Backbone Trail Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

These are common inquiries about the Backbone Trail (BBT), Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area’s designated National Recreational Trail. The subject matter below is organized in the following categories:

• Basic Information and Statistics

• Recreation

• Camping and Through-hiking

Note: Mileages and elevations provided are approximate.

These two links are free maps available from the NPS: BBT and SAMO. If after reviewing this information you have additional questions or clarification, contact us.

Basic Information

1. How long is the trail?

67 miles.

2. How do I prepare myself for the BBT? Any maps available? 

The best single source for information and reference materials to enhance your BBT experience is the Santa Monica Mountains Interagency Visitor Center. Beyond the maps referenced and linked above, commercial topographic maps are available online and the Santa Monica Mountains Interagency Visitor Center. Map apps have not been evaluated.

You will be hiking at your own risk. Before hiking, be sure to check weather forecasts and drive times and make sure to take adequate layered clothing, food, liquids, and first aid supplies. Prepare for the unexpected. If hiking alone, let your personal emergency contact know your route and timeline.

3. Do I need a permit to hike the trail? What if it's a group of us?
No, you do not need a permit. Groups of 50 or more require a permit. Contact Us.

4. Are there any trained guides who can lead my hikes on the BBT? Guided Group hikes?

At this time, there are no guides for a continous hike over the entire trail, however there may be guides available for day hikes. Currently, there are two group hikes. One is led by the National Park Service and the other is with the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council.

5. How many trailheads are there along the trail?
There are 12 trailheads which allow for hiking the trail in sections over time rather than all at once.

6. What is the highest point?

Sandstone Peak at Circle X Ranch, 3,111'. It is accessed by a short spur trail off of the BBT.

7. What is the lowest point?

Ray Miller Trailhead at Point Mugu State Park, 25'.

8. What is the total elevation gain over the total 67-miles?
Total elevation gain is 19,000 feet up and 18,500 down (that's hiking it from west to east, so it's the inverse going the other way).

9. How many land agencies own the Backbone Trail?

NPS 35%, State Parks 63%, and SMMC/MRCA is less than 1%.

10. What's the longest contiguous section that doesn't cross a road?

Mishe Mokwa to Ray Miller Trailhead, 16 miles. This could be your longest segment, approximately 16 miles, as there is no vehicle access. You might reserve overnight camping (see Thru-Hiking and Camping) at Danielson Ranch or hike 4 miles north or south out of Sycamore Canyon. There is a steep, 1 mile grade at the north end of the canyon.

11. Is there any water available? 

There is water available in certain spots, but it is best to assume there is no potable water. Purifying your water is always recommended, but stream water should be avoided if at all possible.

12. What are the current conditions of the trail?
With 67 miles of trail, it is difficult to know the specific conditions of the entire trail. Expect muddy and possibly dangerous conditions during and after rain. Call the Visitor Center at 805-370-2301 for information on parling lot or trail closures.

13. What is the weather like? 

Weather can have a huge impact. In the winter, you might have wind and sleet, while in summer months you might not have much shade and the temps could reach well into the 90s. It can vary greatly in any season. Use this link to weather forecasts to help prepare for your hike.

14. What is the best time of year to hike the Backbone Trail?

Late winter to early spring, when temperatures are cooler, days are longer, and vegetation is green and blossoming.


1. How many miles are available to hikers?

67 miles.

2. How many miles are available to mountain bikers?

43 miles. Restrictions are due to sections that do not meet current multi-use trail standards. These are mostly older trails that may be too steep, narrow, or windy. Also, bikes are not permitted in the Boney Mountain Wilderness.

3. How many miles are available to equestrians?

67 miles. Consider access to water, shade, and trailer staging areas. Some portions are steep with poor footing and best for the most experienced trail horses and riders.

4. Where can I bring my dog?

Dogs, on leash and under control, are permitted on trails managed by the National Park Service. Dogs are not allowed on trails managed by California State Parks.

5. What's the best section for a day hike?

For an ocean view: Point Mugu State Park, hike the Ray Miller Trail from Ray Miller Trailhead at La Jolla Canyon.
Circle X to Sandstone Peak or Circle X to Chamberlain Rock.
Circle X to Tri Peaks (short hike off BBT to Tri Peaks).
Trippet Ranch to Eagle Rock & Hub Junction.

6. Any shady sections of the trail? 

The terrain is ever changing. However, you might consider: either side of the Kanan Trailhead, either side of the Piuma (AKA Tapia) Trailhead, and Hondo Canyon (between Saddle Peak and Old Topanga Canyon Road).

Camping and Thru-Hiking

1. Can I camp overnight on the Backbone Trail?

Camping is only allowed at designated campgrounds.

  • Musch Camp Hike-In at Topanga State Park camp has room for 8 tents, has tables, drinking water, and a flush toilet. It is not reservable, and is on a first-come, first-served basis. Small fee ($7/person/night). No campfires/smoking permitted.

  • Malibu Creek State Park campground is 1.5 miles from where the BBT crosses Malibu Canyon. Regular campground with fire ring, water, and bathrooms nearby. Reserve a campsite up to 6 months in advance at:
  • Circle X Ranch has drinking water, pit toilets, and tent spaces. Reserve online at or call 1-877-444-6777. Fee of $35 per night + possible $9 reservation fee. It is 2.1 miles away using the Canyon View Trail. 

  • Danielson Ranch at Point Mugu State Park is a group campground only. Contact California State Parks for reservations at 818-880-0363 or 

  • La Jolla Valley Hike-In is 0.5 miles off of the BBT, located in Point Mugu State Park. There are only 3 tent spaces, no water, and no fires. It is $10 per night, and you auto-pay at the La Jolla/Ray Miller parking area. 

Check out these campgrounds on a map because they are many miles apart. For more information on these, please contact the number listed.
Planning for backcountry camps will be taken up in the SMMNRA Interagency Trail Management Plan, which is due to come out for public comment early next year. To stay current with trail management, e-mail us and ask to have your email address added to the email list.

2. What are the distances between campsites? 

From La Jolla Hike-In to Danielson Ranch, it is 3.7 miles away. From Danielson Ranch to Circle X Ranch, it is 9.1 miles. From Circle X Ranch to Malibu Creek State Park, it is 30.2 miles away. From Malibu Creek State Park to Musch Trail Camp, it is 14.9 miles away.

3. Is there any lodging available? 

There is lodging surrounding the Recreation Area, and possible B&B type facilities in the mountains. Search the web for what fits your needs.

4. If I camp on established campsites, where can I park my vehicle overnight?
For California State Parks (CSP) parking lots, you will need to talk to a CSP ranger. Mention to them that you are camping at their campgrounds, that way you can pay them the camp rate and parking fee.

5. Can I through-hike the Backbone Trail?

Because of the minimal overnight camping options, the National Park Service does not recommend through-hiking the Backbone Trail. Section-hiking is a popular option, and the NPS offers an annual organized group hike that takes place over multiple weekends in the winter and spring. To avoid backtracking on hikes, coordinate carpools and shuttles with other members of your hiking party.

6. Where can I park my RV to camp and have someone move it around as I hike?

You cannot camp in your RV. You can only camp in established campsites.

7. Are there any vendor shuttling services?

No official shuttle services for the Backbone Trail. A ride service could be useful.


1. Can children hike the trail? 

Children should have adult supervision. The physical details of the planned hike should be made clear to all participants and matched with abilities.

2. How long does it take to hike the BBT?

Aside from the weather, your fitness and personal interests will determine this. A person typically hikes 2mph. Speedy hikers may cover 3mph.

3. Does the Backbone Trail have good signage? 

The signage can vary with each park agency. It is recommended you carry a map and pre-plan your outing.

4. Are there any restaurants or food nearby?
Closest restaurants are in Malibu, Agoura Hills, and Calabasas areas: Trippet (and Dead Horse), Will Rogers, Kanan, and Piuma (aka Tapia).

Last updated: October 13, 2017

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