If you’ve ever been to Southern California, then you know just how diverse its landscapes truly are. You can see the oceans, mountains, and the desert all in one day if you really wanted to. In each SoCal county, you’ll find various hiking trails and majestic views, but there are a few hikes that rank highest on the scale. Whether you’re a Southern California native or you’re a tourist looking for adventure, keep reading for the best hikes in Southern California.
Temescal Canyon (Santa Monica Mountains)
If you’re in the mood for a good workout and gorgeous ocean views, Temescal Canyon trail is the spot for you. The loop runs about 2.6 miles from start to finish, so you can easily get the full hike done in a couple of hours. However, the way up the loop is decently steep, so your legs will certainly feel it the next day. The marine layer over the ocean can be dense early in the morning, so it’s a good idea to wait until late morning or afternoon if you want to take in the full effect of the picturesque lookouts.
Devil’s Punchbowl (Angeles National Forest)
Just two hours outside of L.A. lies a 300-feet deep chasm in the desert complete with massive rock formations, colorful brush, and wildlife critters at your feet, such as squirrels and rabbits and an abundance of lizards dashing across the trial. Devil’s Punchbowl is near Pearblossom, California, (off the Pearblossom Highway) at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. It lies on the San Andreas Fault and the Punchbowl Fault, somewhere you definitely wouldn't want to be during an earthquake. While the Devil’s Punchbowl is surrounded by immense geological features, the trail itself is only about one mile long and easy enough for leisurely hikers and children to do. The path is generally clear and easy to follow, but you’ll have your share of climbing over large boulders and sifting through branches as well.
Runyon Canyon (Hollywood)
If you’re looking for the classic Hollywood tourism experience, head over to Runyon Canyon. There are multiple lookouts along the trail where you’ll get a panoramic view of the entire city of L.A., including a clear view of the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory. The path flows into the Hollywood Hills, so you’ll also get a peek into the luxurious houses and backyards of the rich and famous. You might even recognize a celebrity or two while on your hike. The full Runyon Canyon loop is about 2.7 miles, but you also have the option to cut this in half by taking a paved road that cuts into the trail if you’re short on time or just looking for more of a leisurely afternoon stroll.
Mount Baden Powell (San Gabriels Mountains)
Mount Baden Powell is an 8.9-mile up-and-back trail that’s heavily trafficked in spring and summer. This hike requires endurance, as it can take about five hours for adequate hikers to complete the trail from start to finish. The work is definitely worth it once you reach the top, though, where you’ll find a majestic American flag waving on the mountain’s peak and a sign-in book full of signatures from past climbers—make sure to pack a pen so you can fill it out too!
Potato Chip Rock (San Diego)
The famous Potato Chip Rock, which is named for its resemblance to a—you guessed it—potato chip, is located at the summit of the Mount Woodson trail near San Diego. The trail stretches 7.6 miles long, and it is generally a heavily trafficked area. The trail starts at Lake Poway, so you’ll see some scenic water views on your way up. The trail is fairly challenging, so it’s ideal for a tough workout or if you’re training for longer climbs and hikes.
Bridge to Nowhere (San Gabriels Mountains)
The Bridge to Nowhere is the perfect hike for native Angelenos and L.A. tourists who crave an adventurous outing. This nearly 10-mile round trip hike leads you to an abandoned bridge, which was built in 1936, that stretches across the San Gabriel River. While the trail is quite long, the elevation climb is only about 900 feet. As you walk along the trail, you’ll come across opportunities to hop in the river, and during the wet months, you may have to walk through the water in order to continue on the trail. Therefore, it’s a good idea to wear clothes you don’t mind getting a little dirty. Once you make your way through the water and terrain, you’ll be led to the bridge, which is a majestic concrete structure in the midst of greenery and boulders. You’ll need to carve out about six hours to complete the 9.7-mile trail from start to finish.
Ryan Mountain Trail (Joshua Tree National Park)
It wouldn’t be an article about the best hikes in Southern California without including one in Joshua Tree National Park. The highly visited desert destination is filled with walking trails and hikes throughout the area, but the Ryan Mountain Trail is among the most popular. The up-and-back trail is 3 miles long and moderately difficult. Being in the middle of the desert, it’s a good idea to hike this trail to catch the sunrise or sunset to avoid the heat. Plus, the panoramic landscape view at the top of the trail makes for a stunning sunrise or sunset moment.
Escondido Falls (Malibu)
Just off the pacific coast highway near Malibu is the trail to Escondido Falls in the Santa Monica Mountains. As if the scenic ocean drive to get there wasn’t already beautiful enough, the 3.7-mile, moderately easy round trip trail takes you to multi-tiered waterfalls that reach up to about 150 feet tall. The best part? You can climb up to the rocky areas covered in moss behind the falling water for a different perspective of the area (if you don’t mind getting wet, that is).
Torrey Pines Hike (La Jolla)
While Torrey Pines hiking trail, which is located within the Torrey Pines State Reserve in La Jolla, is very easy and the elevation climb is only about 500 feet, the cliffside oceanic views make this destination worth it. The total duration of the hike will take you about two hours, and it’s a great spot for bringing your children and dogs along. If you’re someone who fawns over a good sunset, then the best time to do this trail is the evening so you can catch the sun going down over the horizon.