Escaping Los Angeles

Sullivan Ridge/ Backbone Trail
Trail at a Glance

Length/configuration: 21.3-mile loop on pavement, fire road, and single-track

Aerobic difficulty: Difficult; there are several climbs, some of them long

Technical difficulty: Moderate/difficult; there are some very narrow trail sections

Scenery: Pacific Ocean, Santa Susana Mountains, city views, rugged canyons, oak woodlands, and, sometimes, actress Goldie Hawn

Special comments: A beautiful route along three different ridges, topped with an exquisite single-track.


Much of the terrain covered in this 21.3-mile loop constituted a very good ride before the mid-1990s. It was then, however, that a previously off-limits section of the Backbone Trail was opened to bikes. The addition of this sublime single-track makes this one of the jewels of the Santa Monicas.

Starting just off of Sunset Boulevard on Monaco Drive, you'll spin through a celebrity-heavy neighborhood. More than once, I've seen actress Goldie Hawn jogging here. After grunting hello to her (the climb is kind of steep), turn onto Sullivan Ridge fire road which immediately grants views of aptly named Rustic Canyon on the left and Sullivan Canyon on the right. There's some great single-track detours on the way up to unpaved Mulholland Drive. Now you'll experience some more ridge views of the San Fernando Valley on the right and the Los Angeles Basin on the right.

After some roller-coastering, you'll reach the Hub, the nexus of several different rides in the area. A short spin down a third ridge, Temescal, delivers you to the Backbone Trail. The Backbone is a 70-mile treasure that crosses the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains all the way to Point Mugu. You'll only be sampling six rolling miles of the Backbone, but it's so regal that afterward you'll feel like a king—which is good, since on weekends you can often take in a polo match at Will Rogers State Historical Park before humping up Sunset back to your car.

General location: In Topanga State Park and Will Rogers State Historical Park north of Pacific Palisades, approximately 3.5 miles west of I-405.
Elevation change: Ride climbs from 500' to 2,025' with several ups and downs.
Season: Year-round.
Services: Rest rooms, water, phones, and rangers can be found at the Will Rogers State Historical Park near the ride's end. No services are available elsewhere on the trail. All services are available in Pacific Palisades.
Hazards: Automobile traffic on paved sections, narrow cliffside single-tracks, and rattlesnakes.
Rescue index: Help is available at Will Rogers State Historical Park near the ride's end. Topanga State Park rangers regularly patrol Mulholland Drive. In addition, Sunset Boulevard can often be reached by riding downhill from many points on this ride.
Land status: State park, state historical park, and city streets.
Maps: The Trail Map of the Santa Monica Mountains East is available from Tom Harrison Cartography, (800) 265-9090. Also refer to the Thomas Brothers' Guide to Los Angeles, page 631 (available in bookstores and drugstores throughout Los Angeles). Also, the Topanga State Park map is available by contacting the park itself (see the following information).
Finding the trail: From I-405, go west on Sunset Boulevard approximately 3.5 miles. After passing the traffic light at Allenford Avenue, make the next right onto San Remo Drive. Take an immediate left at the fork with Monaco Drive and park.
Sources of additional information:
Will Rogers State Historical Park
(310) 454-8212
Topanga State Park
(310) 455-2465

Notes on the trail: Start pedaling north on Monaco Drive (away from Sunset). At .4 miles you'll reach a traffic circle. Go around it and take the upper left artery, Capri Drive. Ascend Capri Drive, and stay with Capri as it veers left at the intersection with Casale Road. Capri soon turns into dirt, then turns back into pavement again as it reaches a gate at 1 mile. Go around the gate.

You're now in Topanga State Park. Keep going past an abandoned mansion at 2 miles. As the road starts to climb, keep your eyes peeled for a single-track snaking off to the left immediately before a chain-link fence. Turn left on this single-track at 2.3 miles. You'll soon come to two forks: go right at the first, left at the second. You'll get splendid backcountry views of Rustic Canyon before returning to the fire road (paved) at 3.1 miles. Head left and you'll soon come to a gate at 3.2 miles. To the left is the Boy Scouts' Camp Josepho. Go around the gate to the right and onto dirt. It's mellow climbing from here to 4.7 miles, where a big shade tree offers a good rest spot. A steep ascent takes you to the turnoff to Sullivan Canyon (on the right) at 6.3 miles. But keep heading straight and turn left on Mulholland Drive at 6.8 miles. After some roller-coastering, turn left at a gate and back into Topanga State Park at 9.6 miles. Stay on the main road as it climbs up to the Hub Junction at 11.8 miles. Veer left toward the Backbone Trail, which you'll reach on your left at 12.3 miles. Drop onto this single-track and prepare for wildlife encounters with rabbits and scores of lizards.

At 15.9 miles, after riding through a particularly lush rainforesty section of trail, you'll reach a lone California Live Oak. This natural vista provides excellent views of the Getty Museum and the whole eastern Santa Monicas. Descending some more, the trail clings to a narrow ridge. At a fork at 17 miles veer right, staying on the Backbone Trail. You'll soon come to a bridge where you're required to walk your bike, and then some technical descending over waterbars. At 18.2 miles, turn left onto the Will Rogers State Historical Park fire road. This trail winds around to a pavement road at 19 miles. Go left twice on pavement so that you're heading south and downhill along a straightaway that parallels a large grassy field. Go left once more at the parking lot ringing the Polo field. At 19.3 miles pass a sign reading"Locked Gate Ahead" and descend a crumbling pavement road to the locked gate, which you circumvent to reach Sunset Boulevard at 20 miles. The traffic can be busy here, so be careful while making a left onto Sunset. Turn left a final time at San Remo to reach your car at 21.3 miles.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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