Temescal Canyon, Ridge and Backbone Trails - Santa Monica, California
Just 9 miles (14k) from one of the most well-known shopping districts in the world, Rodeo Drive, is some of the best single track trails I’ve run. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area comprises many individual parks and much of it is located within Los Angeles County. On a recent family vacation to Santa Monica, California I made the 15 minute drive north to the parking area near the Will Rogers State Historic Park. At 10am on a Thursday morning there was only one other car and nobody in the parking booth. Be sure to bring your credit card since you have to pay for parking.
For ultrarunning, the Backbone Trail makes an excellent long distance course since it is 67 miles (109k) long. However, I didn’t have enough time on this trip to make an ultra distance run so plotted out a loop course instead for a nice training run. I took the Rivas Canyon Trail to the Temescal Canyon Trail to the Temescal Ridge Trail which finally hooked me up to the Backbone Trail.
The trails on the way out were very rugged, had steep switch backs and also included the Temescal Canyon Falls. There was only a little water running the day I ran, so there wasn’t much of a waterfall, but the bridge crossing this part of the canyon and stream were pretty. During the run I saw many lizards scurrying across the trail and also one large snake (maybe a California Kingsnake?) with something in its mouth right in the middle of the trail. I tried to get a picture but it moved into the high grass too quickly. Having seen a snake made much of the rest of the run scary seeing as I had to push through lots of tall grass covering the trail. However, probably wasn’t much reason to be worried since it was getting late in the morning and was very sunny so the snakes were probably already resting for the day.
Most of the elevation is completed by the time you get to the far end of the loop at Temescal Peak so the path out takes more time than coming back. The views at the peak were especially nice since when you look north you see next to no evidence of civilization. Along the run out there are also excellent views of the ocean. On the way back on the Backbone trail then you can see downtown LA. So, to get the full experience of views I recommend running the entire loop instead of just opting for an out-and-back on either trail.
The Backbone trail is something I’ll keep in my bucket list since it’s likely a work or family trip will take me out there. It really is amazing how such excellent single track that feels so remote can still be so close to a major city such as Los Angeles.
Start and Finish : Parking area for Will Rogers State Historic Park
Distance : 15.8 miles / 25k
Elevation Gain : 2,802 feet / 854m
I read some comments online that the parking and trail can be very busy. However, on a Thursday morning, I saw less than 10 people the entire morning. Despite being so close to millions of people, it fell very remote and isolated in many parts. Also be sure to bring lots of water! There are no facilities on the trail portions I ran, and while there is some shade, much of it receives direct sunlight.