There are multiple trails that will allow you to hike to Saddle Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. If you fancy a scenic treat-of-a-trail through Malibu Creek State Park, you can reach Saddle Peak via the Backbone trail. We started our hike from Piuma Road and enjoyed gorgeous views along the route before the final climb up to Saddle Peak. This hike is shady, easy to follow and doesn’t feel too hard considering the epic scenery and cool rock formations you get to see.
Saddle Peak via the Backbone trail map
Or I have a map of the trail I recorded on strava here.
Saddle Peak via the Backbone trail – the basics
Distance: 10 miles (16 km)
Elevation gain: 2428 ft (740m)
Highest Point: 2756 ft (840m)
Time: 4-5 hours
What to bring:
Bring the 10 essentials.
I found gaiters helpful to keep the small rocks and sand out of my shoes.
Facilities: No facilities (that we saw)
Dogs: A sign said no dogs
How hard is it?
Moderate/hard. It must feel hard later in the spring/summer once the weather is hot.
There are some shady sections, and the climb up the switchbacks is in the shade if you start in the morning. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and poison oak.
Saddle Peak via the Backbone trail
I’ll start with panoramas to give you an idea how spectacular the views can be along this trail. After that we can move on to the nitty gritty details about this adventure.
Saddle Peak via the Backbone trail – getting started
We started the trail from a hairpin bend in Piuma Road. There is no space to park at the trailhead, but if you continue a few hundred meters south, there is sandy parking area with space for about 7-8 cars. Be really careful walking along the road back to the trailhead – there were some very fast drivers on that winding road!
The Backbone Trail
The Backbone trail is a 67 mile (108 km) hike along the Santa Monica Mountains. There aren’t many places to camp along the way, so most people hike the trail in sections. The part we did is segment 6 on the National Park service website. As it is an official trail, the path was easy to follow and there were plenty of signposts.
The trail starts by dropping down to a small creek (with lovely cold water – we used it to cool our feet at the end of the hike.) Then straight away you’ll be on the switchbacks for a steady climb up the mountainside. You can see the path in my photo below – it only takes about 20 minutes to get up to this view.
Once you have made it up to 1280ft (390m) the climb becomes easier. You’ll be able to see the surrounding rocky peaks, the chaparral shrubs and peek-a-views into the valleys.
The Backbone trail is easy to follow. Just keep wandering along the obvious path and enjoy the scenery.
Snakes and lizards
We didn’t see (or hear) any snakes on our visit, but we met quite a few lizards! The coolest one had bright iridescent turquoise/blue coloring, almost like a peacock! He was too fast for me to snap a photo! So, here is Larry, a calm, posing lizard instead.
Chaparral is the name of the plant community along the Backbone Trail. It is quite dense with shrub- like plants that are able to cope with summer-droughts. There was lots of sagebrush and wild sage. In some places the plants grew over the trail to create tunnels.
In March there were sooo many wildflowers on this trail! Like our previous walk along the Temescal Canyon we saw purple nightshade and desert wishbone flowers. But there were also giant patches of california manroot flowers and red heart. As we got closer to Saddle Peak, there were bright yellow bush poppies decorating the trees.
Saddle Peak Climbing
The trail turns right on to some switch backs for the ascent of Saddle Peak. The main sight near the top of the switchbacks is a large cliff-face. We saw quite a few climbers making their way up that sheer rock wall.
The rock formations up on Saddle Peak are just lovely! When the sun shines on them, they turn a warm pinky-orange. We spent a while looking for cool shapes. Can you spot the “rock on” hand signal above or the smiling turtle below?
Saddle Peak Summit area
There are two areas of Saddle Peak. The actual summit is covered in antenna, so most people seemed to stop at the bump right before the true-peak as it has better 360° views.
But just look at these views! We spotted the bumps from our hike the previous day at Temescal Canyon. This is the view Southeast. Los Angeles looked pretty distant from up here, but we could see for miles.
This is looking north to Calabasas Peak and beyond.
Our favorite spot was between the two peaks, sitting on huge rocks with fabulous ocean views. There are several quiet places where it feels calm. Perfect for lunch.
Return via the Backbone trail
Once you have soaked up the spectacular views you can return the way you came, along the Backbone trail. This time you’ll be heading downhill so it is easier (and a bit faster.)
The one downside
The only bad part about this hike was all the trash on Saddle Peak! I know that most folks here follow Leave no trace principles so it was a bit of a shock to find so much rubbish near the peak! We ended filling up our bags with bottles and discarded wrappers we found on this trail.
If you’d like to escape the city and peek into the Santa Monica Mountains this hike up Saddle Peak is a fantastic option. If you love it, you could always hike other sections of the Backbone trail too!