The Santa Monica Mountains are a longstanding hiking destination for Angelenos — and soon there will be more to explore. A 67-mile trail in the area opens to the public June 4.
The Backbone Trail serves as a centering pillar for 500 miles of additional sidewinding pathways and parks for the public to hike. The goal was to open up and connect them without interruption — a project about 40 years in the making, outdoor recreational planner Melanie Beck told KPCC.
The trail stretches from Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County all the way into Los Angeles County, ending at Will Rogers State Historic Park. Here's a map of the hiking behemoth:
Where can I hike if I don't want to hike all 67 miles?
Beck said the most popular chunks of trail are in Topanga State Park and Will Rogers State Park. A rocky outcrop called Eagle Rock is a frequent destination for most visitors. Another well-attended area is Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. It sits at the west end of Circle X Ranch in Ventura County.
She suggests entering through trailheads in Point Mugu State Park to get the best ocean views. On a clear day, she said, hikers can catch a glimpse of the Channel Islands.
Why is the trail just being completed now?
The biggest obstacle has been acquiring privately-owned land that previously created gaps in the trails and hindered public access, Beck said. Last summer, one of the last stretches of privately-owned land was donated by Arnold Schwarzenegger. She said that is the largest single donation along the trail.
They are currently in the process of finalizing the last two grounds purchases — which sit on a fire road built in 1924 — so people can officially trek the entire trail.
“Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area has several parks, and there has been long a vision to tie all those parks together," Beck said.
While there was always public access, it was extremely restricted. A significant motivator to complete the project, Beck said, was the upcoming centennial celebration for the National Park Service.
“The Backbone Trail was always seen as the unifying trail across the mountains, and it’s really tremendous and a milestone to finally have this trail completed and to see that indeed all these parks are getting tied together now,” she said.
The history of the Backbone Trail
After a failed proposal to build a highway through the mountains that would extend Reseda Boulevard to the Pacific Coast Highway in the 1960s, concerns were raised about possible threats to the open space, she said.
Local organizations raised awareness for the preservation of the mountains and, in the mid-1970s, state legislators pushed the need to connect the existing state parks via a single trail. They also legislated for funding.
From 1979-1993, park agencies bought the majority of land that makes the trail now, which is made up of old fire roads and newly built paths. All but about six miles of trail were complete — and then funding stopped.
For the next 27 years, they struggled to acquire the remaining land parcels to build the rest. The trail was finished in 2007 as it is now.
For more on the trail's history, click here.
This story has been updated.