Hike or bike the Bulldog-Backbone loop for a complete look at Malibu Creek State Park.

The classic grand tour of Malibu Creek State Park's backcountry includes upper Malibu Canyon and circles high above on the crest of the beautiful Santa Monicas -- L.A.'s coastal mountain range. Mountain bikers can look forward to a three- or four-hour task, while hikers might take as much as double that time. You ascend and descend a total of 2700 feet of elevation.

From Highway 101 take Las Virgenes Road 3.2 miles south to the Malibu Creek State Park entrance on the right. Beyond the pay station, park in the main day-use lot (open 8 a.m. until dusk).

Now head west on unpaved Crags Road. After 0.4 mile you cross over Malibu Creek. A right at the fork in the road just beyond leads you more directly to the park's visitor center (open on weekends).

Beyond the visitor center, cross Malibu Creek again and continue up and over a hill on Crags Road. Press on past silted-in Century Lake on the left; the Goat Buttes, also on the left; and through the M*A*S*H site, where outdoor scenes for the television series were recorded.

After a total of 2.7 miles, bear left on Bulldog Road, a fire road/powerline access road. The road rises crookedly along slopes thickly clothed in chaparral. The physical effort of negotiating the last, steep, uphill mile on Bulldog Road is rewarded by ever-expanding views over and beyond the now-shrunken-looking Goat Buttes. You'll also pass close to some interesting outcrops of sandstone, looking much like gigantic incisor teeth.

Turn left when you reach Castro Peak Road at 5.8 miles, and start a descent east. The Malibu shoreline soon comes into view, with a clear-air vista that includes several of the Channel Islands, Palos Verdes, and the west and south parts of the L.A. Basin.

As you approach the Corral Canyon Road trailhead, stay left on the footpath that goes up a hogback ridge bristling with sandstone pinnacles (bikers should stay on the roadways instead of taking the footpath). Stay on this ridge for 0.5 mile, passing several gargantuan sandstone outcrops. You then meet Mesa Peak Fire Road, which doubles as a segment of the Backbone Trail -- a trail that spans the length of the Santa Monica Mountains.

At 9.4 miles there's a junction. A road to Mesa Peak goes right; you bear left, staying on the Mesa Peak Fire Road. You now begin a steady and sometimes severe descent along the precipitous west wall of Malibu Canyon. This is a potentially knee-banging drop for runners, and a tricky descent for mountain bikes. Malibu Creek and the curving highway through it come into view occasionally, seemingly straight down. You end up at a parking lot for the Backbone Trail along Malibu Canyon Road at 11.8 miles.

Follow Malibu Canyon Road north, passing over Malibu Creek, and enter Tapia Park on the left, picking up the single-track Tapia Spur Trail. That trail skirts some picnic sites, passes the entrance to a private Salvation Army camp, and continues up and over a low ridge to Malibu Creek State Park's group campground. From there, simply proceed along the access road and over to your car in the valley ahead.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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