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Mishe Mokwa to Sandstone Peak

The Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak loop hike is a "must do" hike in the Los Angeles area.

The trail is located in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu. 

This moderate loop hike is about 6 miles total. It takes about 3 hours to do the entire hike, including getting up to the very top of Sandstone Peak, the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. The elevation gain for the hike is about 1,450 ft.

This is a very beautiful environment. There are amazing vistas of sandstone peaks, distant views of the valleys and cities to the north and east, and amazing views of the Pacific Ocean to the south and west. As you are basically above everything else around you for many miles, you have fantastic 360 degree views of the entire area.

The hike:

First of all, let's dispel any confusion as to why there's a peak with a Japanese name here. Mishe Mokwa isn't Japanese, it's the name of a mother bear in a Chippewa Indian legend. We won't go into the legend here, we just wanted you to know this name comes from the Chippewa Indians as most people are curious about this.

The mountainsides of the sandstone peaks are pretty steeply vertical on the road side of the mountain. This is the view you see as you are driving up the road. It looks pretty intimidating. The hike described on this page, however, does not go up the front side of the mountain. Instead the trail takes you through a side canyon and up the other side of the mountain to the peak. This is a much more gradual way to ascend the mountain to the top.

The Mishe Mokwa Trail and the Backbone Trail combine to form the loop trail for this hike. You take the loop counter clockwise through this large canyon and valley area gradually winding your way up to Sandstone Peak, aka Mt. Allen, (altitude 3,111 ft) which is near the end of the hike.

Please run the slideshow below to see the trail hiked in April, on a cloudy day:

Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak Loop Slideshow

Park in the parking lot (see directions near bottom of page) and start at the trailhead which is on the mountain side.

Take the trail for about .35 miles where you get to a fork. Take it to the right and follow the signs for the Mishe Mokwa trail. The first .4 miles or so of the hike is one of the steeper parts of the hike, so be prepared. It’s fairly steep and it’s also fully exposed to the sun, so you get a workout right away.

The trail levels off here and then descends a bit as you start to wind your way into the canyon. The next two miles of the trail is quite easy as it is relatively flat; it's also mostly semi-shady, so enjoy the relative coolness in here. While the views and scenery are very nice from the start, it is in this part of the trail that you really start seeing the amazingly beautiful scenery this hike has to offer.

Across the canyon is Echo Cliffs, which is a long stretch of shear vertical sandstone rock faces. This is a beautiful and dramatic vista of reddish colored cliffs against the green mountains. You will often see mountain climbers climbing these rock faces (see slideshow).

Above Echo Cliffs you will spot Balanced Rock, which is this trail’s well known oddity, a huge house-sized boulder precariously balancing atop a smaller boulder (see slideshow). It looks like you could easily push against it to make it hurtle down into the valley. Somehow, as yet, none of the big earthquakes we’ve had in this area have been able to push Balanced Rock off-balance. Go figure!

Below: There are abundant wildflowers in the Spring. Echo Cliffs in background.

As an added bonus, this 2 miles or so of the hike has the most shaded trails you will see. The remainder of the hike is basically all exposed to the sun. Within this area is the very shady area called Split Rock. The main creek crossing of the hike is here (when there’s water), there’s a thick mini-grove of shade trees here over a large broken boulder (Split Rock) and a nice shady area with one picnic table. Even though it is not even halfway through the hike, it is probably your best place to rest and/or have a snack due to the general lack of shade elsewhere.

Take the trail out of the Split Rock area, it is marked Mishe Mokwa, and eventually it will turn into the Backbone Trail (follow signs that point to Sandstone Peak).  Eventually the semi-shaded trail turns to trails fully exposed to the sun. Here you are walking up the trail which will bring you to this fantastic large flat area which I've named "Sandstone Peak Mesa" because it's so magical and special it deserves its own name. This flat area is about 3.7 miles into the hike, and it lies just beneath the peak. It’s huge and you can see all the various peaks in the area popping up in all directions. Not only that, but throughout the area are wonderful rock formations that look like something you might see on another planet. The mesa has an awesome spiritual and aesthetic feeling to it.

After enjoying the sights of the mesa area, you will reach, at about 4.2 miles into the hike, the short spur trail that leads up to Sandstone Peak. The trail sign points up a flight of timber framed stairs which climb up for 20 yards or so, after which there is a short dirt trail to the left that turns into the solid rock formation that is Sandstone Peak. This mound of rock is not the aesthetic reddish-colored stone you see on the front side of the mountain. It’s just a hunk of grayish-white rock covered in spots with loose rocks and dirt. The rest of the way to the peak is climbing up this rock. It’s a semi-steep climb that most people in decent shape can walk up, although depending on how you approach it you may have to get down low or on your knees for awhile and get dirty.

At the very top is the personal reward you feel having reached the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. You can even put your name in the summit log book which you will find in the mailbox-like slot under the metal plaque honoring W. Herbert Allen,  a Los Angeles businessman who donated this land.

Then enjoy the real reward. Look around you 360 degrees and see all there is to see. What you see primarily depends on the weather. As you can see in the slideshow above, a cloudy day provides somewhat limited views. The ideal day to come here is a cool, very clear day. If the visibility is great you can see for many miles both out to sea and inland. When you get out of bed one day and observe how crystal clear the weather is, be sure to remember to get up to Sandstone Peak and you will be greatly rewarded.

Once you’ve taken in all the great views, head back down the rocky peak the way you came. When you get to the bottom of the stairs you will see two trails below you that both head to your right. Take the one that is closer to you, not the one slightly lower on the hill which heads downhill (that’s the one you came up on). Take a right on this first trail. It takes you back, about 1.5 miles, to the trailhead and travels down the mountain in a much more direct and steep path than the way you came up.

You will see many of the same sights you saw coming up, but this time you are at a higher altitude and you can, for instance, see over the Echo Cliffs area where such things as Westlake Lake are visible, as well as some other bodies of water.

This is easily one of the best hikes, if not the best hike, in the Los Angeles area. Make sure you do this hike at least once. Don’t miss it!

Alternate hike, the fastest way to Sandstone Peak:

If you don't have time to do the full hike, or just want to do a kick-ass workout ascent up to the peak you can do the short version. At the first fork of the hike about .35 miles from the trailhead, take a left following the trail sign to Sandstone Peak which is about 1.1 miles from this point. The full out and back hike to the Peak is only about 3 miles roundtrip. It's basically all uphill on this route for 1.5 miles and about 1,100 ft elevation gain.


This hike is mostly exposed to the sun. The first mile or so is all sun, second mile is shady or semi-shady, going into the very shady Split Rock area, and the rest of the hike is mostly all exposed to the sun. So be prepared with sufficient sun protection and water. There are no restrooms here, so if you need one you should stop at the ranger station, or its campground, where they have several restrooms.


Located north of the city limits of Malibu in Ventura County.  From PCH: Take PCH north past Malibu, Zuma, Trancas and Broad Beach, over 25 miles north of Santa Monica. The road you turn onto is called Yerba Buena Road, directly north/west of the Neptune Net restaurant. The trailhead parking lot is about 6.25 miles up the narrow curved road. You will pass on your right, after about 5.2 miles, the Circle X Ranch ranger station. The ranger station looks like a saloon or small shop, not like any ranger station you've probably ever seen before. Keep going for about another mile until you see a left turn into a dirt parking lot. This is the Sandstone Peak trailhead parking lot where you can park for free.  From the San Fernando Valley take Kanan Rd off the 101 North to Mulholland Hwy, and take a right on Mulholland Hwy, then follow your map or navigation system.

Sandstone Peak trailhead: google maps navigation link

If the parking lot is full and you can't find a parking space, try going to the park areas near the Mishe Mokwa trailhead which is about .25 mile east.

Mishe Mokwa trailhead: google maps navigation link

Sandstone Peak Trailhead

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