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The Santa Monica Mountains' 67-Mile 'Backbone' Trail Is Finally Complete

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It's taken decades for the National Park Service (NPS) to purchase the land needed to build an uninterrupted hiking experience through Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. However, it's now possible for Southern Californians to hike 67 complete mountainous miles across the range on the Backbone Trail, according to the L.A. Times.

Running across the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, the Backbone Trail is a wilderness thru-trail, akin to the Pacific Crest Trail, that starts inside of the Los Angeles' city limits. While most of the trail has been completed for years, three pieces of privately owned land kept the trail from being truly complete.

Those three pieces of land are now owned by the NPS. A 40-acre property in Zuma Canyon was donated to the Park Service by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Park Service will also be closing escrow a pair of properties close to a fire road known as Etz Meloy Motorway, according to the Ventura County Star.

A few years ago, the trail was interrupted by closed and locked gates on the then yet-to-be acquired land, according to the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association. A mere 1.4 miles of the trail was inaccessible, forcing hikers and mountain bikers were forced to turn back, or find a detour around the blocked-off area. Supposedly the owners didn't like the apparently raucous behavior of trail-goers in the area.

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The closures prompted the NPS to restart their efforts to acquire all the land the trail passes through. The new acquisitions mean the trail cannot be shut down.

"Its completion is a testament to the strength of our shared values, the power of idealism, and so many determined people—quite literally—on their hands and knees with spades in hand navigating the twists and turns of topography, land acquisition, and political will," explained Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, to the Ventura County Star.

Because the trail was only just fully completed, camping infrastructure along the route isn't as developed as it is on similar trails.

"We want to create a small number of backcountry campsites for use with permits. Right now, we as the National Park Service only operate one camping spot in those mountains," LAist legend and NPS Communications Fellow Zach Behrens told LAist. "It's our goal to start making thru-hiking a reality for more people."

If you are interested in hiking the trail, as this writer is, you can learn more about the process at the National Park Service website. You certainly don't have to hike the whole thing, however. The trail can serve as a facilitator for a number of great day-trips into the undeveloped wilderness less than an hour's drive outside of our congested, concrete city. There is a lot of infrastructure along the trail that encourages single day in-and-out hikes. As the map above highlights, parking is bountiful along several spots along the trail.

Happy trails!

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