercise and wish to add about four miles onto the round trip, start hiking at the foot of the Stunt High Trail, a mile from Mulholland Highway.

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