A mesa is defined as a flat-topped hill with steep sides. A peak is defined as the pointed top of a mountain. Put these contradictions together and you get a subtle summit with substantial ocean views. This short perch on a mesa-like ridge behind Pepperdine University in Malibu delivers panoramic views over the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains. The hike to Mesa Peak up the steep sides of the mesa begins from the Piuma Trailhead in Malibu Creek State Park and follows 2.7 miles of the Backbone Trail. In all, the superbly scenic hike to Mesa Peak is 6.5 miles round trip with 1,375 feet of elevation gain.
- To make the hike longer, add a visit McAuley Peak for a 7.25-mile outing.
- As an alternative route to Mesa Peak with less elevation change, set out from the west end of Mesa Peak Motorway and hike from Corral Canyon Road to Mesa Peak.
The hike begins from a trailhead on Malibu Canyon Road at the south end of Malibu Creek State Park about four miles from the Pacific Ocean. Set out from the Piuma Trailhead, pass a bathroom, and make an immediate left at a marked junction to begin up the Backbone Trail. The first leg of the hike is 2/3 of a mile of dirt single track leading to a wide dirt road, Mesa Peak Motorway. Along the single track, you will gradually ascend a mountain slope with over-the-shoulder views north toward Agoura Hills. The trail crosses a rocky gap and passes through chaparral above a small dam. Ahead there are views of Brents Mountain, a rugged twin peak of orange rock with a white cross on top that you will see throughout the hike.
At the end of the single track, 2/3 of a mile from the start, turn left up a wide dirt road, which immediately launches into a horseshoe bend to the left, leading higher up the mountain. The dirt road is fairly steep in places, but the views improve as you climb, so make a point to stop and enjoy the scenery any time you need to catch your breath.
When you’ve hiked 0.45 miles up Mesa Peak Motorway (the wide section of the Backbone Trail), a bend to the right will offer open views east toward the 2,805-foot summit of Saddle Peak. Rounding the bend, get a new view down Malibu Canyon, where steep rock walls drop to Malibu Creek on its run to the Pacific.
The trail progresses along a ridge above Malibu Canyon that offers alternating views either south and east toward Malibu Creek and Saddle Peak or north and west toward Brents Mountain and Agoura Hills. Wherever you look, the sight is a delight.
Pass a small holding tank about 1.4 miles from the start and continue up the road. Cross through an oak woodland, 1.85 miles from the start, where boulders below the trees are covered in moss and ferns. While there are several nice bunches of live oaks along this mostly sun-exposed hike, this is the most impressive.
The road pushes higher up the mountain and at 2.1 miles you get an impressive view back down over the lower part of the trail where you got the first views into Malibu Canyon. Now 600 feet below, the trail serves as a good reference point for appreciating the grandeur of these mountains.
The Backbone Trail continues up the mountainside, passing a saddle on a ridge marked by a tall orange boulder (2.25 miles from the start). Past the rock you will gain a view of the mesa, a flatter section of the mountains to the south.
After hiking just over 2 miles up Mesa Peak Motorway, and 2.7 miles from the start, you will come to an important split in the road. The Backbone Trail (Mesa Peak Motorway) continues to the right (west) for another 2.8 miles to Corral Canyon Road (a possible trailhead for another hike along the west end of Mesa Peak Motorway to Mesa Peak), passing McAuley Peak after a quarter mile. Puerco Motorway heads south, descending to Mesa Peak. Turn left down Puerco Motorway to reach the summit of Mesa Peak.
Mesa Peak is actually at a lower elevation than the junction along the Backbone Trail (itself around 1,865 feet), but the small summit presents broader ocean views. To reach it, hike south down Puerco Road. Stay to the left at the following junction, passing a connector trail to the westbound side of the Backbone Trail (Mesa Peak Motorway).
As you hike down Puerco Motorway you will be struck by ocean views. Gaze southwest down Corral Canyon toward the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. You can see up the coast to Point Dume. Across Corral Canyon, you will spot Corral Canyon Road running along the top of the opposing ridge. A mountainous ridge runs along the top of the canyon that is crossed by the west side of Mesa Peak Motorway. The 2,824-foot Castro Peak is the high summit rising above the canyon.
About a quarter mile down Puerco Motorway, pass a state park boundary sign that lets you know that you are exiting Malibu Creek State Park. Continue hiking toward Mesa Peak.
When you pass through a fence, 0.4 miles down Puerco Motorway (and 3.1 miles from the start), the small summit of Mesa Peak will be right in front of you. Walk a few hundred feet, leave Puerco Motorway, and take the path to the right up the bump that is the summit of Mesa Peak. A small building sits on the 1,844-foot summit along with a solar panel.
From the summit of Mesa Peak, you will be drawn down a footpath to a lower summit just to the south that offers a mighty view over the Pacific Ocean. You can look west over Corral Canyon, south over Puerco Canyon, southeast over Malibu Canyon and east toward Saddle Peak. After hiking 3.25 miles, it is a worthy panorama!
When you’re through being mesmerized with the view from Mesa Peak, hike back the way you came. You will go uphill back to Mesa Peak Motorway and turn right. After that, it is all downhill! Dogs are not permitted on this hike, but mountain bikes are allowed to use these trails. A $12 California State Parks day use fee is charged to park a vehicle at the trailhead (price as of 2018), but no permit is required to hike to Mesa Peak, so get out and enjoy!
The basic directions for this hike to Mesa Peak:
- Follow signs for the Backbone Trail to leave Piuma trailhead on a single track (0 miles)
- Turn left up Mesa Peak Motorway (0.66 miles)
- Turn left down Puerco Motorway (2.7 miles)
- Stay to the left as a western fork joins Puerco Motorway (2.77 miles)
- Leave Puerco Motorway on a short path up to the summit (3.17 miles)
- Continue past the summit down a short path to a point with great ocean views (3.25 miles)
To get to the trailhead: From PCH in Malibu, drive inland on Malibu Canyon Road for 4.5 miles and turn left into the parking area for the Piuma Trailhead on the west side of the road. From the north, take the 101 Freeway to exit 32 for Las Virgenes Canyon Road in Agoura Hills. Drive south for 5 miles on Las Virgenes Canyon Road (which becomes Malibu Canyon Road) and turn right into the parking area for Malibu Creek State Park’s Piuma Trailhead. The turnout is 0.1 miles south of Piuma Road and 1.6 miles south of the main entrance for Malibu Creek State Park.
Trailhead address: Malibu Canyon Road, Agoura Hills, CA 91301
Trailhead coordinates: 34.07994, -118.7038 (34° 04′ 47.8″N 118° 42′ 13.7″W)
|McAuley Peak from Piuma Trailhead |
This 6.15-mile round trip hike ascends the Backbone Trail to a panoramic summit with a cool rock formation.
|Mesa Peak from Corral Canyon Road |
This 6.5-mile hike travels along a ridge adorned with sandstone outcroppings to approach a peak with ocean views over Malibu. Shorten the outing to 5.35 miles round trip by stopping at a crest above Mesa Peak with a prominent boulder.
|M*A*S*H Set |
This hike visits the site where the exteriors of the television show MASH were filmed, a 4.75-mile trek from the park entrance.
|Lost Cabin Trail |
This 1.5-mile round trip extension to the MASH set hike dead-ends in a mountain canyon at the site of a now nonexistent cabin.
|Grassland Trail to Crags Road and Rock Pool |
This easy 3-mile hike enters Malibu Creek State Park on South Grassland Trail, then forms a loop around Crags Road to visit Rock Pool.
|Talepop Loop |
This 4.75-mile hike climbs 500 feet over a scenic mountain between Liberty Canyon and Las Virgenes Canyon on the north end of Malibu Creek State Park.
|Cistern, Lookout, and Cage Creek Trails |
This team of single tracks make a scenic descent to Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park, providing a short loop or longer hikes to other destinations.
|Corral Canyon |
This 2.5-mile loop offers ocean and canyon views from a unspoiled section of the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu.
|Upper Solstice Canyon |
This 5.5 to 6.5-mile hike travels the Backbone Trail across Upper Solstice Canyon from Corral Canyon Road to Castro Crest, with the option to hike an extra half mile up Newton Road toward Castro Peak.
|Solstice Canyon |
This two-mile out and back hike is easy and level, and visits the ruins of a burned down ranch and a small waterfall.
|More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains |
Explore other destinations in the range.
|Saddle Peak from Stunt High Trail |
This 7.5-mile hike combines Stunt High Trail and a section of the Backbone Trail to visit the 6th tallest summit in the Santa Monica Mountains.
|Parker Mesa Overlook from Paseo Miramar |
This steep 5.7-mile out-and-back begins down the ridge south of the overlook and delivers knockout ocean views.
|Sandstone Peak |
This 6-mile loop summits the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.
|Angel Vista via West Los Robles Trail |
This 7.6-mile round trip hike is a more gradual route to the overlook on the north side of the Santa Monica mountains.
|Tuna Canyon Park |
This 1.6 to 5.1-mile hike offers spectacular ocean views from a less-visited park between Topanga and Malibu.
|Malibu Creek State Park |
The year-round campground has 63 sites with picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, coin showers, and a dump station.