The Urban Hiker: 6 Hikes in Los Angeles County that Changed Me

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for six years and for a good chunk of those years, I kept arguing that LA county didn’t have any “real” hikes. I believed that a “real” hike meant a hike deep in the mountains, surrounded by nature, with no civilization in sight. I thought that it meant a hike that required proper boots and not just flip flops or flats like so many people wear on the trails near the city. I thought that it meant no beauty existed in the hikes in, and near, Los Angeles.

Boy was I wrong.

I’m thankful for the friends that got me outside of the house and into the city’s nature because it was those trails they took me on that made me understand just how incredible this city is. The mountains where here first, and the city built around them. Highways bisect mountain ranges, other roads curve through the hillside, and no matter where you are, you’re only a few miles away from the nearest mountain.

So this is my love letter to the hikes in LA county that changed my (very wrong) mindset about the city’s nature. Maybe it will inspire others to see this area as more than just a city.

Hiking 101:

Most, if not all, trail information can be found online. Websites such as AllTrails, Modern Hiker, and The Outbound are good places to start for directions to the trailhead, pictures of the hike along the way, and the hike’s difficulty rating (Easy, Moderate, or Hard). If the trail is “out and back” you take the same route both ways. If the trail is a “loop” then it’s genuinely a loop. When looking at distance, pay attention to if that distance is one way or roundtrip. Google Maps displays the trails on their road maps, whereas Apple Maps and Waze don’t. Always pay attention to signs when parking and if it’s a designated park, there may be park hours you should be aware of. On the trail, look for mile markers and signs to guide your way.

Hikes I Love:

Disclaimer: All trail ratings, distance, elevation and route type were taken from AllTrails. All trailhead directions were taken from Google Maps. 

(1) SANDSTONE PEAK via MISHE MOKWA TRAIL

Rating: Moderate
Distance: 5.6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1368 feet
Route Type: Loop
Mountain Range: Santa Monica Mountains
Nearest Neighborhood: Malibu

What to Type In Google Maps for Parking:
Sandstone Peak Trailhead Parking
12860-, 12896 Yerba Buena Rd, Malibu, CA 90265

Why I Love It:
This hike kicked my ass. I was so exhausted by the time we got to the top. But standing there, knowing you worked your ass off and seeing views of the ocean and mountain ranges that look so green and fresh, is worth it. A million times over.

 

There are two ways to get to the top of Sandstone Peak: via the Sandstone Peak trail or the Mishe Mokwa Trail. The latter is a longer route but the steepness is more gradual. Taking the Mishe Mokwa Trail also allows you to take a quick detour to the Tri-Peaks if you desire.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 1.44.43 PM

(2) COLDWATER CAYON PARK / WILACE PARK via BETTY B DEARING TRAIL

Rating: Easy
Distance: 2-3 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 475 feet
Route Type: Loop / Out and Back
Mountain Range: Santa Monica Mountains
Nearest Neighborhood Studio City

What to Type In Google Maps for Parking:
If starting from the Coldwater Canyon side:
TreePeople’s Parking Grove
12601 Mulholland Dr, Los Angeles, CA 91604

If starting from the Wilacre Park side:
3443-3493 Laurel Canyon Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91604

Why I Love It:
There’s no set destination to this area. You just walk until you feel like it and turn around. There are a lot of great views of the San Fernando Valley, perfect for both sunrise and sunset.

IMG_2085 2

The Betty B Dearing trail connects Coldwater Canyon Park, Wilacre Park, and Fryman Canyon Park. You can drive to any of the three and just walk until you feel like turning back. The trail was closed for a bit this past winter but is now OPEN. The section of Coldwater Canyon that is connected to the other two parks is managed by TreePeople, an environmental non-profit organization. It’s kind of confusing where one park stops and another starts, but I found this map helpful:

ParksMap

In terms of the section of the trail that I like most, here is what it looks like on Google Maps:

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 1.55.18 PM

(3) MOUNT HOLLYWOOD TRAIL via GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY

Rating: Easy to Moderate
Distance: 4.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 650-700 feet
Route Type: Out and Back
Mountain Range: Santa Monica Mountains
Nearest Neighborhood: Los Feliz

What to Type In Google Maps for Parking:
If coming from West of Griffith Observatory:
The Trails Cafe (useful marker for parking but also a great place to eat afterwards!)
2333 Fern Dell Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90068

If coming from East of Griffith Observatory:
The Roosevelt Cafe (trailhead and parking is across the street on Vista Del Valle Dr)
2650 N Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Why I Love It:
Steep yet relatively on the beginner side of things which makes for a great workout for anyone. You feel a sense of accomplishment hiking to (and beyond) Griffith Observatory rather than just taking the shuttle/car up (or at least I do). And who can beat views like this?!

 

There are a variety of ways to get to the top of Mount Hollywood, as well as a variety of options to make the hike a loop. But I really enjoy coming from the Boy Scout Trail on the East (accessible by parking near The Roosevelt Cafe, .6 miles to Griffith Observatory):

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 7.00.14 PM

Or hiking from the West on the West and East Griffith Observatory Trails (accessible near The Trail Cafe, 0.7-1 miles to Griffith Observatory):

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 6.59.43 PM

The Boy Scout Trail has less crowds. The hike to Griffith Observatory is 0.6 miles one-way. From the Observatory, go across the parking lot to the actual Mount Hollywood Trail which is about 1.5 miles one way. From there, there are a few paths up to the top that vary in steepness.

 

No matter where you go in Griffith Park, you will find great views and a rewarding workout. Most of the trails connect, giving you the flexibility to do shorter and longer hikes.

 

(4) RUNYON CANYON

Rating: Easy to Moderate
Distance: 2.4 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 741 feet
Route Type: Loop
Mountain Range: Santa Monica Mountains
Nearest Neighborhood: West Hollywood

What to Type In Google Maps for Parking:
Two options which both connect:
1852 N Vista St, Los Angeles, CA 90046 (park along Vista St, trailhead is accessible off of Runyon Canyon Rd)
1865 N Fuller Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046 (trailhead is accessible at the end of Fuller Ave)

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 3.20.45 PM

Why I Love It:
This trail offers great views of the city and the Hollywood sign. It is steep at some parts, and gradually sloped at other parts which allows you to get a good workout without feeling like your legs are dying the whole way up. There are a lot of different routes up and not a designated “peak” but I like to consider “Clouds Rest” the peak.

 

(5) ECHO MOUNTAIN via SAM MERRILL TRAIL

Rating: Moderate
Distance: 5.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1338 feet
Route Type: Out and Back
Mountain Range: San Gabriel Mountains
Nearest Neighborhood: Pasadena

What to Type In Google Maps for Parking:
3302 Lake Ave, Altadena, CA 91001 or search “Sam Merrill Trailhead”

Why I Love It:
The trail is skinny and there are a lot of switch backs which makes the hike pretty thrilling. At the top, there is a nice view of the Pasadena area and the surrounding Angeles National Forest. There’s a cool megaphone structure at the top where you can yell into and hear your voice echo off the mountain sides. To get there, start up the Sam Merrill Trail. When it connects with the Mt Lowe Railway Trail, turn right onto that trail and continue until you reach the top. In Google Maps, the top is called “Hill Top Echo Mountain.”

(6) STURTEVANT FALLS

Rating: Easy to Moderate
Distance: 3 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 646 feet
Route Type: Out and Back
Mountain Range: San Gabriel Mountains
Nearest Neighborhood: Arcadia

What to Type In Google Maps for Parking:
Sturtevant Falls Hiking Trailhead
Forest Rte 2N40, Arcadia, CA 91006

Why I Love It:
The trail crosses over a river a couple of times and it’s fun to figure out how to get across. There is a lot of shade and a cool, tall waterfall at the end (though at times just a small trickle). To get there, walk down Santa Anita Canyon Ave and then take the Gabrieleno Trail.

Hikes I Want To Do:

Escondido Falls Trail

Culver City Steps aka Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

Parker Mesa Overlook

As a bonus, try hiking to the Hollywood sign because when in LA, why not?

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