Essential Santa Monica Mountain Hikes

The challenging and visually stunning backbone trail. Photo: Facebook.

Escape from the urban chaos and experience the beauty of L.A.’s nature.

By Keldine Hull

2019 arrived with the sort of swiftness that makes you wonder if 2018 really happened. With a new year comes a fresh start and resolutions that will hopefully help us in our journey of becoming better versions of our 2018 selves. Resolutions are as different as the people who make them and range in everything from giving up smoking and drinking to reading more. However, year after year, without fail, the ost common New Year’s resolution is to live a more active lifestyle. For those of us fortunate enough to live in California, the pleasant climate nearly year-round offers the perfect backdrop to getting outdoors more often and fulfilling those resolutions.


People in California love to hike, and it’s no wonder with the endless supply of hiking trails in nearly every nook and cranny you could think of. With the help of Venice resident Jackson Rayfield and the Senior Chapter Director of the Sierra Club Los Angeles, George Watland, here’s your insider’s guide to four of the best hiking trails the Westside has to offer.

Backbone Trail and Mesa Peak Tractor Way
Malibu Canyon Road, Agoura Hills, CA 91301

“Off Malibu Canyon Road, there’s this a trail called Backbone Trail/ Mesa Peak Tractor Way,” Rayfiend explains about one of the first trails he visited in California. “It’s really steep and beautiful with some killer views along the way. It was a great introduction into the California terrain and California nature for me. It’s forested along certain paths, then its mountainous and then forested again. It also has these open plains which are just gorgeous. I remember taking my video camera and just filming thinking, ‘California is where it’s at.’ I remember taking a blind date there once thinking that it was a good idea cause we’re both athletic people. I’d only done it by myself before but never actually tried to have a conversation while walking up the side of the mountain. It’s that steep in the opening onset, then it levels out and gets steep again. It’s definitely a bit of a workout and a lot of fun.”

Topanga State Park
20829 Entrada Road, Topanga Canyon, CA 90290

North of the Pacific Palisades and East of Topanga Canyon rests over 11,500 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains that make up the picturesque Topanga State Park. “There’s a whole network of trails up on in Topanga Canyon and they are really quite enjoyable too,” Rayfield continues. “Their trails are wider and eventually lead you to this beautiful rock that looks a ton like Pride Rock from ‘the Lion King’. It’s got a nook of caves nestled in the side of it. The trail I walked that led up to Eagle Rock was probably about two miles from where you park your car to where you walk up the trail, and it was really beautiful.” Topanga State Park offers a variety of different trails and vantage points including the Parker Mesa Overlook, which offers an unforgettable view of the Pacific Ocean, Skull Rock, Los Liones Trail, and the Santa Ynez Falls.

Sycamore Canyon
Point Mugu State Park, Malibu, CA 90265

In the case of Sycamore Canyon, it’s ok to chase waterfalls. The right trail will lead you to a breathtaking waterfall straight out of a Hollywood movie. “It has a whole network of trails,” Rayfield explains. “I found myself walking along the mountains at the top ridge that had a straight drop down to the PCH. It was straight on-looking PCH beneath you and the ocean just beneath that. And there’s this great little rock that’s almost like a little presentation deck and it’s just you, king of the mountain, overlooking the ocean. It was one of those moments where I thought, ‘You’re doing alright. Whatever it is you’re going through right now, you’re doing alright.” Three miles into the hike take a lunch break and catch your breath at Danielson Ranch group camp.

Point Dume
27807 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265

Point Dume offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Photo: Getty Images

Whether it’s overcast or a clear day, Point Dume offers yet another beautiful view of the ocean. What makes Point Dume so unique is that a great deal of the trail leading to various vantage points as well as the ocean below are lined with yellow wildflowers that bloom in spring and take your breath away. It’s a moderate hike and for those who like a little walk on the wild side, you can climb the rocks and sit precariously overlooking Malibu’s beautiful landscape.

For those who might not like to hike on their own and have trouble finding people to join them, the Sierra Club offers an entire network of people who love to hike and make it a point to go regularly. Watland explains, “I suggest going on the hikes that we organize in various areas, including Griffith Park, the San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains to find trails that most people don’t know exist. We do 4,000 hikes a year here and there’s trails all over the place and many are within walking distance of certain neighborhoods. You can meet new people that like to do the same things, get outdoors, and discover areas that are interesting to hike that people don’t even know are nearby. We have a way to enter your zip code, look at a map, and choose ones that are close to you. You’ll fall in love with getting outdoors.”

Whether you’re a novice or seasoned regular who’s seen every trail California has to offer, hiking offers so much more than just helping people along their way to a healthier lifestyle. Rayfield explains, “I think it’s great way to experience nature, be to yourself, gather your thoughts and relax. The great thing about California is we have so much accessible to us.”

Visit to learn more about their organized hikes and how you can join.