The Best Day Hikes in America: Sandstone Peak Trail

On this 6-mile loop in Point Mugu State Park, you can climb to the tallest point in the Santa Monica Mountains and relax by the shores of Zuma Beach.

Photo: Alex Beattie

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This 3,111-foot high point of the Santa Monica Mountains is a Los Angeles classic for a reason. The moderate challenge of bagging the peak entertains beginners and experts alike, and the views—sandstone gorges, snow-capped San Gorgonio peaks, and the teal Pacific—are quintessential SoCal. Ditch the crowds on the direct out-and-back to the top by opting for the Mishe Mokwa Loop and its fun, class 2 summit scramble. 

Start the hike at Circle X Ranch Ranger Station and depart on the Backbone Trail. After a third of a mile, turn right to link up with the Mishe Mokwa Trail. You’ll start to see some views from this trail, but the best is still to come. Turn left and continue on the trail. Up ahead is a popular rock climbing area: You may be able to see climbers scaling the sandstone cliffs. Look out for Balanced Rock at the northwest end, a rock atop another rock that seems to be defying the laws of physics. The trail enters a riparian forest, and after about two miles you’ll cross a stream and reach a small shady picnic area. After taking a rest in the well-needed shade, continue up the trail for another mile and a half and connect back with the Backbone Trail. 

The Backbone Trail curves to the south, then to the east. After following it for a bit, you will reach a turn-out spot for Inspiration Point, where you will be rewarded with views that will “inspire” you to reach the top. Climb for another mile to the 3,111-foot summit, 1,075 feet above the trailhead. Enjoy a well-deserved 360-degree view of neighboring mountain ranges and Santa Clara Valley.

The hike back down on the Backbone Trail is sure to be steep, but reward yourself at the end by stopping at Zuma Beach in Malibu to watch the sun sink into the sea. If inclined, indulge in a happy-hour cocktail at the aptly-named Sunset Restaurant while enjoying a peaceful view of the sun setting over the waves.

Do It

Distance 6.1 miles (loop) Elevation Change 1075 feet Trailhead 34.109339, -118.933418 Drive time 1:19 from Los Angeles Season Year-round Contact Point Mugu State Park: website, (310) 457-8143 Fee/Permit None

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