Sixty-seven-mile Backbone Trek open for adventurous hikers

The hike traverses the entire Santa Monica Mountains recreational area, from Ventura through Malibu to Sunset Boulevard.

By Paul Sisolak / Special to The Malibu Times

The Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council is looking for a few good hikers to take part in a 67-mile tour coming up in May.

Registration for 25 hikers is open through the end of April for the Backbone Trek, a weeklong nature excursion starting in Ventura County, crossing through Malibu Canyon and ending in Pacific Palisades.

This is the 9th consecutive year the state Backbone Trail is opened up for the popular trek, and the hike, which begins on May 7 at La Jolla Canyon, lives up to its name. It truly is the backbone of the mountain ridge and has attracted more and more participants each time, Ed Stauss, one of the event’s organizers, said.

“This is the one that traverses the entire Santa Monica Mountains recreational area, from Point Mugu … down to Will Rogers State Historic Park, all the way down to Sunset Boulevard,” he said.

Stauss said the Backbone Trek “progresses across a patchwork of public lands, including state parks, national parkland and other land holdings,” following ridges as well as tree-shaded valleys and open chaparral.

The trek covers approximately 10 miles per day and, Elliott said, the annual event serves several purposes, including raising awareness to the trail, one of Southern California’s best kept secrets.

“The whole objective of the thing is to bring attention to the Backbone Trail,” Elliott said. “We want to hike every inch of the trail. We don’t deviate from that. That’s our focus and that’s what we do.”

Those interested in participating should note that the Backbone Trek’s activity levels are rated for moderate to strenuous and aren’t for the novice hiker. Elevations will vary daily anywhere from 500 feet to 3,000 feet at any given point. But, likened to a summer camp for adults, it’s a chance to spend a week in the great outdoors with people who possess a passion for nature and the environment.

“This is a pretty serious hike,” Elliott said. “You need to practice and get in shape.”

A bonus of the trek is that two 15-passenger shuttle vans drive to and from the day’s trailhead to the night’s campground where hot meals are served to hikers. The hikers are responsible only for carrying their lunch, water and some personal effects.

Stauss said one reason for the shuttle vans, which the hike’s $350 fee partially pays for, is because sections of the trail are still incomplete and hikers wouldn’t be able to continue at certain junctures without transportation. Parts of the trail were former animal paths that were converted into hiking paths; other stretches were once fire access roads.

Throughout the years, Stauss said, there’s been a push for State Parks to purchase more parkland so organized events like the Backbone Trek can be facilitated without the need to bus hikers to and from the trailhead. About five miles of trail remains missing, he said.

“There’s a long-term plan to build more trail camps, but in the meantime, we’re using the shuttle van,” he said.

One draw to taking the trek is the chance to surmount some of the mountains’ most treasured points, and to see its most scenic views-Danielson and Circle X Ranches, and Boney Mountain Peak.

“I will never look at the Santa Monicas the same again,” hiker Lynn Lively said. “It’s sort of imprinted on your soul now.”

Lively joined the trek one year as a post-retirement challenge for herself, completing 65 miles and 13,390 feet of inclined gain in seven days.

“It was my 55th birthday and I thought it was pretty cool,” she said. “And I look for opportunities for one-way trips. For the average bear you can’t do a one-way trip like that.”

It also prompted the Ventura resident to begin hiking the ridges solo.

“I’m having fun exploring the backbone on my own,” she said. “It [the trek] gave me this great overview, so now I’m filling in the pieces on my own.”

The Backbone Trek culminates on May 14 at Will Rogers Park with a light lunch and transportation back to the hike’s starting point. The fee of $350 covers all expenses; any leftover funding, Stauss said, is donated to the Trails Council. Registration is open until April 8.

Questions about the event should be directed to event coordinator Jerry Mitcham at 818.406.1269, or by emailing Additional information can also be found at

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

Related Articles



Latest Articles

%d bloggers like this: