Segment 1 - Ray Miller TH to Danielson Ranch

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area


Haku. Haku means welcome in the language of the Chumash people. The Chumash and Tongva cultures thrived here for thousands and thousands of years. Although this homeland was repeatedly exploited, the indigenous peoples maintain their presence and share their perspectives with us to this day. We should rightly consider our hikes a privilege, and celebrate the opportunity to journey through what is still the Chumash and Tango homelands. Breathe the same air. Bask in the same light. And discover the same rhythms of nature. And you may just feel yourself embraced by their haku

Segment #1 has mesmerizing vistas and therefore very little shade. The trail itself is a mix of single track and fire road with a 2,000 foot cumulative elevation gain and loss over the course of about 8.0 miles. And we have obligatory reminders. Have a good breakfast and start hydrating well before you start hiking. Triple check the weather as well as your pack essentials. Valuables in your car should never be visible and don't leave the key in the wheel well. On the trail always keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, ticks and poison oak.

OK, now you're ready to get going, so let's have a look at parking. You'll recall that we recommended that you not hike alone, for obvious safety reasons. But also, so that you can ‘through hike’ rather than have to do ‘out and back’ hikes. So you leave your extra cars where you end the day's hike, and carpool to the beginning of each segment. Consider that you'll finish both the first and second backbone segments at Danielson Ranch, which is in a closed area open to authorized vehicles only. How will you get back to your cars? Well, there are three ways to walk out from Danielson. You can hike back the way you came. Or, assuming that you carpooled, or used rideshare, you could walk north to Rancho Sierra Vista which has free parking. It's 3+ miles but ends with a rather daunting uphill. Or you could walk down to the coast. Sycamore Cove State Park has paid parking on the land side of PCH, and it's 4+ miles. I think the takeaway is go slowly and allow a full day to enjoy this magnificent setting.

Segment #1 leaves from the Ray Miller Trailhead in Point Mugu State Park. The well-marked trailhead is about a thousand feet from PCH.

And so your adventure begins. The Ray Miller Trail covers the first 3.0 miles which are a moderate but steady climb. Enjoy the soothing sounds of the surf below you as the marine and inland climates compete for your attention. The ribbon-like trail follows the contours affording many dramatic contrasts and an immediate immersion into this natural splendor. After a little over 2.0 miles you'll be at a particular switchback. Where, weather permitting, to the west you'll glimpse the elusive Channel Islands, and turning to the northeast the exposed and iconic Boney Ridge makes a dramatic entrance. The juxtaposition of these complex yet fundamental scapes is worth a pause. Wouldn't you love to be a member of the lucky plant community that gets to call this Eden home?

You have just climbed through the harshest plant community in the Santa Monica Mountains known as the Coastal Sage Scrub. Located just above the surf zone, what makes this environment such a harsh habitat? First look at the ground. It's mostly rock. The south-facing slopes can't escape the sun and the wind constantly beating down on them. Finally, feel how dry it is. It rains only 10 to 12 inches each year making this a semi-desert environment. But what about the ocean water right offshore? Well it's that water, the cool California Current, that makes the difference. The cooler temperatures of the ocean provide cooler air, as well as fog and clouds. These, in turn, produce about 10 inches of moisture that these plants need to survive. Call it adaptation, co-evolution or just plain pretty. The plants of the Coastal Sage Scrub know how to survive. Do you?

At just under 3.0 miles the Ray Miller Trail reaches the ridge. Continue north on the gentle Overlook Fire Road, which lives up to its name. At 4.5 miles you'll leave the ridge. So pause to contemplate the full dimension of what is surrounding you one last time. For thousands of years the Chumash people enjoyed where you are right now.

Hello, my name is Jessa. I carry Chumash and Tongva relations deep within my DNA. The Chumash people speak of our creation story, which places us here, in California, from the beginning of time. Oftentimes, people think that nothing happened in these lands before 1492. And that we have died off since the 1800s. That's not true. We've been here thriving, managing to survive in a very forced western way of life. We are what created California to looking like the paradise that the Spaniards speak of. And we struggle as we look around. And see it dried, as the waters are being stolen and sold back to us. And we ask you, who are here now on our homelands, to help us be good stewards to this land. By doing your best to care for the lands that you now call home. Our people are a maritime society. We are culture bearers. We are storytellers. We are fishermen. We are hunters gatherers. We are basket weavers. We are healers. We are botanists. We are so many beautiful wonderful things. We are relatives. We are a community. And despite what you may think or have heard we are still here today, the Chumash people.

The 2.0 mile descent on the Wood Canyon Vista Trail can expose a variety of seasonal moods in Sycamore Canyon. At the floor of the canyon the trail will meet the Sycamore Canyon Fire Road. Head north, or left, and savor a brief 1.5 miles in this pastoral canyon. The bucolic Danielson Ranch marks the end of this segment, a great place to reflect on all you've just experienced.

This segment has offered a powerful introduction to the cultural history and the natural diversity of the Santa Monicas. On future hikes you'll see the marine air trapped against the coastal slope and appreciate the gift of life it brings to a unique plant community. You'll walk in many more canyons and recall the Chumash ethos of sustainability.

Visit the Santa Monica Mountains National Park Service website for Backbone Trail reference materials, or contact the Visitor Center.

The National Park Service thanks the efforts of our dedicated volunteers and is appreciative of the support of the Chumash and Tongva peoples


The seashore delivers endless new beginnings and segment one begins with the sea breeze seeming to lift you high above this shoreline.

From the Ray Miller Trailhead it is a moderate climb through a desert-like plant community called Coastal Sage Scrub. Ironically, this harsh environment borders this seemingly endless body of water whose horizon is only interrupted by the Channel Islands.


8 minutes, 11 seconds



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