Distance: 6.65 miles round trip
Elevation Change: 1,512 feet
Temperature day of hike: 75 degrees
Directions: From PCH in Malibu, drive inland on Malibu Canyon Road for 4.5 miles and turn left into the parking area for the Piuma Trailhead on the west side of the road. From the north, take the 101 Freeway to exit 32 for Las Virgenes Canyon Road in Agoura Hills. Drive south for 5 miles on Las Virgenes Canyon Road (which becomes Malibu Canyon Road) and turn right into the parking area for Malibu Creek State Park’s Piuma Trailhead. The turnout is 0.1 miles south of Piuma Road and 1.6 miles south of the main entrance for Malibu Creek State Park.
Abby: Leading up to this weeks’ climb, we had both read and been told that the Mesa Peak hike in Malibu State Park was notoriously challenging, which we were initially excited about. The day started a little later than planned, maybe due to Daylight Savings Time, maybe due to a hangover, but most likely due to beach traffic. When Los Angeles weather goes from “cold” to mid-seventies in five days, the beaches fill up quickly.
We took PCH up to Malibu, turned right onto Malibu Canyon Drive, and after about four and a half winding miles through the tall, plunging mountains, we began to feel a little nervous about what we were about to encounter. And rightfully so.
Sasha: We found easy parking at the Piuma Trail parking lot, where you can park for $10 per vehicle (check local signage for instructions). After we parked, we walked past a porta-potty and out-of-order bathroom to the well-marked base of the Backbone Trail. We immediately started a steep climb up a rocky single-track trail. After about ½ a mile, the trail evened out and at 2/3 of a mile, the Backbone Trail ended at the Mesa Peak Service Road, where we turned left to continue up the hill. While this first 2/3 of a mile has nice shaded coverage, once you hit the service road the trail is largely uncovered so be sure to lather on the sunscreen before you head out.
Once we turned onto the service road and rounded a hairpin turn we realized that we had quite a bit of climbing left to do. We continued onward, stopping several times to catch our breath, hydrate and admire the sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and Malibu Canyon. We noted some landmarks (Brents Mountain, which we named Boob Mountain, was a favorite) and measured our progress by our relative position to the sights. After one particularly grueling climb, we stopped to catch our breath and noticed Malibu Canyon Road in the canyon far below us and I made the classic mistake of checking our progress on MapMyHike. We had only climbed 1.5 miles and had about 2 miles left to Mesa Peak.
Abby: When Sasha announced we still had about two miles to scale, I was shocked. I felt as though we’d been climbing up that steep mountain for hours. At this point, we looked at each other and exchanged “I can’t believe we haven’t thrown up” admissions. However, if there is one trait we share, it is our tenacity, so we were going to make it to the top however challenging it may be. We continued upward and onward for another two miles until we made it to Mesa Peak. The views from this point made all of the leg and ass pain worth it.
Sasha: The highest point of the climb actually happens before Mesa Peak, where a fork in the road greeted us. We veered left, toward our destination. Before we made the descent, we stopped at the top to take some pictures of our first major coastal view, and noticed some rock piles marking the location. After a few minutes, we continued onward to Mesa Peak, which we could tell would give us even better and less obstructed views of the coast below us. As we approached, we noticed a narrow path to the right up to the summit, and scrambled up to the solar panel and small building at the top. Once we reached the top, we realized there was another lower peak obstructing our view, so we bushwhacked our way across a poorly maintained footpath to our reward: panoramic views of the Pacific below us.
Abby: After taking in the views and cooling off for a bit while staring at the ocean, we decided to head back down the mountain. I’ve said this many times, but I am always trepid on the way down. This trail was no different, especially as it was such a steep climb up, and the trail was so loose. While it was a significant challenge on the way down, I have to admit that I basked in pride as we made this trek downward because seeing how vertical the trail was shocked me. I cannot believe we made our way all the way up that mountain.
Sasha: As Abby said, the trip down the mountain was pretty harrowing. Despite my well-treaded trail running shoes, I had a complete wipeout on one of the steeper sections of the descent. For the first time, hiking sticks seemed like less of a joke than a necessity, and we envied those we saw using them flying down the mountain. We’re still not entirely convinced we need them, but we’ll see how we feel after our next 1500 foot climb.
- Incredible views
- A significant workout
- No animals allowed, so no animal feces on trail
- Wide open spaces
- Not very busy
- Peaceful, despite the challenge
- Very few resting spots
- Not a ton of shade
- Watch out for snakes – we encountered our first one on this trail!
- Don’t forget a camera
- Be prepared for steep climbs
- Bring extra water and wear sunscreen
Holy Shit View Factor: 10/10
How Good Your Ass Will Look Afterwards: 9/10 This is a very steep climb
Post hike grub spot: As we’ve mentioned, Malibu has some exceptional venues for post-hike grub. We decided to stop at Duke’s on the way back east and although we were told there would be an hour wait, we found a nice spot at the bar, right on the ocean. We ordered Pina Coladas and they were incredible. After sucking the first one down quickly, we ordered wings and Brussel sprouts proving that we both have a little east and west coast in our blood. The food was great, service was wonderful and we paid less for our meal and drinks than we usually do for a bottle of wine. Highly recommend.
Tracking the hike: We used MapMyHike to track, but also relied on tips from Hikespeak (linked above).