The Backbone Trail is a route that, in it's entirety, leads from Point Mugu State Park in the west to Will Rogers State Park in the east. This section, the Will Rogers Backbone, leads from the Temescal Ridge Fire Road near the Hub Junction to Will Rogers State Park near Sunset Boulevard.
The Backbone generally follows the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, occasionally traversing lower along the mountainsides. There is a great deal of variety on this trail, from smooth speed zones to rocky chutes and rutted climbs. A recent re-route of the upper section has added more than a mile of high-quality trail that twists around through scrub oak and sumac forest.
Most of the route follows an old jeep trail that has 'gone feral' - that is, the encroachment of vegetation has rendered it entirely singletrack. Some sections have recently been brushed and graded using a Sweco earth mover, but rains and fast-growing vegetation have undone much of this maintenance.
One of the more popular sections of this trail is known as The Tunnel. This is a long, mostly straight section of fast singletrack leading through a dense garden of all kinds of vegetation, from scrub oak and poison oak to yerba santa and sumac. This section is on a north-facing mountainside, and remains cool on hot summer days.
This is a very popular trail, and the upper section sees heavy bicycle traffic most days of the week. On weekends, the lower section is nearly clogged with hikers and casual walkers, so care is needed and riders should be prepared to dismount often to pass hikers.
The upper trailhead is approximately 1 mile south of the Hub Junction on Temescal Ridge Fire Road. Begin by climbing gently to the east, then bend north for a quick, rocky descent to cross a gully. Bend east again and climb a bit, then begin descending through twisty, shaded sections that wrap around a ridge and lead north. A signed 'junction' is reached where the old beginning of the trail comes in from the west (left). This section runs along a dirt cliff, and has been obliterated by a huge landslide.
From the junction, go right and continue east, now running along the north face of a long ridge. This section has two short climbs, but is mostly level to descending, and very fast. A short, steep climb is encountered, then the trail bends south and begins following the ridge top on a long descent. The way is often very rocky, and huge ruts require careful handling. Views of greater Los Angeles are spectacular along this section, at a time when such distractions can prove disastrous.
This rough descent ends where a flat, very gravelly section traverses the spine of the ridge. Gentle climbing follows. Two short climbs are encountered, the second being more steep and very rutted. After topping out on the second climb, the trail becomes easier for a short descent to the start of The Tunnel, a long section of dense forest and brush that is pleasantly shaded with occasional views to the north.
The Tunnel ends at a small rest stop called The Overlook, where a large oak tree provides shade at a spot with views north and east. From this point, the trail again turns south, and the descending becomes rough and difficult again. The trail follows a small canyon for a ways, then exits the canyon and turns left (east), traversing the mountainside with excellent views out to the Pacific Ocean.
An infamous obstacle is encountered on this section - The Landslide - where the trail rounds a crumbling ridgeline. The trail surface becomes loose and rocky, with a sudden steep drop. After the drop, the trail gently climbs and regains the ridgetop. After this climb, a strange 'bridge' is encountered that follows a sharp, crumbling section of the crest. Signs are posted here notifying cyclists of the need to dismount and walk past the bridge. Heed the signs! There may be a ranger hiding on the southern side of the bridge, waiting to hand out tickets.
The trail continues to follow the ridgeline, occasionally switchbacking and climbing, then ending at a dirt road in Will Rogers State Park. Follow the dirt road down to the park entrance, where parking, water, and other facilities are available.
This ride is best done as a loop, either from the Pacific Palisades side (low end) or the Tarzana (San Fernando Valley) side (high end). There are a few options, depending on how much climbing one can stand, and whether one likes the climb at the beginning of the ride or the end.
From I-405 Freeway in Westwood, exit at Sunset Boulevard. and go west, following Sunset to Capri Drive. Go right on Capri and follow uphill to Amalfi Drive. Park on Amalfi to the left (west) of Capri - there will be cars with bike racks on top parked here most days.
Get on the bike and ride up Capri to Casale Road, then go left. Casale descends a short ways, then becomes Sullivan Fire Road. Continue up Sullivan Fire Road, paved at first but becoming dirt in a few miles at a locked gate. The road becomes more consistently steep after the gate for a few miles, with a good rest stop halfway at a huge oak tree on the ridge. Continue climbing up to Mulholland Drive. Go left (west) on Mulholland and ride a few more miles, descending to Caballero Saddle and then climbing to Reseda Boulevard. Follow the instructions below for "Temescal and Mulholland to Backbone."
To return from the bottom of Backbone to the Amalfi trailhead, descend Will Rogers State Park Road from the park down to Sunset, then go left (east) on Sunset to Amalfi. Go left (north) on Amalfi and climb up to a 'Y' intersection with Sorrento Drive. Go left and continue on Amalfi a short distance to the parking area.
Exit US-101 Freeway at Reseda Boulevard in Tarzana. Go south on Reseda uphill to Mulholland Gateway Park, where Reseda ends. A parking fee of $5 is required to park close to the end of the road, but the fee can be avoided by parking a few hundred yards downhill (most locals do this). Ride up Reseda and past the locked gate. Here, either of two routes can be taken to Mulholland: 1) continue up the short but steep 'tail' of Reseda, or 2) branch right onto a singletrack connector. For either option, continue to Mulholland and go right (west) for a short ways, then follow the instructions below for "Temescal and Mulholland to Backbone."
To return to the Reseda trialhead from the bottom of Backbone, descend Will Rogers State Park Road from the park down to Sunset, then go left (east) on Sunset to Amalfi. Go left (north) on Amalfi and climb up to a 'Y' intersection with Sorrento Drive. Go left and continue on Amalfi a short distance to Capri Drive. From here, follow the directions in the "Pacific Palisades" section above to the top of Reseda.
Temescal and Mulholland to Backbone
Just west of the top of Reseda Boulevard the Temescal Fire Road leaves Mulholland and goes left (south). Follow Temescal through the Hub Junction (where Eagle Rock and Eagle Springs Roads meet Temescal) and continue to the Backbone Trailhead, which will be on the left.
Out-and-back from Will Rogers State Park
To do the ride as an out-and-back, climbing Backbone before descending, exit I-405 Freeway at Sunset, then go west and follow Sunset to Will Rogers State Park Road and go right (north). Continue up to the Park, where there is a $5 parking fee. Ride the short paved road that goes north through the park, past a grassy field on the left, to the equestrian facilities at the back of the park. The road bends to the right and becomes dirt. Follow the dirt road for a few switchbacks up to the lower end of the Backbone Trail, which is clearly marked on the right, across the road from a huge cactus.
There are a few interesting options for doing loop rides that include Backbone, and there are also other segments of singletrack to include in these options and the normal loops. Note that these options are all significantly longer than the normal loops detailed above.
Josepho Singletrack Bypass
If climbing up Sullivan Fire Road to approach Backbone or to return to Reseda from Backbone, a nice singletrack can be used to bypass a boring section of pavement. While climbing Sullivan Fire Road, the road will descend a short distance and pass a large iron gate on the left. Continue past the gate, now climbing again, and watch for a trail leaving to the left just before the road levels off. This trail wraps around the ridge to the west and eventually returns to the Sullivan Fire Road at the locked gate where the pavement ends.
Rustic Reverse Loop Singletrack
Exit the paved Sullivan Fire Road as for the above-mentioned option, but watch for a trail branching left about 20 yards after leaving the pavement. This trail descends steeply down to Rustic Canyon, passing through an incredible garden of feral bougainvillea. At the bottom of the trail, go right and climb a paved road back to the iron gate on Sullivan Fire Road. Optionally, continue down-canyon past the first paved road and pass a ranch house, then an iron storage shed, then a stone house covered with graffiti, and climb the next paved road back to the iron gate.
Trailer Canyon Approach
From Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) and Sunset Boulevard, go north on Sunset a short ways to Palisades Drive. Go left (north) on Palisades and follow up a canyon to a remote housing development. Pass a traffic light and go left (west) on Verde de la Montura. Immediately turn right (north) on Michael Lane and continue uphill to the Trailer Canyon trailhead, which is signed on the left.
Get on the bike and ride up Trailer Canyon to Temescal Fire Road. Go left (north) on Temescal and continue up to Backbone, which will be on the right.
To return to the Trailer Canyon trailhead from the bottom of Backbone, descend Will Rogers State Park Road to Sunset, then go right (west) and continue to Chataqua Boulevard. Go left (south) on Chataqua and descend to CA-1. Go right on CA-1 and follow to Sunset. Go right (north) on Sunset and follow the directions above back to the trailhead.
Trippet Ranch Approach
Follow Topanga Canyon Boulevard (CA-27) either north from CA-1 or south from US-101 to Entrada Road, just north of the small town of Topanga Canyon. Go east on Entrada and continue to the Trippet Ranch entrance to Topanga State Park. A $5 parking fee is required to park inside the Park, but the fee can be avoided by parking a few hundred yards downhill, on Entrada.
Get on the bike and ride up East Topanga Fire Road (AKA Eagle Rock Road) past Eagle Rock and on to the Hub Junction. From the Hub, go right (south) on Temescal Fire Road and continue to Backbone, signed on the left.
To return to the Trippet Ranch trailhead from the bottom of Backbone, descend Will Rogers State Park Road to Sunset, then go right (west) on Sunset to Chataqua. Go left (south) on Chataqua and descend to CA-1. Go right (west) on CA-1 to Sunset. Go right on Sunset and follow the directions for "Trailer Canyon Approach" above. Continue on Temescal past Backbone to the Hub, then follow Eagle Rock Road back to Trippet Ranch.
The Really Big Day
For a really big loop ride, with a simply hideous amount of climbing but stunning scenery, Paseo Miramar is the option. This loop involves climbing from sea level to the top of the Santa Monica Mountains at 2000' elevation, then going up and down several more 1000' climbs to reach the upper end of Backbone.
Park on CA-1 between Chataqua and Sunset, either along the highway (free) or in one of the Will Rogers State Beach parking areas ($5 fee required). Go west on CA-1 to Sunset, then go right (north) on Sunset to Paseo Miramar. Turn left (west) on Paseo Miramar and climb steeply up through a beautiful neighborhood to a locked gate at the end of the pavement. The road gets even steeper past the gate, but offers incredible views over the Pacific Ocean and west along the coastal mountains.
Continue climbing and top out at 2000' elevation, at a junction where a short road goes south to the Parker Mesa Overlook, a spectacular viewpoint. The route continues right (north) on East Topanga Fire Road, which descends and climbs several times into Trippet Ranch. Pass through Trippet Ranch and continue climbing up to the Hub. Go left (south) on Temescal Fire Road and continue to Backbone, signed on the left.
To return to Will Rogers State Beach from the bottom of Backbone, descend Will Rogers State Park Road to Sunset, then go right (west) on Sunset to Chataqua. Go left (south) on Chataqua and descend to CA-1. Go right (west) on CA-1 to the Will Rogers State Beach parking areas.