At 3,111 feet, Sandstone Peak is the tallest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. The summit can be reached via a 6.25-mile loop with 1,075 feet of elevation gain that (in addition to bragging rights) offers expansive views of the range.
Head to Circle X Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, and start up the Backbone Trail toward Sandstone Peak. After a third of a mile, turn right, taking the connection to Mishe Mokwa Trail. This path runs parallel to Yerba Buena Road and offers great early views.
The vistas will only improve once you turn left and hike up Mishe Mokwa. The wide rock and dirt track passes a ravine with bold sandstone cliffs. These Echo Cliffs are a popular spot for mountain climbers, and you may spot a few making their ascent. A balancing rock at the northwest end of these cliffs appears to be standing in defiance of gravity.
Just ahead on the trail, enters a riparian forest and crosses a stream to arrive at Split Rock Picnic Area. After hiking nearly two miles, this is a good spot for a break. The picnic area offers plenty of shade, which is otherwise elusive on this hike.
Past the picnic area, the trail climbs for nearly a mile and a half to join the Backbone Trail, 3 1/3 miles from the start. Turn left to continue on the loop, or make a right turn on the spur trail out to Tri Peaks, which adds 1.2 miles to the hike along with fine views to the west. To reach Sandstone Peak, continue on the Backbone Trail, which curves southward and then east. The next turnoff is for Inspiration Point, where a short path leads to vast views, making for a very worthy side venture.
The lookout should “inspire” you to get back on the trail and push on for the peak, one mile away. While never too steep, the Backbone Trail provides a steady climb. It passes just beneath the summit, where a short side trail must be taken to reach the top.
Sign the registry and have a look around. You are 1,075 feet above the trailhead at the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. Enjoy the views and remind yourself, “it’s all down hill from here.”
Once you return to the Backbone Trail, it continues slightly uphill for a few hundred feet before making a steep descent to the parking lot.
Hikers are welcome to bring dogs on this loop. Hike the reverse direction direction up Sandstone Peak for a more strenuous workout. Just down the road, you’ll find a short hike to interesting boulders and pools called The Grotto.
If standing at the top of the Santa Monica Mountains inspires you to get even higher, hike to the highest point in Los Angeles County’s other major mountain range, the San Gabriel Mountains. Reaching the summit of Mount Baldy is a rewarding experience.
No fee is required to park at the trailhead for Sandstone Peak and you do not need a permit, so get out and enjoy!
Woolsey Fire Update: Trails around Circle X Ranch have reopened following the November 2018 Woolsey Fire. Check the NPS Circle X Ranch webpage for more information.
View the Circle X Ranch Map in a new window
To get to the trailhead: Take PCH to the far west end of Malibu. Make a right on Yerba Buena Road (just past Neptune’s Net Restaurant) and drive up Yerba Buena for 5.5 miles to the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station. Continue past the ranger station up Yerba Buena Road another mile and turn left into the Sandstone Peak trailhead parking lot. There is a bathroom at the trailhead and the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station.
Trailhead address: 12896 Yerba Buena Road, Malibu, CA 90265
Trailhead coordinates: 34.1116, -118.9268 (34° 06′ 41.8″N 118° 55′ 36.5″W)
|Tri Peaks |
This 1.2-mile addition to the Sandstone Peak loop adds extra views to the hike (and some great views).
|The Grotto |
This 3-mile out and back hike visits a remote grotto in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
|Arroyo Sequit |
This 2.05-mile loop winds around the upper reaches of a canyon carved by the East Fork of Arroyo Sequit and has grand views of the Santa Monica Mountains.
|Nicholas Flat via Malibu Springs Trail |
This scenic 7-mile round trip hike ascends 1,425 feet to meadows and a pond on Nicholas Flat in Leo Carrillo State Park.
|La Jolla Canyon Loop |
This 11.75-mile hike explores Point Mugu State Park on the west end of the Santa Monica Mountains, offering extraordinary ocean views.
|Mugu Peak |
This 6.5-mile hike ascends from the bottom of La Jolla Canyon to the top of a 1,266-foot peak, providing exceptional ocean and canyon views.
|More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains |
Explore beyond Circle X Ranch to other destinations in the range.
|Mount Lee, the Hollywood Sign, and Cahuenga Peak |
This 6.4-mile hike crosses Griffith Park from Canyon Drive to the top of Mount Lee, directly behind the landmark Hollywood Sign.
|Mount Baldy Loop |
This 11.3-mile hike incorporates Devil's Backbone and Baldy Bowl - Ski Hut Trail into one see-all loop.
|Stunt High Trail to Saddle Peak |
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 |
This steep out-and-back hike rewards the effort with excellent views of the Pacific Ocean.
|Calabasas Peak |
This 3.6-mile hike travels an easy-to-follow fire road, climbing 900 feet to panoramic views of the Santa Monica Mountains and San Fernando Valley.