There were a couple of times when I feared we wouldn't make it back by sunset, but overall we actually had a great time on this hike. The trail is a loop that took us about 3.5 hours. We parked at Will Rogers State Park off of Sunset ($12 parking fee, or park up the street for free) and grabbed a map at the guard kiosk. Then we headed to the Backbone trail.
Towards the beginning of our hike
Once you reach the sign for the Backbone trail, you will see two trails behind the sign. One trail on the left goes up a hill. The other trail on the right is the one you want to take. Look at this picture for reference:
You see that trail that goes up the hill? Don't take that one. Take the one branching off of it on the right (it's hidden by the sign in the pic).
A smogless snow-covered day in L.A.!
Keep going and about a quarter mile in, you will see an unmarked trail on the right leading down into the canyon. Take this to the river and cross it to see old buildings in various states of decay. If you go north along the river, it will take you to Camp Josepho. We didn't do this--we just went south along the river. We explored a spooky building that looked like an old barn, and a few other structures, one of which was a Nazi spy bunker.
The horse stables.. or something. The gate isn't really locked.
We also came across an awesome building completely covered in graffiti. There are some great photo opportunities here. At this point we were feeling fantastic and started talking to a couple of hikers. We asked them about the rest of the trail, and their expressions turned serious and the man glanced at my shoes. They said that they did the return trip last week and it involved lots of rock scrambling and getting your feet wet. They said that we were probably better off turning back the way we came. "Um, no way!" I thought. That would have been a tough uphill hike that would have taken 2 hours or so. We continued south along the river.
Not long into our hike, all of our feet got soaked (except Michelle's--she had fancy Gore tex boots). Dang that river's cold! Good thing we were wearing wool socks. We kept going and encountered lots of difficult stream crossings. Toward the end we did a little bit of rock scrambling as the canyon walls narrowed. It was definitely a hike to do in hiking shoes---don't do this in regular running shoes!
We hardly saw any people along the entire way. One couple we came across were trying to pick off lots of ticks from the guy's shirt. Another couple decided to turn back after asking us how many stream crossings there were ahead.
Never have I been so happy to see a trail marker.
As the canyon narrows, you will find a trail marker for Will Rogers on the right. Take this trail up all the way back to the parking lot.
This was probably the most difficult L.A. hike I have been on. In Mike's guide book it's listed as moderately strenuous. We had a lot of fun, but I have to admit that there were times when we were wondering whether we were still on the trail. I think that it would be best to hike this when the river is low (i.e. not two days after a storm like we did!).
Scroll down for a whole lot of pictures.
Yes, I'm stalking this house. This is the closest I've come to it. Watch out!
Mike and Michelle
Brad's tired already... little does he know what's coming next..
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