Posted by: GeekHiker | March 25, 2007

HIKE: Sandstone Peak/Mishe Mokwa Trail

It’s quite a drive from Los Angeles, but the Mishe Mokwa loop trail to Sandstone Peak is one of the prettiest, best trails in the area.  After yesterday’s group hike, it seemed time to do a solo run.  So today, I headed out by myself into the wilderness of the Circle X Ranch, part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Starting from the Backbone trailhead off Yerba Buena Road (see directions below), you’ll start ascending the trail/fire road towards Sandstone Peak.  If time is of the essence, you can hike directly from the trailhead to the peak, a grueling 1.1. mile climb, especially when the ridge is between you and the ocean.  When you’re in those locations, the ocean breeze is cut off and the hike becomes a hot grueling 1.1 mile climb.

For the loop trail, after .3 miles of climbing, you’ll go right .2 miles on a connector trail.  Reaching a second junction with the trail from the Mishe Mokwa parking lot, turn left and start descending into Carlistle Canyon.  As you go down the canyon, the Echo Cliffs and precariously mounted “Balanced Rock” will come into view on the other side of the canyon.  Some days, you may see rock climbers ascending the Echo Cliffs, as I did on Saturday.

After 1.8 miles of decent, you’ll reach the bottom of the canyon and Split Rock.  Under the cool shade of oak trees, you’ll find a picnic table and (with any luck) water trickling in the creek.  It’s an ideal spot to stop for lunch, especially on a hot day (keeping in mind, of course, that  you will eventually have to hike out of the canyon).  Be sure to walk through split rock, a tradition from the Circle X’s past history as a Boy Scout Camp.

Following the signed trail away from Split Rock, a signed, non-maintained trail points the way up the canyon wall to Balanced Rock.  I went about 50 yards along this use trail, finding it to be overgrown and choked with poison oak.  Having already gotten poison oak on last week’s hike, I decided to return in the future to do this spur trail… in long pants.

The Mishe Mokwa trail swings east and starts a gentle climb out of the canyon towards Boney Mountain through high chaparral.  After 1.3 miles, the trail intersects with the Backbone Trail coming down from Sandstone Peak.  Near this intersection is a marked Backcountry Campsite, though I’ve never seen it in person.  If you want to camp there, check with the Park Service to make sure the campsite is still okay to use.

SIDE TRIP: From the junction, you can take the signed spur trail .5 miles to the top of Tri Peaks, elev. 3010.  The was very brushy and overgrown the day I hiked it (though blissfully free of poison oak), and the final ascent to the top of the peak is rocky and gravelly, making footing unstable.  The view from the peak, however, is worth the side trip, as you’ll be able to see most of the broad valley between Tri Peaks and Sandstone Peak, as well as westward into Point Mugu State Park.  Be careful on the decent: my trekking poles saved me from a nasty stumble a number of times.

From the Backbone Trail Junction, the trail circles around and starts heading west.  Past a pair of water tanks, you can make a scramble up to the top of exchange peak, or continue along the trail to the signed spur trail to Inspiration Point.  At the top of inspiration point is a marker with a directional compass on top pointing to a number of significant landmarks within view (though some may only be seen on a clear day).

Continuing on the Backbone, you’ll move up a couple of switchbacks and, at a wide spot in the road, be sure to look carefully for a set of steep wooden stairs (the sign indicating the path to the top of the peak may or may not be in place).  Ascending these stairs, follow the use path up the rock to the top of Sandstone Peak.  Ironically, the peak is not, in fact, Sandstone: it’s volcanic!

Enjoy the views, read the plaque honoring W. Herbert Allen (the benefactor of the Circle X Ranch) and sign the logbook.  Sandstone Peak is also an amazing place to watch the sunset from, but be sure to bring a headlamp for the path back down, which is covered in loose gravel in places and can be tricky on the footing.

After you’ve spent time on the peak, work your way back down to the Backbone Trail.  You’ll ascend slightly, then start the rapid 1.1 mile decent back to the Backbone Trail parking lot, having occasional views out over the ocean at some of the switchback turns.

Total Distance: 5.3 miles (6.3 with Tri Peaks side trip)

Park: Circle X Ranch (Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area)


Directions: From the 101, exit at Westlake Blvd (State Route 23 South).  Drive south until the road intersects with Mulholland Highway and turn right.  Continue right as Mulholland intersects with Decker Canyon Road, and very shortly thereafter turn right on Little Sycamore Canyon Road.  Little Sycamore will head west and turn into Yerba Buena Road as you cross from LA county into Ventura county (the road will also become rougher and narrower at this point.  Continue on Yerba Buena Road until you see the signed entrance to the Backbone Trail parking lot.  From PCH (Highway 1), turn north on Mulholland Highway approximately 6 miles and turn left on Little Sycamore Canyon Road.  Follow the directions as above.



  1. hello~ not sure if you’ll read this anytime tonight, but if you do… i’m planning on going on this hike tomorrow. i’m not much of a hiker, but i’ll be going by myself.

    i’d appreciate your input on whether or not it’d be er… safe, for me to do so.

    your thoughts?

    thanks! email me at *deleted to protect user’s privacy*.

  2. Just a little note to say I will be doing this hike this weekend (body willing) and I found your well written post to be helpful. Good enough to be printed out and taken with me. Thank you for taking the time to post.


  3. Thanks for the comment. I wish I had skipped the Balance Rock spur like you did. I went a little further then you did (I was wearing long pants) but all it got me was all scratched up with itchy crap down the back of my shirt.

    I like how you write and I am planning to link to your site from Homer’s Travels.

  4. […] in the Circle X Ranch (the same park as the Sandstone Peak/Mishe Mokwa Trail hike), The Grotto is a good hike for a hot day if you get an early start. It’s also a great […]

  5. […] when I first moved to LA and met someone on Sandstone Peak. We became friends and I was absorbed into her group for a time. There were camping trips to the […]

  6. Found your blog last week. brilliant – we have been looking for new routes. did this today. Best Hike Ever. Thanks

  7. […] back on a clear day in the upcoming winter months to do the hike prior to sunset (as suggested by another helpful trail blogger).  The trail back down to the car is pretty wide and clear and shouldn’t be a problem at […]

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