Sandstone Peak and the Mishe Mokwa Trail in particular are revered by many as one of the “must-hike” trails in Southern California. Casey over at Modern Hiker describes it as “the Hike That Got Me Hiking.” It was Kolby “Condor” Kirk’s 6th hike in his 100 hikes goal, back when he really getting into hiking. This trail is located in the Santa Monica Mountains near the border of Los Angeles and Ventura County, and with views of the valley, the Pacific Ocean, and the mountains to the east, not to mention Balancing Rock, Split Rock and other interesting it is a pretty special area.
Time: 3-4 hours
Elevation gain: 1,686 ft
When to go: Year-round
The Sandstone Peak trailhead parking is about one mile past Circle X Ranch on Yerba Buena Road. The landmark on Pacific Coast Highway is the famous seafood roadhouse, Neptune’s Net — where we would stop for lunch after our hike. The road up to the trailhead is narrow and very crooked. We took our time and saw more bicycles than cars.
The gravel parking lot has plenty of parking. Near the entrance is a sign with details on the area and the requisite warnings about wildlife and safety. The trail begins at the gate, and proceeds promptly and steeply up hill.
After about 0.4 miles you reach the first of many junctions. To the left, the trail heads directly to Sandstone Peak — a little over a mile away. To the right is the Mishe Mokwa trail. This trail also takes you to Sandstone Peak. It is a longer route, but it turns the hike into a loop with some really interesting things to see and lots of options for add-on adventure. We headed to the right.
The trail winds along the side of the mountain, with views extending across the valley and often much further. In another 0.2 miles we reached another junction. This is where the Backbone Trail joins the Mishe Mokwa Trail. We stayed to the left and followed the trail along the backside of the mountain.
At about the 1.5 mile mark, look across the valley and you’ll see the remarkable Balancing Rock. This huge boulder looks like a gentle breeze could topple it, but it’s been there for ages. It’s remarkable.
The trail winds along the side of the valley, eventually reaching a shady low-point at Split Rock. Another great boulder, this one split into three pieces. One of the cracks is big enough to walk through. There is a picnic table, and it’s a great spot for a break.
Optional Side Trip #1 – Balancing Rock
Just beyond Split Rock you’ll see a sign for the trail to Balancing Rock. This is an out-and-back side trip that will take you up close to that giant, tottering boulder. We decided to take this another time. We continued on the Mishe Mokwa trail, climbing gradually higher and higher.
Optional Side Trip #2 – Tri-Peaks
At about the 3 mile mark you’ll come across a couple of junctions with signs to Tri-Peaks. This out-and-back option adds a fair climb and another mile to the trip. It was hot, and we decided to stick to our original plan: bag Sandstone Peak.
At 3.5 miles, look for the sign to your right to Inspiration Point. This is a very short spur that really doesn’t add much to the length of the trek, and provides some truly inspirational views.
Continuing on, we climbed in full exposure. It was getting hotter than we expected. We were grateful when we reached the final spur that took us to the top of Sandstone Peak. We ascended these steps, then picked our way along the ridge line. The trail is sometimes difficult to find, but we aimed for the summit, and soon were there. The last bit we even used our hands here and there as it’s fairly steep.
The views from Sandstone Peak are phenomenal.
The Summit Register
Most of the popular and prominent peaks in Southern California have a small notebook stashed near the peak in a waterproof canister. It’s customary to sign the summit register to record your ascent of said peak. For many peaks the Sierra Club regularly replaces these notebooks, which on popular trails can fill up quickly. The historical registers are sent to the Bancroft Library in Berkeley for archival, and are available for viewing.
The summit register atop Sandstone Peak looks like an old-fashioned brass-covered mail slot, built into the memorial to Herbert Allen, the namesake of Mount Allen, the real name of what everyone calls Sandstone Peak. Confused? It may be the heat.
Speaking of the heat, and summit registers, it’s always entertaining to see what other hikers scrawl in the trail register. It’s customary to leave a little message to mark the occasion, as well as the date and your name. On this particularly hot day, the entries were muy caliente!
It’s HOT! Hotter than the crevasses of Satan’s butt cheeks.” – Summit register entry from earlier in the day
Video from Sandstone Peak and the Backbone Trail
This is my first attempt at recording video using my StickPic. I recorded a couple thoughts at the summit of Sandstone Peak, as well as on the hike down the Backbone Trail to the trailhead. It’s a little rough around the edges, so if you’ve used one of these and have some tips, let me know.
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Mishe Mokwa to Sandstone Peak Trail Map
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Sandstone Peak Tips
- Bring the 10 essentials
- Take time to thumb through the summit register
- Be sure to stop at Inspiration Point
- No permits are required
- Trailhead parking is free
- The road getting to the trailhead is very windy so take your time.
More Sandstone Peak Resources
- Hike the entire trail (in reverse) in 15 minutes (video)
- Hiking Mishe Mokwa Trail to Tri-Peaks and Sandstone Peak – ModernHiker
- Hiking Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak: A Photo Guide – California Through My Lens
- Trail Guides and Hiking Books for the Santa Monica Mountains
- Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Sandstone Peak Weather Forecast
Chance of a Thunderstorm61°/54°
I found that this forecast underestimates the temperature for this location. I got better results from the NOAA website.