Backbone Trail

The easternmost Backbone Trail, part of a “hikers highway in the making” through the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, skims across spacious Topanga State Park above Santa Monica and executes a final swan dive at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. When the morning mists clear, a hike along this stretch yields dazzling and ever-changing perspectives on the meeting of mountains and sea.

This is a one-way trip, downhill most of the time. You’ll have to arrange a car shuttle, or better yet, have someone drop you off at the start, the Trippet Ranch trailhead (opens at 8 a.m.) in Topanga State Park, and later pick you up at Will Rogers Park (closes at sunset). Since you’re very likely to be walking in full sunshine nearly all the way, don’t forget to wear sun-shielding clothing and take along plenty of drinking water.

From the picnic area at Trippet Ranch, head southeast on the fire road going up the hill to the East Topanga Fire Road. Turn left at the top and climb farther to Eagle Junction (1.4 miles into the hike). Veer right, pass under Eagle Rock, climb some more, and arrive at Hub Junction (2.7 miles). Turn right on the Temescal Ridge Trail and walk 0.5 mile south, passing a cavernous sandstone outcrop on the left called Cathedral Rock, to another junction. The Backbone Trail goes left here on an old fire road. Nearby Temescal Peak, whose summit can be reached by way of a short, steep path on its west side, is worth climbing if the visibility is good. A broad panorama of chaparral-clad hillsides spilling down to the curved shoreline of Santa Monica Bay lies before you.

The stretch of Backbone Trail ahead, originally called the Rogers Trail from here on down to Will Rogers Park, strikes east for about a mile, then bends south, loosely following an undulating ridgeline. You thread a path in between a deep cleft to the east named Rustic Canyon, and lesser ravines to the west — Temescal Canyon and Rivas Canyon.

After several miles of descent along the generally treeless ridgeline, you’ll arrive at a junction just above the Inspiration Point viewing area at Will Rogers Park. Turn either right or left on the wide path in order to descend to the park grounds and the recently renovated historic home of Will Rogers — the noted newspaperman, radio commentator, movie star, and pop philosopher of the 1920s and ’30s.

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.

Backbone Trail
Descend from the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea on the easternmost segment of the Backbone Trail.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 140 miles
Hiking length: 9.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

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