Saddle Peak via the Backbone trail – LA Hikes

Saddle Peak via the Backbone trail – LA Hikes

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.
Extra notes:
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 plants

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.

Wildflowers galore

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!

35 thoughts on “Saddle Peak via the Backbone trail – LA Hikes

    1. Yeah, that made me sad. It was only the end if the trail at Saddle Peak that was full of trash. 🙁

  1. I only ever seem to end up in LA when it’s super hot, but saving this for a slightly less warm time of year as it looks so nice and I would love to go hiking around there. Great shot of Larry the lizard, he’s quite the poser.

  2. Such amazing views! Now that I live in the Caribbean, I really miss going for “serious hikes”, like this..! 🙂

    1. It’s infuriating isn’t it!! To be fair, the trash was mostly at the end of the trail (you can drive to that area… so it is probably not from hikers…) Still, I was surprised to see so much!

  3. The views from the summit are spectacular! I’ve done smaller hikes in the area but this one looks like a must! I hate that when I see trash all over a trail or pretty outdoor space. So great that you cleaned it up!

    1. I was wondering if you had done this one! We met hikers at the top that told us this was not super famous (they’d been hiking in LA for years and had not done it…)

  4. Great views! My son lives near here and is always looking for a good hike, Im sending this to him! Im telling him to bring a trash bag with him too! Its so annoying that people leave trash out there.

    1. Yeah, it is such a shame BUT it was a beautiful area! Maybe you can hike with him when you visit? There are sooo many fab trails nearby!

  5. Great trail! 10 miles is a little longer than the hikes I normally go on, but I would love to see those wildflowers and views!

  6. Such beautiful places to hike in Southern California – but I totally agree about people leaving trash everywhere, we noticed that too when we lived in Pasadena. Saddle Peak is a trail I haven’t done yet, but it looks like a great one!

    1. Oh no! I was hoping it was a one-off (as there wasn’t so much on the other trails we visited…) Although there was a lot of graffiti and names carved into cacti/trees. 🙁

  7. I wouldn’t mind this 10-mile hike! The views are beautiful! It’s good to know that you didn’t encounter any snakes along the way. I’m terrified of them!

    1. Me too! I mean, I like to see them in places where I know they are harmless… but I am not used to seeing rattle snakes…so I was happy not to meet any!

  8. The panoramic views look gorgeous. Good call on starting early in the morning to get a parking spot and to enjoy some shade on the trail. It’s such a shame to hear about all the trash on the trail.

    1. It’s funny because we came from snow in Canada to warm weather in the States we were sooo happy and warm in t-shirts/shorts. But the local hikers all had long pants and puffy jackets.

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