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Day Hike

Exploring the Spine of the Santa Monica Mountains

January 17, 1987|JOHN McKINNEY

For many years hikers have promoted the idea of a 55-mile Backbone Trail following the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains from Will Rogers State Historic Park to Point Mugu State Park. When completed, the trail would link the three large state parks of Topanga, Malibu Creek and Point Mugu, as well as land owned by the National Park Service, and enable Southland residents to spend days and weekends hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding along the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains.

From Topanga State Park to Will Rogers State Historic Park, the Backbone Trail has been finished for quite some time and has proved very popular. The lower reaches of the trail offer a fine tour of the wild side of Topanga Canyon while the ridge-top sections offer far-reaching views.

The name Topanga is from the Shoshonean Indian dialect. These Indians and their ancestors occupied the canyon on and off from several thousand years B.C. until the Spanish evicted them and forced them to settle at the San Fernando Mission.

Early Settlements

Until the 1880s, there was little permanent habitation in the canyon. Early settlers tended vineyards, orchards and cattle ranches. In the 1920s, the canyon became a popular weekend destination for Los Angeles residents. Summer cabins were built along Topanga Creek and in subdivisions in the surrounding hills. For $1 round-trip fare, a tourist could board a Packard Auto Stage in Santa Monica and be driven up Pacific Coast Highway and Topanga Canyon Road to the Topanga Post Office and other more scenic spots.

This hike departs from quiet and imperturbable Topanga Canyon, surrounded by L. A. sprawl but retaining its rural character. Most of the trail is on good fire road. A longer one-way option takes you along brushy ridges to Will Rogers State Park. On a blustery winter day, city and canyon views are superb.

Directions to trailhead: From Topanga Canyon Boulevard, turn east on Entrada Road; that's to the right if you're coming from Pacific Coast Highway. Follow Entrada Road by turning left at every opportunity until you arrive at Topanga State Park. The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot. There is a park day-use fee.

To Will Rogers State Historic Park trailhead: If you're taking the longer hike and want to be met (or leave your car) at Will Rogers State Historic Park, here are the directions to that destination: From Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, turn north at the park entrance. The road leads up to Rogers' estate, now a state historic park. Near Will Rogers' home, a signed trail climbs to Inspiration Point. Rogers Trail intersects it 1/10th mile past the Inspiration Point junction.

The hike: To Eagle Rock. From the Topanga State Park parking lot, follow the distinct trail eastward to a signed junction, where you'll begin hiking on Eagle Springs Road. You'll pass through an oak woodland and through chaparral country. The trail slowly and steadily gains about 800 feet in elevation on the way to Eagle Rock. When you reach a junction, bear left on the north loop of Eagle Springs Road to Eagle Rock. A short detour will bring you to the top of the rock, its caves, and an impressive view of Santa Ynez Canyon.

To complete the loop, bear sharply right (southwest) at the next junction, following the fire road as it winds down to Eagle Spring. Past the spring, you return to Eagle Spring Road and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Three-mile long Musch Ranch Trail, which passes from hot chaparral to shady oak woodland, crosses a bridge and passes the park pond, is another fine way to return to the trailhead.

Option: To Will Rogers State Historic Park. Follow the loop trip directions to the northeast end of Eagle Rock/Eagle Spring Loop, where you bear right on Fire Road 30. In 1/2 mile you reach the intersection with Rogers Road. Turn left and follow the dirt road (really a trail) for 3.5 miles, where the road ends and meets Rogers Trail. Here a level area and solitary oak suggest a lunch stop. On clear days enjoy the spectacular views in every direction: To the left is Rustic Canyon and the crest of the mountains near Mulholland Drive. To the right, Rivas Canyon descends toward the sea.

Stay on Rogers Trail, which marches up and down several steep hills, for about two more miles, until it enters Will Rogers Park near Inspiration Point.

Meanderings: A large format four-color map "Trails of the Santa Monica Mountains" is now available. The map, which highlights the existing and proposed route of the Backbone Trail, as well as trails through state and national parklands, was produced by the California Coastal Trails Foundation.

Oriented toward the hiker, the map includes topographic lines and trailheads. It features hiking opportunities in Will Rogers, Topanga, Malibu Creek and Point Mugu State Parks, and offers an opportunity to explore the recent National Park Service acquisitions of Rancho Sierra Vista/Satiwa, Kanan-Dume, and Castro Crest.

The map's text includes overviews of the Santa Monica Mountains and its trail system. Existing stretches of the Backbone Trail are described, as well as routes currently proposed.

To obtain a copy, send $2.50 and your name and address to Publications, California Coastal Trails Foundation, P.O. Box 20073, Santa Barbara 93120.

Eagle Rock Loop Trail

Topanga parking lot to Eagle Rock via Eagle Rock/Eagle Springs Loop: 6.5 miles round trip; 800-foot elevation gain. Topanga parking lot to Will Rogers State Historic Park via Eagle Rock, Fire Road 30 and Rogers Road: 10.4 miles one way; 1,800-foot elevation loss from Fire Road 30.

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