Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail Run

I have lived in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains since 1972 and hiked, run or biked most of the Backbone trail since then but never put it together as a continuous self-propelled adventure.  Well in 2001 I have taken a renewed interest in this trail so I could share it with others in the ultra-running community.   So here is a detailed description of the trail.  I will post my runs as I find time to update this page. This has been run in one continuous push by a number of people.  Here is one story on the Backbone trail done in a day.  Any takers?  I  have taken the liberty to change the Backbone "Proper" trail to enhance the running and scenic experience on a few of my runs of this trail and note them in my route description.  


NEWS FLASH:  Finally ran the Backbone start to finish on 12/30/2006.  Took us 16 hours and 37 minutes.  We had great support with a rolling aid station.  Here is the link to the pictures .  Also a link to the splits between aid stations.  I used a Garmin 305 GPS on the run and you can see the tracks for the first 12  hours here.


ANOTHER NEWS FLASH: On October 18, 2008 I ran the BB trail with a number of good friends joining me on various sections of the course.  This was a great way to do the BB and their support and good company were invaluable.  This run would not have been possible without the aid and transportation provided by Willie, Deb, Jack, Bill and Heather.  My fellow runners, Jonathan S, Jonathan T., Eric, Justin and Bill help keep me motivated, hydrated and moving well throughout the run.  Here are the splits for the run and the pictures we took.  This time I took my Garmin watch to get tracks for the second half of the run.  Well the battery ran out in Sycamore Canyon but this will help you figure out the less obvious sections from Kanan to Misha Mokwa.  This was a hot day on the trail in the afternoon and I was plagued with some serious chafing that slowed me down later in the run.  Although this took me 18 hours 24 minutes I really didn't care about the time and enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow runners.

East to West (the classic and preferred direction)

Trail or Trailhead   Miles Miles from the start   Miles from the end Miles for 2 day run The beta:  National Park Service site has some new information on the BBT here.
Will Rogers State Park  to Dead Horse Parking lot

1725 gain
1125 loss
well maintained single track and fire roads   

must do section of the trail for the ocean views

13.3 13.3 67.3 13.3


Follow the trail on the right side of the parking lot. left and head uphill onto the Inspiration Point Trail and head to the marked Backbone trailhead turnoff left (0.8).  Climb single track and climb marine terraces to Temescal Ridge Trail and go right.  A sharp right turn is needed just before an old mud slide (I was there that day and is was a mess).  Follow this singletrack as it winds around clockwise back to the fire road above the mud slide. Continue to the "Hub Junction" (6.0).  
Once at the Hub, find the trail that goes to Eagle Rock (the high road) not Eagle Springs (the low road). Proceed to Eagle Rock which is worth the short detour (0.8) then to Eagle Junction (0.5), where the low road and the high road meet.  Find a trail that goes right (north) to Musch Camp (1.1) where water can be found and then head south toward Trippet Ranch (0.9).  Don't go all the way to Trippet Ranch but find the trail that goes right after a wooden fence line.  Follow this fence line for a bit then singletrack that continues to the Dead Horse Trail (if you are on the 92 Spur trail you have gone too far).  Continue to the parking lot for the Dead Horse Trail (1.1).  Bathrooms and water can be found here.
Dead Horse Trail Parking lot to Stunt and Schueren Road


1770 gain
150 loss

Primitive to moderately maintained  single track
Steep uphill trail with lots of riparian woodland, ocean and mountain views

5.0 18.3 54 18.3


From Dead Horse Trail parking lot find the trail behind the bathrooms (north) that heads down to Topanga Canyon Road.  Look out for fast cars here!  Find Greenleaf Canyon Road right across the street and pick up the unmarked trail on the left side of Greenleaf Canyon Road near some dumpsters that continues steeply uphill passing lots of poison oak toward the Topanga Elementary School (0.4).  Follow the nature trail markers for the flora up the hill (not traversing) and pick up a fire road after a grove of large oak trees that intersects this trail.  Head down this fire road and when the school is in sight take a hairpin turn right  that parallels Old Topanga Canyon Road.  You will pass two large water tanks (on your left).  Continue downhill through the overgrown narrow trail until you meet up on a blind curve at Old Topanga Canyon Road (0.3). Watch for cars and motor cycles.  Visibility is limited at the Old Topanga Canyon Trailhead. Cross Old Topanga Road.  The trail crosses a stream and follows a well maintained trail.  Mud on the trail is very sticky in this section.  BBT marker in the section(after you cross old Topanga road) that has the sticky mud.  This is an intersection close to the top where you take a left and continue up.  This is the beginning of the climb up to Stunt Road. The trail is well marked here as you proceed through the oak woodland into the chaparral.  The terrain changes abruptly and the trail narrows as it enters Hondo Canyon.  Look over your shoulder here for a nice view.  You will pass an old gate as you begin the steeper climbing under a canopy of oaks in Hondo Canyon.  Sycamore and Bay Laurel are abundant as you climb up the saddle.  As you climb out of the canyon the views of the San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Mountains are spectacular on a clear day as you look east from where you started.   As you follow the trail below the Microwave Tower the views to the South toward Catalina Island and the Palos Verdes Peninsula are awesome.  Continue traversing toward the west and keep an eye out for fossils on oneof the boulders near the end of the trail.  The trail drops down to a gated paved road. Go left at the service road down to Stunt Road. Continue past the gate at the intersection of Stunt and Schueren Road (4.3) and go right down Stunt road. A view from Stunt Road.  This overlook has some interpretive signs and is called Louis Ewen Overlook.

Stunt Road at Saddle Rocks to Las Virgenes Road / Piuma Road  

310 gain
2240 loss

some well maintained trail with sections of rocky down hill, stream crossings at the end, great ocean views


25.6 49 25.6

From the corner of Stunt Road and Schueren Road head west and continue to run down Stunt Road (0.2). A trail will be visible on the left.  Take this trail uphill toward the large water tank.  Pass the water tank on the left side and follow the pavement that turns into a trail.  When the Radio Towers are visible on your left at the top of the hill, you will come to a fork.  Go right (down hill).  Follow this trail into a narrow canyon through the Saddle Rocks (0.8).  Follow the trail through the rocks that resemble catacombs and drop down single track bearing left at all intersections (right will take you back to Stunt Road).  Continue down this rolling and rocky trail with intermittent stream crossings until you arrive at a hairpin turn (4.4) at Piuma Road.  Pick up the single track trail directly across the street and follow this mostly shaded trail until it crosses a stream and meets Piuma Road (1.9) just before the intersection with Las Virgenes Canyon. Go left when you arrive at Piuma Road and run toward the intersection.  You can cross Malibu Canyon Road and head left across the bridge over Malibu Creek to a large parking lot. Another option is to stay on the left side of Piuma Road for 100 yards and take a bushy trail that goes under the Las Virgenes Road Bridge.  Cross the creek 20 yards beyond the bridge and pick up the trail that meets the service road.  Cross the service road and go left for 40 yards to the Backbone Trailhead (0.1). 

Las Virgenes Road / Tapia Park to Corral Canyon  

1600 gain
75 loss

well maintained exposed fire roads with ocean and mountain views






 From the parking lot pick up a single track next to the bathroom ascending this single track trail that meets a fire road (0.6).  Continue UP and UP, climbing the steep fire road for many...At the junction of Mesa Peak Motorway go right to Corral Canyon bearing north-north-west (2.0).  There was a huge landslide here that in recent years (2007) has been bypassed with a new trail.  Here is what the landslide area used to look like.  Continue on the fire road that veers due west until you see the trail split that has a single track that bears right near some large Rock formations (2.8).  Ascend the trail the true "spine of the Backbone trail" that climbs on sandstone formations makes a sharp left  at the top and heads down sandy slopes. Follow the trail to the Corral Canyon Parking Lot (0.5).   View on you way up: North, South

Corral Canyon Parking Lot to Kanan Road at Newton Canyon

Gain - 400
loss - 560

well maintained single track with some rocky sections.  shaded canyon with many stream crossings, rolling single track, mountain views


38.1 35.7 38.1

At the Corral Canyon parking lot trailhead drop down onto single track and follow this through the chaparral to a junction, go right noting the power lines above, that takes you into Solstice Canyon (0.6).  Follow the lush (before the fire) Solstice Canyon trail with many stream crossings in winter.  This trail then climbs to a saddle below Castro Peak where radio towers can be seen above (2.2).  Look back and see where you just came from in the Canyon.  Go right 30 yards across a fire road and pick up the single track (left) that takes you to Latigo Canyon Road and a dirt parking lot (1.4). Cross the road and follow the single track down into the canyon and then up to meet a private driveway. Cross this driveway and continue on single track that crosses over the Tunnel at Kanan Road.  Drop down from the top of the tunnel via very rocky single track to the developed parking lot (2.3).  Watch for mountain bikers in this section as it is a very popular area.   You arrive at the most improved trail head for the Backbone Trail.

Kanan Road Newton Canyon / Zuma Canyon  Trailhead To Mulholland Drive

gain - 600
loss - 160

well maintained single track with stream bridged crossings, short fire road, mountain views



29.2 5.5


From the Kanan Road trailhead follow the single track past the Newton Canyon Falls.  Continue over a well engineered bridge and past Upper Zuma Canyon Falls that will be on your right in the distance to a fire road (2.5).  The sign at the fire road will say Zuma Ridge Trail. Go left uphill (0.1) on this fire road to the Backbone Trail.  Pick up the unsigned Backbone Trail, right (at a turn in the fire road that goes up and left) and up a steep hill to a trail that winds through singletrack until you arrive at a fork with two fire roads. (0.5).  Take the fire road on the right that goes slightly uphill (0.1) and pick up the well developed signed Backbone Trail.  This section of the trail is wide and like a highway that continues downhill until you arrive at another well engineered bridge.  Cross the bridge and continue down this trail paralleling the stream.  The trail veers right crossing a creek and then crosses the final well engineered bridge.  Continue up the fire road from the bridge to a gate then up to the paved Encinal Canyon Road (1.6). Cross Encinal Canyon Road and pick up a trail just before the road sign noting the fire station.  A new trail created in 2004 starts left of Clark Ranch Road.  If you see the gate at Clarks Ranch Fire Road you have missed the cutoff trail.  Look up and left and see a trail contouring up and around the nearby hillside.  This is a wide trail and leads to Mulholland Highway  (0.7).  

Mulholland Highway to Misha Mokwa  

gain - 770
loss - 600

 maintained rocky single track on some private land (as of November 2009) with steep climbs, well maintained fire roads with spectacular ocean and mountain views



23.7 13.6

This is last section of trail that has been constructed.  After Crossing Mulholland follow the trail to the top where it meets Etz Malloy Motorway.  Go left at this fire road and take rolling hills with some moderate climbs and follow it down past a locked gate to Yerba Buena Road.


Back in 2006 the trail was almost finished.  During construction I saw a bobcat on the trail.  Later up on Etz Malloy Motorway I took refuge in the Backbone Bunker during a rain storm.

Here is the old description but the first section still remains and allows access to the new trail.

Cross Mulholland Highway and find the National Park Service marker on a telephone pole on the south side of the street.  Take the unmarked singletrack directly across the street from this pole,.  this section of the trail is under construction as of 10/04.  Trail routing is in progress and it is a bushwack.  This eventually will take you to a single track up to Etz Motorway Fire Road (1.5).  Note this is not open to the public and you should proceed at your own risk. Take Etz Motorway that continues West and drops down to Yerba Buena Road (3.0). **
Follow this road and note a parking area on the left (0.1). Watch for loose dogs (white dog friendly black dog not).   A new section of the trail went in late 2003 and it begins at Yerba Buena Road.    Looking back at this sign you can see that the trail still is missing some connections.

This next section of trail has some of the best views and continues to follows contours with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.  During my early explorations this is where the trail work ended and the bushwacking began.  I followed this trail to a point where the trail ends or at least continues past where I think the proper connector is located to meet up with the Misha Mokwa Trail (3.5). When it was under construction I had to beware of sharp remnants of bushes and old cars.  I lost my footing and was skewered through my running shoe, sock and into my foot.  There is a bail out point from this trail 0.8 miles in where Yerba Buena Road can be accessed.   The trail is completed today and in great shape and can be followed for 0.9 miles to the Misha Mokwa trailhead.    The Park Service map shows the non-existent trail.

Mishe Mokwa to Sycamore Canyon  

650 - gain
2500 - loss
maintained single track with some brush, steep downhills with sporadic rocky footing, grassy, sticky single track to steep downhill  fire road, great mountain and ocean views



15.6 20.8


Head North from the Misha Mokwa trail head to a junction (0.6).  The true Backbone trail goes left and continues up to Sandstone Peak aka Mount Allen (3,111) on a steep trail (1.2).  Another non-BBT option is to take the right fork that proceeds into Split Rock and Carlisle Canyon. The non-BBT trail stays above the canyon with views of the Echo Cliffs and Balanced Rock and takes you to Split Rock (1.3). A picnic table here is a nice place to cool down and eat.   Bear right and pick up the trail that climbs out of the canyon to signs that direct you to the backbone trail (1.3).   I prefer the trail on the right although the trail up to Sandstone Peak is worth doing at least once.

There are some rogue trails to Sandstone Peak  but if you have the patience you will reach to the top of the climb and see a well maintained trail with railroad tie steps that will take you up to the peak.  Come down the same way and at the bottom of the stairs pick up the fire road that winds down hill and eventually meets up with a trail junction on the left.  If you bypass this junction and continue on this trail it will take you to Split Rock and noted above.

 Follow the Backbone trail signs to the Chamberlain Trail.  This trail also has some amazing views and some technical terrain.  Watch your footing and watch for poison oak. Take Chamberlain Trail down to the Boney Trail Junction (3.1).  Go right here and this will take you down Blue Canyon to the junction of the continuation of the Old Boney Trail on the right (1.3).  Do not take this turn but continue straight down hill to Danielson Ranch where you will have water and picnic tables (1.0)Another non-BBT option is to bear left from the bottom of Chamberlain trail, down "Tick Alley" to the junction, go right down the Old Boney Trail that will take you down to Sycamore Canyon Road (0.9)  .  

Danielson Ranch to La Jolla Canyon  

800 - gain
965 - loss

well maintained fire roads and single track, awesome mountain and ocean views, cranking downhill finish






Turn Left (south) on Sycamore Canyon fire road past the ranch and remnants of an old barn.  The fire road will skirt a hill side on your left and continue down hill until a junction with Wood Canyon (1.5), bear left past this junction and to a singletrack that crosses an intermittent stream marked as the Backbone Trail (0.2).  Turn right immediately crossing a stream and proceed up this single track to the Overlook Trail (2.0).  Turn Left (south) running on the Overlook trail that climbs steadily for a mile or so and then rolls up and down until you hit the Ray Miller Trail(2.0).

Go right up this trail and follow it as it switchbacks down some of the best downhill singletrack running on the BBT and then finish at the La Jolla Canyon parking lot (2.7)

Photos added on 1/1/09 came from Dennis Ladnier on his BBT trek

Run Log:

12/23/01 - Stunt Road to Old Topanga and and back.  Also scoped out the trail to Topanga Canyon.  Still looking for it...

12/26/01 - Las Virgenes Road to Wendy and Potero (=~ 39 mile).  

Splits indicate arrival at trail heads (includes picture taking water drops, lunch, taming loose dogs and general chatting on the trail) 
    Las Virgenes: 0:00
    Corral: 1:13
    Latigo: 2:04
    Kanan: 2:30 Water drop
    Encinal: 3:35
    Mulholland: 3:45
    YerbaBuena: 5:01 - Lots of bushwacking to find trail (much easier now)
    Misha Mokwa: 6:40 - Trail still not cut.  Water drop
    Split Rock: 7:16
    Chamberlin Trail (top) - 7:50
    Danielson: 9:01
    Wendy and Potero: 9:50

1/5/02 - Temescal Gateway Park to Kanan Road
1/6/02 - Kanan Road to La Jolla Canyon
 2/18/03 - Ran first 38 miles of Backbone as Scrub run for Coyote Four Play
, see elevation profile and heart rate monitor graph

2/17,18 / 2004 - Ran the trail over 2 days.  Second day was raining big time but we prevailed.


How not to do the Backbone

Run from Kanan Road to Newbury Park 12/22/07 with pics and videos

Summary Data

Total Time (h:m:s)


12:35 pace

Moving Time (h:m:s)


11:07 pace

Distance (mi )


Moving Speed (mph)

5.4 avg.

12.5 max.

Elevation Gain (ft)

+7,583 / -8,150


Avg. Heart Rate

80 %max

Zone 4.0

Elevation Change Total (ft)
Total Elevation 15,733
Elevation Gain 7,583
Elevation Loss 8,150
Net Elevation Change -568
Vertical Speed Average ( ft/min) Maximum (ft/min)
Ascent 28.2 569.1
Descent -30.4 -482.7

Grade Average (%) Maximum (%)
Overall Grade -0.5 --
Ascent Grade 12.4 78.9
Descent Grade -13.0 -42.7
Relevant Data
Start Elevation (ft): 1,498
Finish Elevation (ft): 930
Min. Elevation (ft): 791
Max. Elevation (ft): 3,061

Revised: 11/18/2009

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