Back to Top
Equestrians Riding the Backbone Trail Image of riders
I did the ride for several reasons: I am grateful that at 80+ years I can ride that distance and enjoy it. I wanted to help publicize the Backbone Trail as a new National Recreation Trail. I hoped to inspire others to reach for their goals. I wanted to show land managers the great need for trail camps.
Ruth Gerson
In the Summer of 2016, four women on horseback traversed the Backbone Trail (designated as a National Scenic Trail in 2016). From La Jolla Canyon in Point Mugu State Park to Will Rogers State Historic Park, the Backbone winds its way through the Santa Monica Mountains. Read on for a narrative and a few suggestions for others contemplating a ride along the Backbone Trail.

Press Coverage:

Non-Profit Supporters

  • Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council - website & FB
  • Recreation & Equestrian Coalition - fuel


  • Calamigos Ranch - fabulous dinner for 35, cabin available for riders
  • Harrison Maps - set of maps of Santa Monica Mountains
  • West Valley Horse Center
  • Bright Star Saddlery
  • Dr. Merle, Conejo Equine Vet
  • Numero Uno Pizza, Agoura
  • Pollo Loco, Agoura
  • ParkWatchReport - shirts for volunteers

Day four: From Kanan Road the trail traversed over to Latigo Canyon, down into Solstice Canyon up to Corral Canyon Road over towards Puerco Canyon and finally down Mesa Peak Fire road to Malibu Canyon Road. A hot but beautiful ride. No camps were available so the group stayed at a private ranch.

Ruth's Notes From The Ride

When I thought about doing this ride, I decided to invite only friends who met 2 criteria - they had to have a sense of humor and their horses had to be trail savvy. I invited four women ranging in age from 45 to 74 yrs:Tracey Potter, Jeanne Wallace, Kimberly Gustafson, and Janet Peterson.

On a general basis, we really enjoyed several special things -- the trails & trail treads were in great condition - the rock formations of Old Boney seen from Blue Canyon Trail and Chamberlain Trail in Pt Mugu - the views seen at the same time of the ocean and the valley from the top of Corral Canyon - riding up through the rocks and massive boulders of Saddle Peak Trail in Malibu Creek State Park - the wonderful friends who previewed the trails for downed trees and removed them - the friends who drove the trailers from campsite to campsite every day - the friends who brought our horses & us water the friends who let us camp at their ranches - Calamigos Ranch for an amazing stay with our horses high lined, cocktails, fabulous buffet, cabin with shower & beds - and all the other friends who helped in myriad ways.

It was wonderful to have the support of National Park Service, California State parks, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for this historic ride to publicize the Backbone Trail as a National Recreation Trail. We greatly appreciated the many small and big things that State Parks and NPS did for us especially State Parks putting up corrals at Trippet Ranch in Topanga State Park and NPS taking care of all the media and press.

I did the ride for several reasons: I am grateful that at 81 years I can ride that distance and enjoy it. I wanted to help publicize the Backbone Trail as a new National Recreation Trail. I hoped to inspire others to reach for their goals. I wanted to show land managers the great need for trail camps. The main challenge was having places for camping overnight.

We rode the BBT west to east as its more climbing in that direction which I personally find easier than going downhill due to my hip. I also prefer the views in that direction. The most amazing thing was our favorite vet, Dr. Merle with Conejo Equine Vet, surprising us with ice cream Tuesday night and again surprising us with electrolytes early Saturday morning. The scariest part of the ride for Tracey, Jeanne and me was crossing the bridge at Chicken Ridge in Will Rogers State Historic Park.

Many thanks for the help and support from all the parkland agencies on our achieving success on the Backbone Challenge Ride. We greatly appreciated all you did in every small and big way and you made a difference. We had a great time and really laughed our way across the Backbone Trail.

If anyone has questions about the ride, contact: Ruth Gerson 818-264-6501

Itinerary - Days & miles:
  • Day 1 - 8 miles - Started at Ray Miller Trail from La Jolla Campground July 18th at 10 am Monday - Camped at Danielson Ranch in Pt. Mugu SP- corrals water restroom
  • Day 2 - 13 Miles - Camped at Private ranch on Yerba Buena high lined no water own restroom
  • Day 3 - 11.5 miles - Camped at Calamigos Ranch high lined water restroom cabin with shower available restaurant
  • Day 4 - 14 miles - Camped at Private ranch on Piuma corrals water restroom
  • Day 5 - 12 miles - Camped at Trippet Ranch in Topanga SP corrals - water restroom
  • Day 6 - 10.5 miles - Ended at Will Rogers State Historic Park July 23rd at 4pm Saturday
Water Support Locations:
  1. Mishe Mokwa parking lot on Yerba Buena
  2. Encinal Canyon Rd at Camp 13
  3. Top of Corral Canyon
  4. Bottom of Mesa Peak Motorway at Las Virgenes Rd
  5. Overlook at Stunt / Schueren Rd
  6. Dead Horse Parking lot optional
  7. Temescal Ridge Fire Rd
Horseback Information:
  1. Horses need breast collar & tight cinch to prevent the saddle slipping & soring backs for climbing steep hills
  2. Most people underestimate the condition of their horses & themselves few are honest as to whether they can handle long hours (12-14 hrs) in the saddle in the hot sun with humidity and possible smoke from fires
  3. Support for water at road crossings is crucial for horses and some riders
  4. Camping sites accessible for vehicles for hay & water
  5. Rocky trails need consideration for horses feet I only shoe front feet of my horse & she was fine
  6. Carry a folding bucket for water at hose bibs Danielson Ranch, Sycamore Cyn Rd, Dead Horse parking lot
  7. Lots of bees around hose bibs at Sycamore and Danielson
  8. Rocks & boulders on Saddle Peak Tr are quite technical & only for trail savvy horses
  9. Horses must be used to high lining

Suggestions for NPS and California State Parks to Improve the Experience

In the future, when people are camping at Danielson Ranch and do not have horses, if a group with horses wants to camp there, then the equestrians ought to be allowed to share the campsite and use the corrals. Additionally, the corrals that are in great disrepair at the Sycamore Multi-use campsite should be moved. When they were installed more than 20 years ago, there was not the heavy biking, hiking and vehicle traffic on the roadway that is now present. The corrals, campsite and restroom should be relocated to a place much farther off the roadway that will afford some sense of privacy and relief from the traffic.

Now that the Backbone Trail is a National Recreation Trail there will be many more people interested in traversing it. Trail camps are the main priority. We were able to do the ride by using two private places but that will not be an option for future travelers. I recommend a distance of 10-11 miles between campsites, as I believe that can work for most users. Having just 8 miles between campsites forces riders to have some very long days to get through the whole trail in several days or else they have to add another day to the ride.

We did the ride in 6 days and 5 nights. The first day was just 8 miles from La Jolla Campground in Pt. Mugu SP to Danielson Ranch, where there were corrals, water and restrooms. It was ok to have one short day with a good campsite to start the ride. Fortunately, for the second day we found a place to camp with permission that was 13 miles distant. Although there was no water there, we were fine as we had plenty of water in the trailers; we had a portable restroom; and we high lined the horses.

Trail Camps and Campgrounds are different, and their access and use are different. Trail camps need just poles for high lining, some water and a restroom. They do not need vehicle access to the site except for servicing the restroom. It is ok to have access a short distance away for support of friends bringing hay, people supplies or visiting. High lines are better rather than corrals at equestrian trail camps. Camping with horses requires that the horses be familiar with high lining. By high lining, horses can be separated farther apart to minimize interaction. Also, it will cost less to install poles than to maintain corrals. Some horses are not friendly with others, and the corrals are damaged when horses are kicking at others, and the horses can be more easily injured. Each campsite should be able to handle 6 to 8 horses. You would need to erect four (4) poles, and visitors would bring their own ropes. I' d be glad to offer further information on the various ways to handle high lining. Campgrounds need a place for vehicles and rigs - truck & horse trailer, and a place for turning around. At campgrounds it is common for some people to tie their horses to their trailers overnight. Some people use a Hitie, which is attached to their trailer and extends out so the horse can move around more, eat from the ground and lie down; it is similar to high lining. Horses can lock their knees when sleeping standing up, and they often do so especially during the day. They do not always close their eyes when sleeping, so people must always talk when approaching a horse and not assume it sees or hears you; when startled horses will move quickly and often kick out. Their reactions are about 10 times quicker than humans. Yes, it' s amazing considering their size!

The Press Release

Five courageous ladies are embarking on a major challenge of skill and adventure in a couple of weeks. The Backbone Trail Cowgirls are setting out to ride the entire Backbone Trail on horseback as the first group to do so since the trail was completely opened end-to-end and officially designated as a National Recreation Trail. The trail, which goes from Pt. Mugu State Park in Ventura County to Will Rogers State Historic Park in the Pacific Palisades, was officially designated as a National Recreation Trail by US Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis on June 4, 2016. By averaging about 11 miles each day, their journey will cover the 67 Backbone Trail miles of mostly rugged terrain with some pretty hefty elevation changes along the way.
This trip was spearheaded and organized by Ruth Gerson, 81 yr, who first rode the trail almost exactly 25 years ago. She will be riding her 19 yr old Mustang, Crystal. The other participants are Jeanne Wallace, 73 yr, with her 21 yr old Quarter horse, Dill; Janet Peterson, 63 yr, with her 19 yr old Peruvian Paso, Sunny; Tracey Potter, 53 yr, with her 9 yr old Red Roan, Scooter; and Kimberly Gustafson, 45 yr, with her 12 yr old Spotted Draft Quarter Cross, Chief. These ladies have chosen to do this ride for 4 reasons: to publicize the Backbone Trail as a National Recreation Trail, to inspire others to be adventurous, to demonstrate that age is only a number for horses and riders, and to illustrate the need for equestrian and hiker trail camps in the Santa Monica Mountains!
Their trip will begin at the Ray Miller Trailhead in Pt. Mugu State Park on Monday, July 18, 2016 and finish on Saturday, July 23, 2016. They will camp near the trail each night and have their horses in corrals or high lining them. No hotels for these women! They have a support team of friends who have volunteered to take on various tasks such as pre-riding parts of the trail to identify obstacles, clear brush and downed trees, drive the rigs from campsite to campsite, bring dinners in the evening, meet with water for the horses where the trail crosses roads if it is very hot, and help in any other ways needed.
What an amazing journey this will be! These women will be riding across the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. The views will be spectacular, not to mention the wildlife and wildflowers. It will not be easy, but they all share a common thread, a sense of humor and a sense of purpose.
California State Parks, National Parks Service and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy are all strong supporters of this ride and have made every effort to ensure that all goes well. There are 2 non-profit organizations also supporting the ride: Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council (SMMTC and Recreation & Equestrian Coalition (REC Park Watch Report (PWR is a website and phone app for State Parks that is used to improve trails and address safety issues by engaging the public; they are also supporting the ride.