Sandstone Peak

Distance: 6 miles

Time:  3.5 hours

Highlights:  Part of a 15 million-year old volcanic complex, Sandstone Peak, which once stood about 10,000 feet high, has eroded down to a mere 3,111 feet, but it is still the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The Mishe Mokwa and Backbone trails create an adventurous loop which passes by Echo Cliffs and several red volcanic formations in Carlisle Canyon before reaching the vistas of Inspiration Point and Sandstone Peak.

Similarities/Differences: Unlike Fossil Hill, Sandstone Peak is not really made from sandstone, so don’t expect to find fossils buried in the igneous rocks along this

Elevation Gain:  1400 feet

Difficulty:  Moderate

Trailhead:  From the intersection of Highway 1 and Las Posas Road in southeast Oxnard, drive 9 miles south on Highway 1 to Yerba Buena Road in Malibu.  Turn left and drive 5.3 miles on a winding road to the Circle X Ranch Ranger Station on the right.  Continue 1 mile further to reach the Backbone Trailhead parking lot on the left.

Credit: Photos provided courtesy of  Kara Brugman and Guido Eibl.  All rights reserved.

Directions: The Backbone trail begins as a fire road and heads uphill to the north.  In 0.3 miles, the Mishe Mokwa Connector Trail branches off, leaving the road and continuing 0.2 miles to intersect the Mishe Mokwa Trail.  Take the left fork here and follow the trail, which skirts the western edge of Carlisle Canyon.  At 1.4 miles, Balanced Rock - a house-sized boulder delicately balanced atop a smaller rock - can be viewed across the canyon.  The trail descends into the shady canyon and crosses a stream to reach Split Rock and a picnic area. 

After investigating the sheer walls of Split Rock, continue to follow the trail upstream to another crossing near some sculpted volcanic rocks.  The trail continues to parallel the stream until it reaches a signed trail junction.  Take the left fork and follow the Backbone Trail as it curves upwards towards Inspiration Point.  A short detour leads to this overlook. 

- click on map to enlarge -

hike.  But the feeling of climbing an ancient volcanic core is something you can’t experience at Rancho Alegre.  Climbing Sandstone Peak is like scaling Fossil Hill ten times in a row, but the hiking distance is over three times as long, making for a much gentler hike

Further along the Backbone Trail, another junction is reached.  The trail on the right switchbacks up to reach breathtaking views atop 3,111-foot Sandstone Peak.  The peak is also known as Mount Allen, in honor of a local Boy Scout benefactor, and a plaque bearing his name can be found on the summit.  

On a clear day, one can glimpse Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains to the east, and the Channel Islands to the west.  Poorly-named Sandstone Peak formed primarily from volcanic eruptions rather than from sand and other sediments, and geologists

consider the northern Channel Islands to be an extension of the Santa Monica Range into the Pacific Ocean.  So if you climbed the 9-Mile Ridge during your week at the Outdoor School, saw the Channel Islands and wished you could hike out there, then congratulations... you’re already standing atop the highest point in that same mountain range!

Sign the summit register, then head 0.8 miles downhill back to the junction with the Mishe Mokwa Connector Trail.  It is another 0.3 miles from here back to the trailhead.