Hiking in Los Angeles: L.A.'s Best Trails

Hiking in Griffith Park | Photo courtesy of Renee Silverman, Flickr

Getting acquainted with the numerous hiking trails in Los Angeles is the perfect way to discover why L.A. is the ideal place to get outside. Most of the hikes listed here are easy to moderate, so it’s not necessary to be an experienced hiker to enjoy them. However, it’s always wise to keep a few things in mind when you’re planning an excursion. Wear sturdy hiking shoes, carry plenty of drinking water, use sunscreen and wear sunglasses. Take along a camera, make sure you stay on the trails and have fun.

Heart-of-Hollywood Hike

Runyon Canyon at sunset | Photo courtesy of artem.aleksenko, Flickr
  • Trail: Runyon Canyon Loop
  • Distance: About 3 miles round-trip
  • Special Feature: The views at Cloud’s Rest, the off-leash policy for dogs and the occasional celebrity sighting
  • Getting There: From Hollywood Blvd., head north on Fuller Ave. Park at the end of Fuller and enter the well-marked park. Take the trail to the right and complete the loop counterclockwise.

By no means is this hike a wilderness experience, so if you’re looking for solitude, you might want to try other trails. On the other hand, this is a great hike for people-watching, and it gives beginning hikers a chance to check out the Hollywood Hills and the amazing views at the trail summit, known as Cloud’s Rest. Whether you’re wearing the latest hiking gear or just sneakers and sun hats, this is a fun hike highlighted by million dollar mansions and priceless views of the Hollywood Sign, the Sunset Strip and the L.A. Basin.

Griffith Park Trails

Bronson Cave | Photo courtesy of Shawn Park, Flickr
  • Trail: Bronson Canyon
  • Distance: Less than a mile roundtrip
  • Special Feature: “To the Batcave!”
  • Getting There: From Franklin Ave. in Hollywood, go north on Canyon Dr. until the road ends, at the "Camp Hollywoodland" parking lot. Cross the small, red concrete bridge on the right (east) side of the road. Walk around the vehicle barrier, keep left and follow the unpaved road for the short walk into Bronson Canyon.

Located in the southwest section of Griffith Park and easily accessible from Hollywood, Bronson Canyon has been a popular location for generations of filmmakers who make use of its remote-looking, somewhat alien setting. Bronson Canyon has been featured in classics like The Searchers and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as well as more recent films like Star Trek VI and Army of Darkness. “Bronson Cave” is actually a 50-foot long tunnel, the remnants of a quarry that was founded in 1903 and originally called Brush Canyon. The tunnel entrance is best known as the mouth of the Batcave from the 1960s Batman TV series.

 

  • Trail: Griffith Observatory West Trail Loop
  • Distance: About 2.5 miles
  • Special Feature: Views of Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood sign and the LA Basin
  • Getting There: The hike starts at the Fern Dell picnic area near Los Feliz Blvd. You can pick up the trail near the creek past the restrooms. Stay to the right and head uphill toward the Griffith Observatory. You’ll be able to stop and enjoy views of the city along the way. As the path flattens out, you’ll see a trail to the right leading up to the observatory. On the way back, stay right all the way down the hill. The trail will curve around a bit and then take you back to the Fern Dell picnic area.

 

  • Trail: Brush Canyon Trail
  • Distance: About 2 miles
  • Special Feature: Peace and quiet, as well as spectacular views near Mount Hollywood Dr.
  • Getting There: You can park in the lot on Canyon Dr., located just past Bronson Park. From there, head uphill past the gate and pick up the trail on the fire road heading toward the Pacific Electric quarry. You’ll pass a park and a picnic area and then climb out of the canyon. After about 3/4 of a mile, the trail intersects with the Mulholland Trail. Follow the trail to the right and continue another 1/4 mile to Mount Hollywood Dr. To get back, follow the same route, taking a left at the Mulholland Trail junction.

Franklin Canyon Park

Franklin Lake | Photo courtesy of Ken Shelton, Flickr
  • Trail: Discovery Trail
  • Distance: About 1 mile round-trip
  • Special Feature: Franklin Canyon Lake and the Sooky Goldman Nature Center
  • Getting There: From West Los Angeles, head north on Beverly Drive, following signs to Coldwater Canyon. Turn left on Coldwater/Beverly Dr., and turn left again on Beverly Dr., at Fire Station No. 2. The third right is Franklin Canyon Dr. Continue through the residential area to the park entrance. At the intersection of Franklin Canyon Dr. and Lake Dr. turn right to go to Franklin Canyon Ranch site, or turn left to go to the Sooky Goldman Nature Center and Franklin Canyon Lake.

Located near Benedict Canyon at the geographical center of Los Angeles, Franklin Canyon Park spans 605 acres and features over five miles of hiking trails. The park’s history dates to 1914, when William Mulholland built the Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir. In the 1930s, the family of oil baron Edward Doheny used the canyon as a summer retreat. The easy stroll around the reservoir offers plentiful views of birds and wildlife, as well as access to other, more difficult trails such as the Hastain Trail, which rises to offer views from West LA to the Pacific.

Pop culture fans will likely recognize Franklin Canyon Park, which is frequently used as a TV and film location, including the famous hitchhiking scene from It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. The 3-acre Franklin Lake was the “fishing hole” in the opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show, as well as the lagoon in the Universal Studios horror classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. The park was also the background for the cover photo of Simon & Garfunkel’s album Sounds of Silence.

Wilacre Park

Studio City, viewed from TreePeople | Photo courtesy Kristen Neveu, Flickr
  • Trail: Betty B. Dearing Trail
  • Distance: About 2.5 miles round-trip
  • Special Feature: Panoramic views of the San Fernando Valley, TreePeople, “Rainforest”
  • Getting There: From Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, take Laurel Canyon Blvd. about a mile south to Fryman Road. Make a right and you’ll see the large parking lot, which features restrooms, water fountains and picnic area.

Because its parking lot entrance is located on Fryman Road, the 128-acre Wilacre Park is often mistakenly referred to as Fryman Canyon Park. In fact, this hike can take you through three parks: Wilacre, Fryman Canyon and Coldwater Canyon. The well-shaded, dog-friendly Betty B. Dearing Trail starts off steep before it begins to level off after a quarter mile. One mile into your hike and you’ll be at Coldwater Canyon Park, home of TreePeople, a leading environmental nonprofit organization. The cul-de-sac at Iredell Lane leads you to the hidden Rainforest Trail within Fryman Canyon.

EATON CANYON WATERFALL HIKE

Eaton Canyon waterfall | Photo courtesy of Robert Cross, Flickr
  • Trail: Eaton Canyon Trail
  • Distance: Just under 4 miles
  • Special Feature: 40-foot waterfall, Eaton Canyon Nature Center
  • Getting There: From the 210 Freeway, head north on Altadena Drive about 1.5 miles to the park entrance. Eaton Canyon Natural Area is located at 1750 North Altadena Drive, one block north of New York Drive in Pasadena. 

Open daily from sunrise to sunset, the Eaton Canyon Natural Area is a 190-acre zoological, botanical, and geological nature preserve situated at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. In addition to hiking, visitors can enjoy equestrian trails with a staging area, picnic areas, a seasonal stream, and native flora and fauna in their natural habitats. The Eaton Canyon Nature Center features a wonderful variety of live animals on display, fascinating exhibits and useful visitor information.

From the trailhead at the north end of the parking lot, hike along the well-marked main path of the Eaton Canyon Trail to the junction marked WATERFALL. Continue to the next junction and follow the trail under the concrete bridge and into Eaton Canyon. From here, the trail is less defined and much more rugged. There’s boulder-hopping and - depending on the season and rainfall - you could be creek-crossing, so be prepared. Continue through the main canyon and you’ll arrive at a 40-foot waterfall, an especially popular destination during the summer, thanks to its cooling mist and the small pool at its base.

Will Rogers State Park Trek

photo courtesy of Petunia21, Flickr
  • Trail: Rustic Canyon Loop/Inspiration Point Trail
  • Distance: About 6 miles round-trip
  • Special Feature: Exploring what was once the private ranch of a Hollywood star
  • Getting There: Head to Will Rogers State Park in Santa Monica. The main road to the park is just off Sunset Blvd. about a half mile east of Chataqua Blvd. You can park the car near the visitor’s center. The hike begins just behind the main ranch house at the park, next to the sign for Inspiration Point Trail.

After about a mile, you’ll see the turnoff for Inspiration Point. It’s a quick detour and worth the effort to head up this side route for some spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, the L.A. Basin and the Santa Monica Mountains. Follow Backbone Trail to the junction with Rustic Canyon. Follow that trail back to Will Rogers Park. After the hike, stroll around the park and enjoy a picnic on the massive lawn in front of the house.

Topanga State Park Trek

photo courtesy of Rashomon, Flickr
  • Trail: Los Liones Trail to Parker Mesa Overlook
  • Distance: About 7 miles round-trip
  • Special Feature: The magnificent views at Parker Mesa Overlook
  • Getting There: The hike begins in Pacific Palisades at the end of Los Liones Drive, just north of Sunset BLvd. Leave the car in the parking lot at the end of the street. From there, follow the trail up to East Topanga Fire Rd. and follow that to the turnoff for the Parker Mesa Overlook.

Switchbacks and steep hill climbs characterize the first two miles of this hike. With an elevation gain of about 1,300 feet, it's definitely a tougher climb. But you can find your reward as you gaze out from a vantage point atop the bluff. Enjoy a picnic lunch or relax on a bench while taking in the overlook.

Solstice Canyon Hike

Rising Sun Trail | Photo by Daniel Djang
  • Trail: Solstice Canyon / Rising Sun Trail
  • Distance: About 3 miles round-trip
  • Special Feature: Tropical Terrace and gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean
  • Getting There: From Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Central Malibu, take Solstice Canyon Rd. to the entrance, located at Corral Canyon Rd.

Solstice Canyon is an easy hike along a shaded trail that is partially paved before it gives way to a fire road. A babbling brook is the soundtrack as the trail leads you to Tropical Terrace and the foundations of a house designed by renowned architect Paul Williams, who also designed homes for Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball, as well as the Theme Building at LAX. For space and science geeks, Solstice Canyon is a must-see; it was one of only three sites in the world where TRW tested satellite equipment for space missions. Depending on the time of year, a waterfall cascades into a pool in the rocks behind the former home. Do some exploring and you’ll find a statue of the Virgin Mary in a nearby grotto. You can take Solstice Canyon back, or work up a sweat on the switchbacks that take you to the Rising Sun Trail at the top of the hills. Panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean are your reward for the huffing and puffing. Unlike the cooler Solstice Canyon path, the aptly named Rising Sun Trail has zero shade, so plan accordingly.

Escondido Canyon Waterfall Trek

Photo courtesy of kagee219, Flickr
  • Trail: Escondido Canyon and Falls
  • Distance: 4.2 miles round-trip
  • Special Feature: The waterfall at the end of the trail
  • Getting There: Head northwest on PCH from Santa Monica for about 17 miles. Not far from Solstice Canyon and just past Latigo Canyon Rd., you’ll see the turnoff for East Winding Way, where you can park in the well-marked lot. Follow the paved road toward the mountains. It’s a little less than a mile to the end of East Winding Way. You’ll see the entrance of Escondido Canyon Park clearly marked at the end of the pavement.

From the trailhead, it’s about a mile-long trek to the falls. The trail crosses Escondido Canyon Creek several times, so prepare to get your feet wet if you’re hiking in the rainy season. This is a gradual climb that drifts in and out of tree covering, alongside canyon walls. Soon, you’ll be standing at the base of the 50-foot-high Escondido Falls, admiring the multi-tiered cataract flowing over moss-covered rocks.

In the springtime, the waterfall is usually quite active, but the amount of water varies depending on the time of year. Scramble up the rocks to see the upper level and even more of the falls — the upper tier is about 100 feet high. Wading in the pool beneath the falls is a great way to cool off before heading back along the same route.

Vasquez Rocks Trek

Photo courtesy of Derek Cross, Flickr
  • Trail: Foot/Horse Trail, History Trail
  • Distance: About 3 miles
  • Special Feature: Otherworldly rock formations, Pacific Crest Trail
  • Getting There: From Santa Clarita in northern LA County, take the Golden State Freeway (I-5) north to the Antelope Valley Freeway (CA14) north toward Palmdale/Lancaster. Exit on Agua Dulce Canyon Rd., turn left and follow the signs to the park entrance. 

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park is a 905-acre park located in Agua Dulce, about an hour north of Downtown LA. The park’s striking, multi-colored rock formations reach heights of 150 feet and are the result of tens of millions of years of seismic activity and erosion. Vasquez Rocks takes its name from the outlaw Tiburcio Vásquez, who used the area as one of his many hideouts. A portion of the famed Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches 2,663 miles from Canada to the Mexico border, passes through Vasquez Rocks. The gentle incline and numerous trails provide plenty of options for exploring the park. The excursion is especially memorable when combined with views from atop the famous rocks. Note that there is very little shade throughout the park, so plan accordingly.

Star Trek fans will instantly recognize Vasquez Rocks from Captain Kirk’s battle with the Gorn in the Season 1 episode “Arena,” several other episodes, as well as the film series. Dozens of classic TV shows have filmed at Vasquez Rocks, including Bonanza, The Rifleman, Kung Fu, Mission: Impossible and The Twilight Zone. Vasquez Rocks was also featured in movies such as Dracula (1931), Blazing Saddles (1974) and Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Because of its significance as a prehistoric site for the Shoshone and Tataviam peoples, Vasquez Rocks was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.