Backbone Trail at Will Rodgers - Trail Running

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A scenic run that takes you high above the ocean and deep into the mountains.

Written by

Brian Townsend


16.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

15.3 miles


3 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

1 days


All Seasons

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Dogs allowed on-leash on trails managed by the National Park Service. Dogs not allowed on backcountry managed by California State Parks.

Fees Permits


Parking is $12, but you can park in the residential neighborhood on weekdays.



Whether you know it or not, everyone is familiar with the Santa Monica Mountains. Every genre of film has shot a flick in this local range. You know that John Wayne movie you love so much? Or what about the Diane Keaton movie? They’ve all shot in the Santa Monica Mountains. It has been the southwest desert and the south Pacific. It is this intense diversity that causes people to keep coming back. If you’re looking for an arid mountain pass, lush river valley, or picturesque beach then go to the Santa Monica Mountains.

What Makes It Great

The Backbone Trail traverses the ridgeline of the entire range. The trail begins in the east at Will Rodgers State Park in Santa Monica and ends on the west at Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County near Oxnard, a total of 68 miles. The entire trail is open to hiking and certain sections are available to horses and bikes. Multiple streams cut the mountain range, resulting in a lot of ups and downs on the Backbone Trail.

Such a long trail gives you lots of options for shorter outings. Perhaps the most scenic and accessible segment of the Backbone Trail is where it all begins: at Will Rodgers State Park in Santa Monica. This section is known for its beautiful ocean and city views as you gradually climb into the mountains. The grade is generally moderate and has small descents intertwined, making it perfect for trail running.

The park entrance is on Sunset Boulevard and can easily be accessed from either Pacific Coast Highway or the 405 Freeway. After parking in the lot at the main entrance, turn north and run along the access road to the right of the polo field. At the end of the polo field the trailhead will be on your left. This first section is labeled Inspiration Loop, but it quickly changes to Backbone, and from here onward it is clearly labeled throughout. The trail starts off as a well-groomed doubletrack that climbs steadily above the palisades and into the mountains. After 1.5 miles the trail forks, a sign will lead you to the left where you begin climbing on singletrack that will stay with you for the rest of the run. As you climb up the ridge, you will cross a beautiful bridge with sheer drops on both sides and views of the ocean or downtown LA. After 6.5 miles of the singletrack climb riders will reach a fire road intersection. Here they can either continue on the fire road connector to another segment of the Backbone or descend back to the parking lot. Bring a map if you choose to continue along the fire road.

Who is Going to Love It

This run is strenuous, but it’s a great hike too, so you can take it at your own pace.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Pacific Coast Highway, drive on Chautauqua Boulevard for 1 mile, turn right onto Sunset Boulevard, after half a mile the Will Rodgers State Park entrance will be on your left. From the 405 Freeway, exit at Sunset Boulevard, travel 4.5 miles and the park entrance will be on your right.

Parking is $12, but you can park in the residential neighborhood on weekdays. Park hours are sunrise to sunset. Trail is 16 miles long (out and back) or longer, but bring a map to navigate the fire road connectors. 

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Will Rogers State Park

1501 Will Rogers State Park Rd
Los Angeles, CA, 90272
34.054464, -118.512274

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