Hiking La Jolla Canyon – The Backbone Trail

La Jolla Canyon - Backbone Trail LookoutFor Father’s Day, I wanted to do something family oriented that was more than just going out to eat. Since all of us more or less enjoy the outdoors, I thought a hike would be something fun that we would all enjoy. We’ve done family hikes before, both the Tree of Life Trail and Hollyridge Trail in the Hollywood Hills.

I had always wanted to do a hike in Malibu overlooking the beach. Brad suggested the La Jolla Canyon Trail, which he had done before. As it turns out, we actually hiked the Backbone Trail. Even though it wasn’t the trail we thought we were on, it was still an excellent hike. I would categorize it as a hike of moderate difficulty with a significant change in elevation. It wasn’t as challenging as the Tree of Life, but it was definitely more challenging than the Hollyridge Trail.

Accessing the Trail

The entrance to La Jolla Canyon is just north of the entrance to the Point Mugu State Beach Campground on Pacific Coast Highway. It is clearly marked by signs along PCH. There is paid parking in the canyon, which is self registered. It means you are required to pay, but it is not visibly enforced. There is also ample parking along the northbound side of PCH, which is what we opted to do. From there, it is about a 1/2 mile walk to the trailhead.

Backbone Trail

The Backbone Trail is part of an 11-mile loop from the trailhead at the base of the canyon that consists of the La Jolla Canyon trail, Backbone trail, Overlook trail, and La Jolla Valley Fire Road. We took the Backbone Trail from the base of the canyon. As you walk into the canyon, it is the trailhead that is on your right side.

The trail is a 2.7 mile hike to the Overlook trail, or a 5.4 mile hike if you go to the Overlook Trail and back. We hiked to an overlook point that was about 2 1/4 miles one way, or about a 1/2 mile from the top of the trail. The lead-in picture is the view when you look north from the overlook we stopped at. Below is a panorama that I took from the top. It really is quite a view that will make you appreciate the beauty of the Southern California coastline.

La Jolla Canyon - Backbone Trail panorama

The hike is has a little over 900 feet of elevation. You definitely feel it on the way up, and on the way down. The trail itself is narrow at only one person wide. When approaching people in opposite directions, you will need to stop and step aside to let others pass. Even though it is narrow, the path is worn and well maintained. You may find yourself rubbing against some overgrowth, but at no points will you lose sight of the path.

Trail Profile

Here is the profile of the hike from my Runkeeper app.

La Jolla Canyon - Backbone Trail profile

As you can see, we weren’t pushing the pace. On the other hand, it’s not really a trail that you can speed through. In addition to being narrow, it is also fairly rocky and uneven at points. You need to mind your footing, especially on the way down.

The Wrap-up

The Backbone Trail is a great trail of moderate difficulty with great views of the ocean and coastline. I’d highly recommend it.

It was a great Father’s Day event, and I enjoyed hiking with the family. While Lisa and Abbey didn’t make it to the overlook, Bryce, Amanda, Brad and Courtney completed the trek.

La Jolla Canyon - At the overlook on the Backbone Trail

We topped off the day by grabbing a bite to eat at Neptune’s Net, which is about a 5-10 minute drive south from La Jolla Canyon. It was a bit busy for a Sunday evening, but worth it. I’d recommend the restaurant just as highly as I would the hike.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *