Best the Crest

Hiking Castro Crest in the Santa Monica Mountains

A walk along the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Malibu is especially good when the days are cool and the skies so clear. Add a jaunt down into Malibu Creek State Park, and you’ve got a 7.5-mile out-and-back challenge that rewards you with wonderful views, not to mention a bit of rock-scrambling fun. After parking in the Backbone Trail’s Corral Canyon parking lot, start with a quick diversion: Take the Backbone Trail about 0.5 mile to the east to a Zionesque playground of sandstone slabs and pockmarked boulders where you can enjoy sweeping vistas of Corral Canyon down to the Pacific Ocean.

Then head back to the lot and start up Castro Motorway (a dirt fire road) along Castro Crest 0.8 mile to Bulldog Motorway—a steady incline that gains about 500 feet. The actual Castro Peak (2,825 feet) stands on private land behind the gates here, so it’s illegal to summit. Don’t be bummed out. You’ll still be rewarded with another epic view, this time of Malibu Creek State Park far below, before you head 2.5 miles down Bulldog. Ignore the spur trails and turn back when you reach the end of the descent, or continue to the old MASH set, 1.5 miles farther. Then comes the big push back up the 1,000 feet you descended. Head back down Castro Motorway to the trailhead. Consider taking this hike in the late afternoon for an extremely beautiful and rewarding sunset finale to your workout.

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To get to the Backbone Trail’s Corral Canyon trailhead and the no-fee dirt parking lot, take the I-10 west to Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy. 1) north. After 16 miles, turn right on Corral Canyon Rd., which winds up the mountain and ends at the lot. Dog-friendly only on Castro Mtwy. section.

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