Distance (round-trip)

6.1 mi

Time

3 hrs

Elevation Gain

1656 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

Sandstone Peak is an easy hike for ‘intermediate beginners’ and novice hikers looking for a challenge. Great scenery, well-maintained trails, and lots of opportunities to branch out and explore. This is definitely one of my favorite trails in all of Los Angeles, and a fantastic way to introduce non-hikers to the joys of hiking.  This route to Sandstone Peak features a wide variety of landscapes, relatively easy elevation gain, and ample opportunities to explore side-trails.

NOTE: This trail was damaged in the 2018 Woolsey Fire and is currently closed to hikers.

Sandstone Peak 033
This trail is challenging without being impossible, solitary without being desolate, and with views, landmarks, and smells that will lodge in your brain and keep calling you back. In other words, it’s the perfect hike for the hiker who doesn’t know they’re a hiker yet.

The Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak is that rare trail that you can do over and over again and never get tired of. Depending on the season, the weather conditions, and the time of day, this trail will highlight new and different aspects of a route that has a little something for everyone.

Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains (3,111 ft), can be reached from the main trailhead described here with a short 3 mile out-and-back (an alternate spillover lot can be reached just down the road) — but it is an infinitely more rewarding hiking experience to take the longer 6.1 mile loop along the Mishe Mokwa Trail.

Also, if you’re doing this as a loop trail, the elevation gain is much less noticeable for most of the trip. Unfortunately, the first 0.4 mile is one of those noticeable areas. Keep right at the junction at 0.3 miles and in another tenth of a mile that incline section will be over. Now, you’re headed east on the Backbone Trail with some beautiful views to the east.

IMG_1930wtmk

At the half-mile mark, the Backbone Trail takes a sharp right, descending to the overflow parking area and (eventually) all the way to Will Rogers State Park. Stay to the left to begin your trek on the Mishe Mokwa Trail.

The hiking here on the southern stretch of the loop is mostly through low coastal sage scrub and is very open to the sun. If you’re attempting this route in the summer or fall, you’ll want to get a nice, early start to avoid overheating. This area is especially nice right after a rain storm, as the California sagebrush, bay laurel, and other fragrant natives really come alive.

IMG_1935wtmk
Just before the 1 mile mark, the trail begins to climb again just as it makes a turn westward. To the east, you’ll see a deep and rugged wall of Carlisle Canyon that will eventually lead you back into civilization. To the north, the Echo Cliffs are often crawling with climbers and scramblers while the massive Balanced Rock hangs perilously overhead.

Sandstone Peak 009
The trail continues on the southern lip of the canyon and at 1.8 miles you’ll hop a seasonal stream near a shaded riparian grove with a picnic table and a large boulder split in half called–creatively enough–Split Rock. It’s a popular tradition for Boy Scouts to walk through the crack when they get to this part of the trail, but no one’s going to stop you if you aren’t wearing a neckerchief.

Mishe Mokwa and Tripeaks 016
IMG_1941wtmk

Just past the picnic area, there’s a short, unmaintained spur trail that will take you to the Echo Cliffs. Keep to the left at this junction to continue on the Mishe Mokwa as it makes a long, steady climb out of the canyon. Keep an eye out for more climbers on the nearby rock faces–and some soaring hawks in the air above them.

IMG_1954wtmk
IMG_1953wtmk

 

At the 2.9 mile mark, look out for a brushy use trail. If you’re interested in bushwhacking and a bit of scrambling, this can take you up to nearby Tri-Peaks (also reachable from a rugged trail from the north), a the second-tallest peak in the mountain range (3,010 ft) with some commanding views of Point Mugu State Park below it. For now, though, stay on the broader fire road of the Mishe Mokwa Trail.

At 3.2 miles, the trail reaches a slightly complicated junction after traveling in a (mostly) dry creek bed. For the purposes of this trip, just keep staying to the left. The trails that head west from here are the Chamberlain Trail/Backbone Trail, which will take you down into Point Mugu State Park and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.

At 3.4 miles, stay to the left again and ignore the short fire road near the water towers, which dead-ends on the north flank of Exchange Peak (2,950 ft), the third-tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.

 

Mishe Mokwa and Tripeaks 034

Tri-Peaks

Here, the Pacific Ocean comes into view clearly for the first time on the loop and on most days the views are nothing short of stunning. For better vistas, keep hiking to the east, where a short spur trail at 3.5 miles will take you out onto the bare promontory of Inspiration Point, a small memorial to a Boy Scout perched on an exposed ledge. There are also some more nice opportunities for climbing along the way, although that first step is a bit too steep for my tastes.

IMG_1957wtmk
Mishe Mokwa and Tripeaks 036

Return to the Backbone Trail and head east. The trail here meanders on the north side of the Boney Mountain Ridge and makes a relatively slow ascent.

At 4.5 miles, look for a wooden sign pointing you toward Sandstone Peak and climb up the stairs cut into the side of the mountain to begin your way up. The trail here is much more rugged than what you’ve been on so far, and the established route dissolves into a series of use trails, all of which eventually make their way to a barren rocky slope that you’ll have to scramble up to reach the summit.

It’s a challenge, but it’s completely doable. One of the times I hiked here, I watched a dad shepherd his two small daughters up the mountain with very little trouble. As I was the only other person in sight, the youngest daughter waved at me from above, yelling “Hello, hiker!”

Seriously, if a four year old can do it, you can, too. And when you get to the top, it will be worth it, as miles and miles of southern California mountains and coastline unfurl before you, beneath the watchful eyes of Mr. W. Herbert Allen, who donated many acres of land to the Boy Scouts–including nearby Circle X Ranch. The Scouts attempted to get Sandstone Peak renamed for Allen in the 1960s but the petition was denied due to a Department of Interior policy against naming geographic landmarks after people who were still alive. Nevertheless, the Scouts held an unofficial renaming ceremony in 1969 where they left a plaque for Mr. Allen.

Mishe Mokwa and Tripeaks 041
IMG_1964wtmk

Make your way back down to the Backbone Trail, either the way you came in or via a more direct (but also more steep) scramble straight down. Take a right to continue east on the Backbone Trail as it makes a steep descent back toward the trailhead. As you head down, you’ll be happy you didn’t just climb up this way.

At 5.7 miles, take a right to head back to the trailhead.

 

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





Dog-Friendly

Multi-Use Trail

Views / Vista

Trail Map

112 Comments

Lori D. Feb 9, 2018 15:02

I did this hike last weekend, counter clockwise, and was wiped out afterward - I had to carry my 70 lb. dog to our car once we were back at the trailhead. Anyone calling this an "EASY" hike is hardcore AF.

Leave a Reply to Lori D. Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scott Turner

Scott Turner Oct 22, 2017 18:10In reply to: Aaron Jacobsen

Dark : P

I kid. You'd need a headlamp, but I bet it would be outstanding during the full moon.

Leave a Reply to Scott Turner Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Aaron Jacobsen Oct 21, 2017 08:10

Does anyone know what this hiking area is like at night?

Leave a Reply to Aaron Jacobsen Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Raj Khurana Aug 28, 2017 17:08

I did this hike on Sunday, August 13, 2017 with my friend Sanjeev Batra. I had landed the previous evening from Delhi (India) after a brief stopover in Europe. The trek was very exciting except that I got a sun-burn on my shoulders since I did the mistake of taking off my t-shirt without applying any creme. This trek will always remain a memorable experience for me since it was my maiden trek in USA and I being a novice. I have done hiking in the Himalayas a couple of times. Once at a place called Hatu near Shimla and another at Pahalgam near Srinagar. I look forward to another hike with Sanjeev very soon (India or US).

Leave a Reply to Raj Khurana Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Christopher Wilson Aug 21, 2017 11:08

Thanks for the helpful write up and photos. Liked that one can reach the trail head and return to Orange County (or the Westside) without having to go through 21 miles of ugly weekend traffic in Malibu (arrived and left via Kanan and the 101). Had smooth sailing to OC starting at 3:40 PM from the trail head on a Sunday in mid-August. Sorry to say that lots of trail heads are not as well organized as this one - with a toilet that was not even stinky on a Sunday at noon! Parking areas were say 2/3 full. If meeting up with another car, might want to specify which of the 2 parking areas is to be the meeting point. PDF maps on-line make it pretty clear which is the trailside parking area versus the opposite from trailside parking area.

Leave a Reply to Christopher Wilson Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

C. Philipp Jun 3, 2017 15:06

I love the Mishe Mokwa Loop, hiked it often when I lived in Thousand Oaks. I was always curious about the name and checked local Chumash stories looking for the meaning. I eventually discovered that it was from the song of Hiawatha, whose father was made chief after killing a monster bear, Mishe Mokwa, with a blow to the head...maybe like split rock.

Leave a Reply to C. Philipp Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Stamper May 21, 2017 18:05

This may be a dog friendly-ish trail, but I recommend careful consideration before committing. My good natured, 52 lb mixed breed suffered pad damage on all four of his feet. As indicated, the trail is very rocky, and many small sharp rocks over a six-mile stretch was too much.

Leave a Reply to Larry Stamper Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Erick Mar 21, 2017 13:03

This is dog friendly-ish trail. The trail itself is very rocky and can be a bit rough for paws.

Leave a Reply to Erick Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Casey Schreiner Mar 8, 2017 08:03In reply to: Zachary Worthington

There are! Backpacking in the Santa Monicas is a bit tougher just because there aren't as many walk-in backcountry campgrounds as there are in the San Gabriels, but there are a few walk-in sites just down the road in Point Mugu State Park. Check the Mugu Peak and La Jolla Canyon guides for more info.

Leave a Reply to Casey Schreiner Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Zachary Worthington Mar 7, 2017 19:03

Great site, Casey! Are there places to disappear with backpacks around this area, or is it too populated?

Leave a Reply to Zachary Worthington Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *