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Hondo Canyon

This is a very special hike due to it's unusual scenery and lots of shade on the trail. This is a must-do hike. It's probably my favorite hike in the LA area because of the shaded trails and because it still kicks my butt on the way up. It's a good workout.

Hondo Canyon Trail is a section of the very long Backbone Trail as it goes through Hondo Canyon, in the larger Topanga Canyon.

This is my pick for the best hike, tied with Los Liones to Parker Mesa Overlook, in the Santa Monica vicinity areas. If you want a good hike in the West LA/Santa Monica area, these are your best hikes.

The trail length is about 3.5 miles one way, 7 miles round-trip. It's an easy or moderately strenuous hike depending on which end of the trail you start on.

Since this is a point-to-point trail, as opposed to a loop, you can approach it from either end. Or, you can do it as an out-and-back 7 mile hike. If you do the entire out-and-back hike, I recommend you start at the lower trailhead so that you have the most energy for going uphill.

You will not see any signs for this trail as Hondo Canyon as it is officially known as the Backbone Trail.

Please run slideshow below:

This slideshow shows the hike taken from the top trailhead down to the lower trailhead, in January. There had just been some rain so the environment was very fresh and clean.

Hondo Canyon Slideshow

The Easy Way

This way is all flat and downhill. You start at the upper trailhead and go down the mountain through the canyon. It's an easy, beautiful hike down through wooded trails and fantastic views of rock formations up the canyon walls. It's the upper half of the trail that is most appealing, to me, because of it's unusual environment. Look at the photos and notice how much moss is growing on the rocks; you don't see these kinds of things around the LA area.

The Hard Way

This way starts at the lower trailhead and travels all the way up the mountain through the canyon. It's all uphill, with only a very few flat points near the start. You have to be in pretty decent shape to make it all the way to the top. While the inclines are moderate, the length of the trail makes it moderately strenuous. Not recommended for casual hikers.

It's a fantastic workout, though, with its 1450 ft of elevation gain.

Many people who start this way don't make it all the way up. They get to the rather dramatic pink-red rock gorge (about 1.3 miles in), which is stunning when full of rain water, and then turn around and head back down.

To take the trail in one direction only you obviously have to shuttle with two cars or other modes of transport. 

The Full Experience, Out-and-Back Hike

The best workout is to do the full hike out-and-back from the lower trailhead to the upper one, then turn around and come on back to the starting point. This is definitely one of my favorite year round hikes in LA because it has lots of shade and is a really good workout. And, to top it off, you rarely see many hikers on this trail!

You should know that the first mile of the hike is probably the toughest part. It's mostly all uphill and it's primarily in the full sun. If feelings of wimpiness are in the air, it could make you or your companions want to quit the hike early and turn around. This is unfortunate because this would cause you to miss out on the hike's wonderful upper shady and beautiful parts. I'm warning you about this because it's worth it to persevere and get to the best parts higher up.

The trail levels off for awhile at around 1 mile. You should at least continue to a point around 1.2 miles in where you will get to level spot where you can climb easily onto large reddish-pink boulders and look down onto the creek/gorge below (note: creek only flows in rainy season). The main trail turns hard left here, but if you want to explore this interesting area before heading up the trail it is recommended you go straight ahead and down onto a sort of trail and across some boulders and head down to the creek area. You follow downwards and find a path that goes down and to the left. You will eventually get down to the creek. Go left and up the surrounding creek bed, paths, or walk across the boulders as you wish. There are some lovely spots along the way (.25 to .5 miles total), keep going up the creek as far as you wish and your skills take you. It's not particularly difficult or treacherous, but can get difficult if the water is really flowing, so know your skills and abilities.

I find this area more interesting after some rain as the creek will be flowing. In the summer there is little or no water flow.

Please run the slideshow below to see this side excursion.

PicasaWeb Slideshow

Return from the creek the way you came and get back onto the main trail, take a right turn to continue up the mountain. The trail upwards from the gorge is mostly in the sun and fairly strenuous until about 1.5 miles in. I always encourage companion hikers in this stretch by telling them this is the last really "rough" part, because it is semi-steep and usually quite hot.

As soon as you get through this stretch you are in the sweet spot of this hike. The trail from here on out is in the shade and a very pretty woodland environment. It's still a good workout all the way to the top. It's all uphill, but gradually so, on fairly easy switchback trails. I love this part of the hike.

A good landmark to spot is at about 1.6 miles in, where you will see a large rusted gate to the left and large oak tree to the right. When you see this you know you are roughly at the halfway point of the hike. This is a handy landmark to know about if you don't have a gps or tracking device with you.

At around 2.5-3.0 miles in, the trail gets somewhat steeper and much sunnier for the .5 mile remainder of the trail to the top.

When you get to the top, after about 1,450 ft of elevation gain, I recommend going out onto the paved road, turning right and walking along the road until you get around the bend, about the length of a city block, and look to your left to get a wonderful panorama view of the ocean. (note: an alternate would be to take the short trail to your right just before the road, there is a trail sign that says to the "motorway" or "outlook", and you can take the trail up a ways for several hundred yards to a high point on a very large boulder from which you can see a great ocean view). Either way you go at the end, it's definitely worth it to see that view!

Taking the extra little trail "Motorway" all the way to the Outlook is about .7 miles. You can see the ocean before you go all the way to the Outlook. Going all the way to the outlook is a pleasant trail, but in my opinion not really worth going all the way. It's a pleasant trail but nothing really at the Outlook worth the extra hike unless you just want more trail and a lengthier hike.


During the rainy season and shortly thereafter: 1) The creek that you must cross at the bottom (see slideshow) is impossible or difficult to cross without getting your shoes wet, so be prepared to take your shoes off or get them wet. 2) the lower part of the trail, probably the lower 10-25% of the trail, gets extremely muddy after a rain and you will not be able to avoid getting your shoes totally caked with mud, and you can actually lose your footing quite easily, so be careful.

During hotter months you should know that the lower part of the trail is primarily in full sun and is fairly strenuous or rigorous (but not difficult or dangerous). Just know that the higher you go you will get into some great shaded areas, so it's worth it to push onwards for the full experience here.

Location, upper trailhead:
From the small town of Topanga, on Topanga Canyon Blvd. take Fernwood Pacific Dr. up the hill and drive all the way to the top. It's 5.3 miles to the trailhead. Fernwood Pacific changes its name enough times to make you insane if you go by road signs. It's usually better just to stay on the main road that keeps going up and you should be okay. When at the top look for Sadie Rd. The trailhead is .5 miles from the point you pass Sadie Rd on the right hand side of the road. Trailhead is shown in second photo of slideshow. Trailhead sign is for Backbone Trail. Trailhead GPS coordinates: 34.083961,-118.635864  google maps link

Location, lower trailhead:
Take Topanga Canyon Blvd into the small town of Topanga. Turn on Old Topanga Canyon Rd and take it .3 miles (just past the Inn of the Seventh Ray restaurant google maps link) to the Backbone Trail trailhead on the left side of the road. You can park along the side of the road. Trailhead is shown in first photo of slideshow.

tags: Topanga Canyon, Hondo Canyon, photo, trail, walk, hike, Backbone Trail, photos, map, hiking, loop trail, ocean view, topanga state park, best trails, best hikes, day hikes, top los angeles hikes, best los angeles hikes, santa monica mountains