Segment 2 - Mishe Mokwa TH to Danielson Ranch

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area


We walk segment #2 east to west due to elevation. So do some good downhill training hikes. Again, the spectacular vistas mean very little shade. It is entirely single track with loose rock over about 8.25 miles there's 4,500 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss. Remember the Reminders: a good breakfast and early hydration, triple check the weather and your pack essentials, no visible valuables left in your car and no car keys in the wheel wells, on the trail be aware of rattlesnakes ticks and poison oak.

As with segment #1 you need to consider that this segment ends at Danielson Ranch which is in a closed area open authorized vehicles only. There are three ways to walk out from Danielson. You can hike back the way you came. Or assuming that you carpooled or ride shared you can walk north to rancho sierra vista which has free parking it's 3+ miles but ends with a rather daunting uphill. Or you can 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, again, the takeaway is go slowly and allow a full day to enjoy this magnificent setting.

After leaving extra cars where you end today's hike carpool here to the Mishe Mokwa Trailhead. Remember that you'll walk east to west on segment #2. And you'll use the trailhead on the north side of the road.

But enough of that let's have a look at what awaits. Walk west from the Mishe Mokwa Trailhead and in about 0.5 mile turn south, and take the short sandstone connector Trail. On the Sandstone Trail you'll gain about 800 feet in the first mile. The vistas can be stunning so take your time. Isn't this why you came? At 1.5 miles there's a short spur trail to the south. It leads 0.1 mile up to the top of Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica at 3,111 feet. The summit offers a 360 degree perspective of your accomplishment. Speaking of which, what accomplished this magnificent setting?

Here at sandstone peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains, the range reveals itself to those who observe. Perhaps most obvious is the rock you're standing on is not sandstone, but a volcanic rock. One of three types of rock. This one is called a volcanic breccia. This volcanic rock was once molten and then ejected into a variety of large and small pieces. These mountains may seem eternal, but they are fleetingly temporary. Change can be incremental and slow, like the uplift of the mountains. Change can also be sudden, like a flood a landslide or an earthquake. Compressive and stretching forces, due to the movement of tectonic plates, cause the mountains to rise. And in counterbalance erosion weathers the mountains back down again. Indeed the Santa Monica Mountains have experienced all these forces slow and fast and they continue to experience those forces. I encourage you to take a look, and see what the mountains can tell you.

When you've rejoined the Backbone the visuals become quite unusual in this plateau area. 15 million year old outcrops punctuate astonishing vistas. The junction for tri-peaks trail appears at 3.0 miles. Turn left off the Mishe Mokwa Trail and then left again. The Backbone continues west toward the only designated Wilderness Area in the National Recreation Area. You will encounter an enormous cave riddled out crop at 4.0 miles. And straight ahead, across Point Mugu State Park stretches the Oxnard plain and beyond are Ventura and Santa Barbara. Quiet intimacy, contrast with vast drama, maybe this is why you came? Thank our geology and our Mediterranean Ecosystem for this unique setting.

These Santa Monica Mountains are located in a Mediterranean Ecosystem. You might ask, what is the Mediterranean Ecosystem? Mediterranean Ecosystem are natural associations that uniquely sustain a certain area. If organisms of an ecosystem leave their region they will likely die. So a Mediterranean Ecosystem only occurs in five places in the world. You will find Mediterranean Ecosystems and central Chile, Australia, southern Africa, here in Southern California and of course the Mediterranean basin. A Mediterranean Ecosystem only covers 2% of the earth's surface, but it is home to 20% of its biodiversity. Around the world only 18% of the Mediterranean Ecosystem remains undisturbed. How can we demonstrate the respect this ecosystem deserves, and help others enjoy it in the future?

Vistas reveal hilltops that squeeze out twice as much rainfall compared to lower elevations. Descending toward Sycamore Canyon the cool waters and the rich marine diversity of the California Current is all that separates the seashores of two unique national parks. Chamberlain Rock, A.K.A. split rock, marks 5.5 miles. Some have said that if you walk through it from west to east all of your demons will be cleansed. Walking through it in the opposite direction is probably not advised. Just ahead at 6.5 miles you'll meet a ‘T’ junction with Old Boney Road. Walking north you'll pass under Bony Ridge and recall that you're atop it just a short time earlier. At just over 7.0 miles leave Old Boney Road and continue west down the serene Blue Canyon Trail. It's an easy mile to Danielson Ranch and the end of segment two. Take some time to appreciate where this day has taken you.

Geologic powers are hard to fathom. But observe and they will continue to unfold and uplift their stories as you explore more of the trail. In just two segments you've toured a Mediterranean Ecosystem from the lowest point on the Backbone to this majestic high point. What else could possibly lie ahead?

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 Mishe Mokwa Trailhead will lead you to a well-known feature of segment two, Sandstone Peak.

At 3,111 feet it is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. There’s just one problem, it isn’t sandstone at all - it is an igneous rock called breccia and as you’ll see, a variety of stones were captured and embedded by the magma. One-of-a-kind vistas punctuated by enormous rock outcrops dot this plateau area, and they will lure you to the only Wilderness Area in the Recreation Area. 


7 minutes, 12 seconds



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