The Guide to Biking in Griffith Park

Picnic near Crystal Springs Drive in Griffith Park
Picnic near Crystal Springs Drive in Griffith Park | Photo by Tuan Lee

Griffith Park is one of the most beloved public spaces in Los Angeles. It is vast, beautiful and in many places undeniably wild. It is home to the world-famous Griffith Observatory (one of L.A.’s best free-to-the-public attractions), 70+ miles of hiking trails, several mountain peaks, three golf courses, at least one mountain lion and the Greek Theatre. The hiking trails are better than the best you could reasonably hope for in the heart of such a massive metropolis, crisscrossing the park to create seemingly limitless possibilities for adventures.

But it is on a bicycle that the entire park really opens up for exploration. By bike you can see and do more in Griffith Park than by car or foot. Most of the routes described are on roads with bike lanes or are closed to traffic, but there are many other roads that could potentially be explored. In my opinion, this makes the park one of the best places to cycle in Los Angeles.

If you are willing to climb some hills and break a sweat you can ride from East Hollywood/Los Feliz to Burbank/Glendale by climbing up and over Griffith Park, taking full advantage of the southern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. Or if you want a more relaxing ride you can cruise the various perimeter bike paths that connect with the Los Angeles River Bike Path and Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

This guide outlines rides in Griffith Park for every skill level. More advanced riders will relish the challenge and fun of climbing over the mountains and casual riders will love the ease in which the lower meadows of the park can be explored.

All of the rides described in this guide may be combined into a big 13-15 mile loop or may be taken individually.

A NOTE OF CAUTION: Road conditions vary on the routes described. Some parts are better maintained than others. On routes that include Mount Hollywood Drive potholes, gravel and rough road are frequent. Use caution and wear a helmet.

OVER THE HILL - NORTH TO SOUTH

Griffith Park Over the Hill bike ride
Photo by Joshua Johnson
  • Difficulty: Medium / Hard
  • Length: 6.4 miles one way
  • Elevation gain: 896 ft.
  • Ride Type: There and Back
  • Special Considerations: Rough roads + potholes, steep downhill grade

Regardless of whether you’re approaching this route from the north or south, get ready to climb and then coast. Half of this ride is steadily climbing the closed-to-traffic Mt. Hollywood Drive to a pass that divides East Hollywood and Burbank. But the work and nearly 900 feet of elevation (probably under the hot sun) is rewarded with panoramic views of L.A. and a close encounter with beautiful California chaparral mountain wild space. For the sake of this guide we will be describing the ride from south to north, starting in Los Feliz.

There is plenty of parking near the entrance of the park where people can usually be found picnicking and hanging out on the grass. The road gradually climbs past The Trails Cafe, the Fern Dell natural springs, a collection of bbq grills and many of the popular hiking trails that lead to Griffith Observatory.

Ride past the parking lots and trailheads and you’ll start to see sharp corners and a steady rise in the steepness of the road. The only traffic you’ll encounter at this point are visitors on their way to the Observatory. Speaking of, you’ll get some pretty great views of the iconic building from across the canyon.

As you approach the road that leads to the Observatory, you’ll undoubtedly notice an increase in traffic and there may even be traffic attendants directing vehicles. At the "T" keep left and then left. Don’t go through the tunnel. Keep left and ride through the series of gates intended to keep traffic off of Mount Hollywood Drive. Breathe a sigh of relief as you are now officially on a road officially closed to traffic save for park vehicles. As you continue to climb you’ll see visitors walking the trails to the summit of Mount Hollywood, one of the highest points in Griffith Park.

After a short climb the road will flatten and turn sharply. This is also a great view of the Hollywood Sign. Go ahead and take a photo, you know you want to. Continue on and soon Three-Mile Trail will connect to the road. Three-Mile Trail quickly accesses Mount Hollywood and Dante’s View if you care to take a side jaunt without your bike.

The next wide dirt path you’ll see on your left is used frequently by hikers and equestrians (though officially closed to cyclists). It will descend to the left just before you get to a "Y" in the paved road. This wide dirt path is the very end of the Old Mulholland Highway and eventually leads to the Hollywood Sign. This is a great hike if you can make time. Keep straight on the paved road and when you approach the "Y" where the paths diverge and begin to descend keep left. The next route in this guide, MOUNT HOLLYWOOD LOOP will describe the road on the right, but for now go left.

The road gets rougher on the way down. There are potholes, rough gravel, sharp turns and patches of washout. Down this rough, twisty road you’ll coast with two hands on the brakes. There are several wonderful places to stop and take in huge views of Burbank and North Hollywood. This descent is a well deserved reward and my favorite portion of this ride.

Keep twisting downhill towards Travel Town and Forest Lawn Memorial Park (a big, beautiful cemetery) until you see a water tank that reads ‘Travel Town’. Shortly after there is a gate that bars cars that and Mt. Hollywood Drive meet Griffith Park Drive. You may either go left towards the Travel Town Railroad Museum or right towards Wilson and Harding Golf Course.

At this point it is easy to connect to either of the PERIMETER rides describes below. You may complete the loop by riding to Los Feliz Boulevard and riding uphill/west to the Fern Dell Drive Entrance of Griffith Park, where this route began.

MOUNT HOLLYWOOD LOOP

View of Silver Lake and surrounding neighborhoods from Mount Hollywood
View of Silver Lake and surrounding neighborhoods from Mount Hollywood | Photo courtesy of Kansas Sebastian, Flickr
  • Difficulty: Easy / Medium
  • Length: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 614 ft.
  • Ride Type: Loop
  • Special Considerations: Some rough road and potholes

Starting and ending on N Vermont Canyon Road in front of the Greek Theatre and the Roosevelt Municipal Golf Course this loop circumnavigates the flanks of Mount Hollywood. There is plenty of parking around The Greek - unless there is a show, then there is none. Check the schedule during the busy summer season. The route can be approached from either direction. Either way there is plenty of steady climbing rewarded with long stretches of downhill or gentle coasting. Most of this route is closed to traffic though you may see the occasional park utility truck or ranger vehicle.

Starting near the Greek Theatre/Roosevelt Municipal Golf Course ride up N. Vermont Canyon Road into the park. After a few turns and a little climbing you’ll ride through a short tunnel. It’s fun! Keep to the right and ride through the series of gates that keep cars from accessing Mt. Hollywood Drive. This maintenance road is open only to infrequent shuttles (during the summer, on the weekends) and official vehicles. The rest of the traffic is cyclists, hikers, dog walkers, coyotes and equestrians. Climb the hill and sweat and enjoy the smell of wild sage. The views of Hollywood and the southern wilds of Griffith Park are incredible, especially at sunset.

This section of the ride is detailed in the OVER THE HILL route described in this guide. At the top of your climb, about halfway through the ride you will come to a "Y." Go right. Instead of running downhill you’ll wrap around the side of the park, gently descending as you come back to your starting point.

This is Vista Del Valle Drive - although there are no signs telling you so. The grade shifts slightly downhill and so does the quality of the road. There is immediately more gravel and uneven surfaces so be careful and alert. The views of North Hollywood, Burbank, Glendale and Universal City are expansive. The road takes a nearly 90° turn to the right and is bisected by several trails. The uphill dirt path eventually leads to Mount Hollywood’s peak and the downhill trail to the left leads to Amir’s Garden, a hidden garden of local lore. All trails are officially off limits to bikes.

Vista Del Valle Drive hugs the sides of Mount Hollywood and the ride swoops back south. The riding is mostly level or at a easily manageable downhill grade at this point and you can focus on avoiding potholes and gravel patches.

The Griffith Park helipad signals the final stage of this loop. The helipad is one of the best views in all of L.A. - that is why you can often see a commercial or film shoot on the helipad. If you have the pad to yourself take a moment and enjoy the big flat surface and the perfect view of Downtown L.A.

After you’ve had your fill of the helipad continue the ride as it twists and turns to the end of Vista Del Valle at Commonwealth Canyon Drive and the Roosevelt Municipal Golf Course. To reach our starting point go right and ride the last half-mile to N. Vermont Canyon Avenue.

RIDE THE PERIMETER: TRAVEL TOWN TO THE MERRY-GO-ROUND

Bikes at Zoo Drive in Griffith Park
Zoo Drive in Griffith Park | Photo by Joshua Johnson
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 3.5 - 4 miles one way
  • Elevation gain: -120 ft.
  • Ride Type: There and Back
  • Special Considerations: Commuter traffic on weekdays - to avoid highway traffic, many drivers reroute through the park. However, speed limits are low and there is plenty of space for bicycles.

If you want to enjoy a flatter, easier and perhaps more relaxing ride (no hills!) then riding either the bike friendly Zoo Drive/Crystal Springs Drive or the Los Angeles River Bike Path may be a great option. This guide will move from the northern end of Zoo Drive that meets Forest lawn Drive at the Travel Town Railroad and we will move south to the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round. You can ride this route going either direction, there is plenty of parking at either end.

Start at the Travel Town Railroad Museum, where you can take a few minutes to check out the historic trains on display at Travel Town. It’s free and really cool. When you’re done Instagramming selfies with locomotives, ride east on Zoo Drive. The shoulder is wide and traffic tends to be on the slow side. Soon you’ll pass the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad - a museum and miniature railroad (the Ghost Train in October is very popular!) and a half-mile after that you’ll come to a three-way stop at Riverside Drive.

At Riverside Drive you have a choice.

Biking on Crystal Springs Drive in Griffith Park
Biking on Crystal Springs Drive in Griffith Park | Photo by Joshua Johnson

STRAIGHT on bike friendly ZOO DRIVE 
Continuing straight on Zoo Drive takes you past the grassy meadows, trees and picnic areas that line the southern outskirts of Griffith Park. There may increased traffic during weekday commute hours on this stretch due to drivers attempting to avoid highway traffic.

The road soon finds the L.A. Zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West and their respective parking lots, after which the road is now called Crystal Springs Drive. The road now runs directly through the Wilson and Harding Golf Course so be on the look out for golf carts crossing your path! There are wide shoulders and a pedestrian gravel path off of the road that edges the golf course. You can turn right at the divided lane four-way stop to head up a short distance on Fire Road to the Merry-Go-Round parking lot - also good place to park if you’re starting on this end.

If you want to ride further, keep going on Crystal Springs Drive all the way to Los Feliz Boulevard where you can get on the L.A. River Bike Path and loop back towards Travel Town via Riverside Drive and then Zoo Drive.

Biking the Los Angeles River
Biking the Los Angeles River | Photo by Joshua Johnson

LEFT on the L.A. RIVER PATH
You may turn LEFT and ride the Los Angeles River Bike Path* for several miles of easy going bike and pedestrian only pavement that hugs the L.A. River.

Watch out for traffic, then take a left on Riverside Drive - you should immediately get onto the sidewalk and in a hundred feet you’ll see the entrance to the L.A. River Bike Path. The path follows the Glendale Narrows, one of the most beautiful stretches of the L.A. River, where hundreds of ducks, geese, egret, swallows and crane float, flap and fly above the tall oak, palm overgrowth and river rocks. Yes, there is also trash caught in the brambles but the river has an undeniable beauty. It’s about 3.6 miles from Riverside Drive to Los Feliz Boulevard, where you can exit the bike path if you wish and head back towards Griffith Park.

*Sections of the LA River Bike Path will be closed periodically for construction during 2016 and signs for detour routes are in place.