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Live oaks and dense chaparral smother slopes traversed by the Backbone Trail near Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The nearly completed Backbone Trail rambles some 55 miles along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, from Pacific Palisades to Point Mugu State Park. Most sections of this trail traverse dry highland terrain, but some stick close to ravine bottoms, or north-facing slopes, where the chaparral and oak vegetation grows tall and lush. An excellent example of the latter, in the rustic Topanga area, is a 3.5-mile segment rising from Old Topanga Canyon Road to Saddle Peak Road. Assuming you've set up a car shuttle or planned some similar transportation arrangement, you can negotiate this trail either as a one-way downhill stroll or as a more strenuous uphill ascent involving about 1600 feet of elevation gain.

For the purpose of directions, let's assume the downhill direction. The starting point is a trailhead at mile 0.60 on Saddle Peak Road (0.6 mile east of Stunt Road). Several small turnouts can be found along the road here. The ending point is on Old Topanga Canyon Road, 0.3 mile west of Topanga Canyon Road, just beyond the bridge over the Old Topanga Canyon stream. There's only one small turnout here.

You start out in dry chaparral at the top on a short connector trail, quickly making a right turn on the segment of Backbone Trail descending into Hondo Canyon. After a few tedious switchbacks, the trail enters a more thickly wooded area consisting not so much of trees, but rather of a rampant growth of tall chaparral. The entire Hondo Canyon drainage was burned in the October 1993 Malibu fire but has been recovering quickly ever since.

Many more switchbacks take you inexorably downward along the steep south slope of Hondo Canyon, where you encounter Tolkienesque copses of gnarled live oak and fragrant bay laurel. Nearing the bottom of the canyon at about two miles, there's a short side path on the left leading to a point where you can view Hondo Canyon's stream (during and after rains, not this summer!) tumbling through a little V-shaped gorge.

Past this point the trail contours to a saddle, veers right, and descends a grassy slope into a separate lesser ravine, whose bottom is beautifully shaded by majestic live oaks. Water flows in this ravine only after a substantial amount of rain has fallen. A few minutes' walk down along the ravine takes you to Old Topanga Canyon's shallow stream and Old Topanga Canyon Road just above it.

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The nearly completed Backbone Trail rambles some 55 miles along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, from Pacific Palisades to Point Mugu State Park. Most sections of this trail traverse dry highland terrain, but some stick close to ravine bottoms, or north-facing slopes, where the chaparral and oak vegetation grows tall and lush. An excellent example of the latter, in the rustic Topanga area, is a 3.5-mile segment rising from Old Topanga Canyon Road to Saddle Peak Road. Assuming you've set up a car shuttle or planned some similar transportation arrangement, you can negotiate this trail either as a one-way downhill stroll or as a more strenuous uphill ascent involving about 1600 feet of elevation gain.

For the purpose of directions, let's assume the downhill direction. The starting point is a trailhead at mile 0.60 on Saddle Peak Road (0.6 mile east of Stunt Road). Several small turnouts can be found along the road here. The ending point is on Old Topanga Canyon Road, 0.3 mile west of Topanga Canyon Road, just beyond the bridge over the Old Topanga Canyon stream. There's only one small turnout here.

You start out in dry chaparral at the top on a short connector trail, quickly making a right turn on the segment of Backbone Trail descending into Hondo Canyon. After a few tedious switchbacks, the trail enters a more thickly wooded area consisting not so much of trees, but rather of a rampant growth of tall chaparral. The entire Hondo Canyon drainage was burned in the October 1993 Malibu fire but has been recovering quickly ever since.

Many more switchbacks take you inexorably downward along the steep south slope of Hondo Canyon, where you encounter Tolkienesque copses of gnarled live oak and fragrant bay laurel. Nearing the bottom of the canyon at about two miles, there's a short side path on the left leading to a point where you can view Hondo Canyon's stream (during and after rains, not this summer!) tumbling through a little V-shaped gorge.

Past this point the trail contours to a saddle, veers right, and descends a grassy slope into a separate lesser ravine, whose bottom is beautifully shaded by majestic live oaks. Water flows in this ravine only after a substantial amount of rain has fallen. A few minutes' walk down along the ravine takes you to Old Topanga Canyon's shallow stream and Old Topanga Canyon Road just above it.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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