The Soul of Upper Solstice

Hiking the Backbone Trail in Upper Solstice Canyon

The lush beauty and hushed tranquility of Upper Solstice Canyon is one reason why the Backbone Trail is such a local treasure. Heck, it’s a national treasure! This segment, a 7-mile out-and-back (round-trip), drops into thick chaparral and groves of California oaks. It crosses seasonal and perennial streams fringed with wildflowers. And it climbs from the woods to reveal views clear down to the Pacific. If the coast is socked in, those views become aerial vistas of cloud-play far below. Get an early start and you might have it all to yourself. No matter what, it’s far less crowded than the popular Solstice Canyon trails at the bottom of the hill.

The hike starts near the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains at the Backbone Trail’s Corral Canyon Trailhead in Malibu and drops quickly into narrow corridors that are like living tunnels through the coastal chaparral. The trailside is decorated with abundant monkey flowers and buckwheat blossoms—and be alert for brilliant yellow mariposa lilies. Just above, sandstone formations hover like castle turrets. At about 1.5 miles, you arrive at an open meadow surrounded by grand oaks and a few sycamores—a peaceful spot to snack or picnic and to listen to the trills of dark-eyed juncos and wrentits.

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At about 2.4 miles you break out of the dense vegetation and start climbing (total elevation gain is 850 feet), which nets you a view of the entire upper canyon you just hiked through. You’ll see also the lower stretches of Corral, Solstice, and Latigo Canyons framing views of the ocean, and far to the east, Boney Ridge, comprising some of the range’s highest peaks. At 3 miles you reach a trail junction where you can bear right to climb another 0.5 mile to a locked gate with private-property signs that mean business. The return trip treats you to more sweeping views and the green intimacy of the heart of Upper Solstice.

To get to the Corral Canyon Trailhead, take Pacific Coast Hwy. to Corral Canyon Rd. in Malibu and turn north. Continue 5.4 miles up the steep hill to the free parking area at the end of the road. Dog-friendly!

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