Topanga Lookout Hike Malibu trail Topanga Tower Santa Monica Mountains

At a saddle in the Santa Monica Mountains 2,340 feet above the Pacific Ocean and 3 miles from the coast, the Backbone Trail crosses Stunt Road, creating a high trailhead for nearby destinations. Topanga Lookout, the former site of a fire tower, stands above Red Rock Canyon Park and continues to offer fine views of the Santa Monica Mountains, Calabasas, and the Santa Susana Mountains. This hike to Topanga Lookout is 2 miles round trip with just 160 feet of elevation gain.

Just beyond the gated trailhead, the paved Topanga Tower Motorway crosses a junction with Fossil Trail, a 0.6-mile section of the Backbone Trail that connects to the top of Hondo Canyon Trail. Continue past this junction up the paved road toward the radio towers atop the summit. When a wide dirt trail breaks off to the left, follow this track along the ridge uphill and down to the lookout.

Topanga Lookout Hike
The trail toward Topanga Lookout

Step out on to the large graffiti-covered concrete foundation at the site of the old fire tower. The views are wide and far. It is clear why this site was chosen to look over the mountains. Take in the views of Calabasas Peak and the surroundings before returning the way you came. Across the road, the Backbone Trail finds its way up to Saddle Peak. This neighboring 2-mile hike offers exceptional ocean views. No fee or permit is required to hike to Topanga Lookout, so get out and enjoy.

There is an alternative route up to Topanga Lookout, which can be found at the junction of Calabasas Peak Motorway and Red Rock Canyon Motorway, along the trail to Calabasas Peak. This unmarked trail starts in between the two fire roads and climbs the ridge to the overlook.

Topanga Lookout Hike
A view of Calabasas Peak from the trail to Topanga Lookout

To get to the trailhead: From PCH, turn inland on Las Flores Road (across from Duke’s Restaurant). Drive 3.4 miles up this narrow twisting canyon and turn right onto Rambla Pacifico Street. After 0.6 miles, make a sharp right onto Schueren Road, and take that for 1.8 miles to the intersection with Stunt Road and Saddle Peak Road. The trailhead is on the left just past the intersection.

From the 101 freeway, exit Las Virgenes Road and head south toward Malibu. After 2.8 miles turn left (east) on Mulholland Highway. Turn right on Stunt Road after 4 miles and drive another 4 miles to the top of the road at the intersection with Schueren Road and Saddle Peak Road.

Trailhead address: 23300 Saddle Peak Road, Topanga Canyon, CA 90290
Trailhead coordinates: 34.081242, -118.645071 (34° 04′ 52.47″N 118° 38′ 42.25″W)

Use the map below to create your own directions:

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These photos were taken in March of 2010. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Saddle PeakStunt High Trail to Saddle Peak
This 8.2-mile hike combines Stunt High Trail and a section of the Backbone Trail to visit the 6th tallest summit in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Calabasas PeakCalabasas Peak from Stunt Road
This 3.6-mile hike travels an easy-to-follow fire road, climbing 1000 feet to panoramic views of the Santa Monica Mountains and San Fernando Valley.
Calabasas - Cold Creek TrailCalabasas Peak via Calabasas – Cold Creek Trail
This 4.5-mile round trip hike starts up a scenic single track formerly know as the Secret Trail and ascends 750 feet to the summit of Calabasas Peak.
Red Rock CanyonRed Rock Canyon Park
The trails in the beautifully sculpted Red Rock Canyon are 2.5 and 5.2 miles in length.
Hondo Canyon hikeHondo Canyon
This section of the Backbone Trail crosses fields of grains and forests of bays, climbing 1,500 feet over 3.8 miles to a small ocean view (and an extension to Topanga Lookout).
Tuna Canyon ParkTuna Canyon Park
This 1.6 to 5.1-mile hike offers spectacular ocean views from a less-visited park between Topanga and Malibu.
Santa Monica hikeMore trails in the Santa Monica Mountains
Explore other destinations in the range.
Similar Trail
Temescal CanyonTemescal Canyon
This 2.6-mile loop offers a variety of scenery and decent exercise, despite its relative brevity.
Zuma canyonOcean View Trail – Canyon View Trail Loop
This 3-mile loop demands more effort than the Zuma Canyon Trail and provides great ocean and canyon views.
Grotto hike MalibuThe Grotto
This 3-mile out and back hike visits a remote grotto in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
San Vicente MountainWestridge Trail to San Vicente Mountain
This 7.4-mile hike travels a scenic ridge between a Brentwood neighborhood and a summit that was once used as a Nike Missile site.
Sierra Hiking and campingNeedles Lookout in Giant Sequoia National Monument
This 5-mile hike visits a fire tower with unbeatable views of the region.
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5 Comments on Topanga Lookout in the Santa Monica Mountains

  1. SplitHoof says:

    The tower in this article is not a fire lookout tower; it was built as part of the Nike missile defensive system that controlled the launch base located at the current site of Los Angeles County Fire Department Camp 8, located down the hill towards the ocean. The blast resistant building located next to the tower housed equipment related to the Nike system.

    • hikespeak says:

      Interesting! In several guides this is described as the location of the old Topanga Fire Lookout and there appear to be archival photos of a fire tower built on the spot. The current fire station is listed as the location of Nike Site LA-78 by the Fort MacArthur Museum, but they have a different address for the L&A location. I’m curious to find out more. Perhaps the fenced-in structures on the summit above Topanga Tower Motorway were part of the Nike missile defense system?

      San Vicente Mountain and White Point provide great information about the Nike Sites for those who are interested.

    • Jan says:

      Both a look out tower and the Nike tower are there. The Nike tower is fenced in and very noticable. The only thing left of the fire tower is a square cement block one mile down the trail.

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