About an hour west of Los Angeles, Sandstone Peak features a dazzling vista of the Pacific that rivals any view that I’ve seen in Southern California.
Mileage: 6 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 1400 feet
Dog Friendly: Yes
Ever since we got Callie, our trips to the Santa Monica Mountains have become far less frequent. Most of the area’s best trails are contained within State Parks where dogs are not allowed, so we’ve focused our efforts elsewhere. During that time, I haven’t thought about that area much, except for Sandstone Peak. The view from up top is so ridiculously sublime that it’s hard to forget.
Fortunately for dog owners, Sandstone Peak is accessible via two different dog friendly trails that can be combined into a six mile loop. There are two trailheads that result in almost the same exact distance for the hike, so it doesn’t matter which one you take. In our case, we normally choose the Yerba Buena trailhead since we are coming from the 101 and its the first we run across. In either case you’ll be hiking for about a half mile from the trailhead to a junction where you access the loop.
From the junction, you can choose whichever direction you’d prefer. Veering left onto the Backbone trail will get you to the top much more quickly, and if you only intend to hike to the peak and skip the loop, it’s the way to go. If you are hiking the loop and would prefer a less steep incline to hike up, then head right down the Mishe Mokwa trail. Keep in mind that the descent on the Backbone trail can be a bit slippery at times due to the steepness of the trail combined with the constant presence of small loose rocks covering the trail. For the purposes of this tour, we will cover the loop in a counter clockwise direction by starting with the Mishe Mokwa trail.
The first section of the trail is defined by a band of cliffs on the opposite side of the canyon. These cliffs are popular among rockclimbers and there is a decent chance you will get to see some of them climbing down below the trail.
Perched above the cliff is Balanced Rock, which looks strikingly similar to the rock that shares the same name in Arches National Park. With rocks like this, it’s always hard to tell if it’s a 7.0 earthquake away from tumbling down the hill, or if it has a few thousand years left in it. Either way, I’m not standing underneath it. There is a short unmaintained side trail that goes to the rock if you are feeling adventurous and want to get a closer look.
Most of this loop is pretty exposed to the sun. There aren’t really many notable trees in the Santa Monica Mountains. Instead, the landscape is covered in shrubs, and in this stretch they occasionally grow tall and thick enough to provide some shade, making the trail resemble a green tunnel.
As you approach the junction to the Backbone Trail, the landscape flattens out as you reach a plateau on the top of the Santa Monica crest. Distant landmarks are blocked in each direction, and your view is relegated to blue skies, green shrubs, and the occasional tan sandstone cliff.
By this point, you may be wondering what all the fuss about the trail is about. Truthfully, the Mishe Mokwa trail isn’t especially memorable, but it does provide a nice easy loop to Sandstone Peak instead of making it a more difficult and repetitive out and back hike.
Plus, the short stretch of the Backbone Trail between the Mishe Mokwa trail and Sandstone Peak is spectacular, and any shortcomings of the hike leading up to it are quickly forgotten. The common place to stop along this trail is Inspiration Point, which has a very short spur trail off the main trail marked with a sign. Here, you get your first glimpse of the expanse of ocean that this trail is known for.
Even Callie seemed genuinely inspired for a moment as well, or maybe it was just the ocean breeze blowing her ears into the air.
Further along the trail, this giant boulder resembling Hans Moleman lays watch over Catalina Island.
The final stretch to Sandstone Peak involves another short spur trail which happens to be the steepest part of the hike.
The end is more of a scramble than a hike, but it’s all pretty easy as long as you take your time and use all 4 limbs. Don’t wuss out now, because the view at the summit is worth the final push.
Fun Fact: If it wasn’t for Sandstone Peak and nearby Tri Peaks, which are the only two peaks in the range over 3,000 feet, than the area would not be called the Santa Monica Mountains. 3,000 feet is the dividing line.
At 3111 elevation, Sandstone Peak is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. Being the highest point in the range, the summit provides distant views in all directions.
The highlight of the 360 degree view is an amazing glimpse at all four Channel Islands to the west. The only way to improve a view like this is to time it with an incredible sunset, just make sure you bring a headlamp.
The return hike down the Backbone Trail to the Yerba Buena trailhead is pretty short and steep as I mentioned earlier. The views on the trail alternate between more ocean vistas, and the ever expanding suburban sprawl of the Calabasas area.
This hike can feel very remote at times, and views of development so close to the trail serve as an unfortunate reality check.
Fortunately, the trail favors the ocean side of the ridge for most of the descent, and thus, it remains quite wonderful.