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The View from Backbone Trail

By Cathy Philipp - August 2nd, 2000

November is Backbone Trail month in the Santa Monica Mountains, California. Continuing with the month-long celebration, this outing is a round-trip hike along the Backbone Trail to Inspiration Point at Circle X Ranch. This is a challenging hike, but the views from the top of Boney Mountain are well worth the effort.

The beautiful, rugged mountain top known as Boney Mountain has long been a source of inspiration to the human eye. Archaeological studies indicate that native peoples occupied this site for thousands of years. The mountain's highest point is Sandstone Peak, at 3,111 feet above sea level, also is the highest spot in the Santa Monica Mountains. Interestingly enough, this rocky promontory is not made out of sandstone as its name implies, but formed by volcanic processes.

Trip Planner

Directions: Circle X Ranch is located 5 1/2 miles from Pacific Coast Highway on Yerba Buena Road in Malibu. From the Conejo, take Westlake Boulevard (Highway 23) south, through the mountains several miles and it joins Mulholland Highway at the county line. They continue together for a short way; stay to the right, on Mulholland Highway at the unmarked intersection and take it to Little Sycamore Canyon Road. Turn right onto Little Sycamore and it will become Yerba Buena Road as you cross the county line once more. Proceed on Yerba Buena about 4 miles, watching for the signed parking lot for the Backbone Trail. Coming from Westlake Village, the parking area is before the Circle X Ranch ranger station. If you are traveling from the ocean, the parking area is a mile past the ranger station.

Distance and level of difficulty: Today's hike to Inspiration Point is a strenuous 4 1/2-mile round-trip with a gain/loss in elevation of 1,000 feet.

What you'll need: Be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots. Bring sunscreen, a hat or visor and at least two quarts of water per hiker. Closest facilities are located at the Circle X Ranch ranger station. Dogs on leashes are allowed on this multi-use trail.

Step by step:
1. The signed Backbone Trail begins at the north end of the parking lot, a little beyond the information kiosk. Walk around the locked gate that closes the fire road to vehicle traffic. The trail follows the road uphill all the way to the summit. After 1/4 of a mile of steady, uphill walking, the single-track Mishe Mokwa Trail separates from the Backbone Trail to head down into Carlisle Canyon. For this hike continue up the fire road.
2. About a mile from the trailhead, the fire road widens out as it overlooks the flat top of Boney Mountain to the immediate north. Watch for the signed "Hiking Only" trail to Sandstone Peak. The trail starts as a set of wooden steps that lead a few hundred yards from the trail junction up a steep, narrow indistinct path to the summit. After signing the registry and enjoying the tremendous views all around, return to the main trail and follow it down to the highland flat.
3. The trail levels out and continues west for another mile before coming to the signed Inspiration Point at elevation 2,800 feet. After enjoying the views it is your choice to return the way you came or to make this a loop hike by returning to the parking lot via the Mishe Mokwa Trail mentioned in step #1. The loop trail adds about 2-miles to the total hiking distance.

What you'll see: Boney Mountain's Inspiration Point, offers hardy trail users one of the most far-reaching, 360 degree vistas in Southern California. On clear days, the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands dominate the view to the west, the Oxnard Plain is to the immediate north and the Topatopa Mountains are visible beyond that. Closer at hand are: Westlake Village and the Conejo Valley as well as the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains.


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