Posted by: David and Deirdre Hayward | January 18, 2010

Backbone Trail – Will Rogers State Park

January 9th 2010 

Distance: 10.2 miles        Elevation gain: 1,675 ft 

Will Rogers State Park marks the beginning (or end) of the backbone trail, yet it is some years since we did this trail, mainly because of parking. However, we have joined the California State Parks Foundation, for a modest fee, and have a number of free parking passes. We park in the main parking lot and feel like royalty – to say nothing of having saved $12! There are quite a few people either returning or leaving, most probably to Inspiration Point a relatively short trip from here. There is also some sort of soccer game in progress on the polo field! 

The weather is very comfortable and the air very clear so we should have good views. We have plenty of company, from obvious hikers to those on a family outing. 

Santa Monica Bay

We avoid the steeper shortcut and take the fireroad as it ascends onto a ridge overlooking Rivas Canyon to our left and we get our first views of the sweeping Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes and Catalina Island. Inland is Century City and Downtown L.A. We can also pick out the Getty Museum perched on its ridge top below us. At the turn off to Inspiration Point we lose most of our fellow travellers and the backbone trail proper(marked by a kiosk) begins. It is now a  trail. As we continue to gain height on Rogers Ridge the view becomes more spectacular and we spend a few moments picking out peaks – Strawberry and Wilson in the front range and Baldy, Gorgonio, and Jacinto behind – several of which are snow-capped. Out in the ocean Santa Barbara Island comes into view. 

Chicken Ridge

The trail is a little rough but quite manageable and shortly we reach Chicken Ridge where the trail crosses a bridge. Here a couple of hikers are enjoying the expansive views but their presence prevents us from getting the picture we want – maybe on the return. The trail is guarded by rails for a short stretch and then evens out along the ridge. Shortly after the trail splits off to the right and descends into Rustic Canyon; we have taken that trail in the past but today continue on the backbone trail. 

Above Rivas Canyon

The trail climbs along the right slope of the canyon just below the ridge. The vegetation is a little more lush here and the grasses brush against our legs – better check for ticks. We meet a rabbit chewing on a juicy blade and he continues for a minute or two before hopping off into the undergrowth taking his succulent lunch with him. There are a few vetch and monkey flower in early bloom. In a while we reach the top of Rivas Canyon where a renown four-trunked oak sits astride a saddle overlooking upper Rustic Canyon. We settle on the tree roots, careful to avoid the ubiquitous, plump ants climbing the oak, and enjoy a cup of coffee. To the north we can see Gizmo Peak on dirt Mulholland and across Rustic Canyon Sullivan Ridge winds up towards the old Nike missile site. Apart from a few descending cyclists we enjoy the quiet. On our way again we see Temescal Ridge off to our left, but are unsure which bump is Temescal Peak. The trailside is brightened with heavy clumps of Toyon berries and the first Ceanothus is bursting into flower. As the path climbs along the ridge the view to our right opens up again across the L.A. basin and the mountain ranges beyond. At the 5 mile point we select a lunch site just before the trail steepens on its way to join Temescal Fireroad. I ascend a few more hundred yards but am rewarded with no greater view than Dee back at base camp! We are hungry and soon consume our lunch before starting on our return. Mr. rabbit is still busy chewing! 

That Oak Again!

At the oak tree we take a water break, this time sitting on the non-ant side! As we approach Chicken Ridge the trail becomes busier, more so at the Inspiration Point area. We hurry along to keep ahead of two women sharing their views with the world at large in loud piercing voices. Back at the car, we shed our packs and boots and look around the Will Rogers ranch house. We are just in time to catch the last tour of the day and spend an interesting half hour being led around the property by a docent complete with running commentary. A good end to the afternoon. 

Roger's Ranch House



  1. If you’re interested in any guest bloggers, I’d love to do one about some So Cal hikes I’ve done. And if you want to do a guest blog and we’re always looking. Cheers. DL

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