The mountains (and canyons and beaches) are calling and you must go. And when you go, you should hike like locals do. Slip into your best athleisure, grab a fancy coffee or stupid expensive cold-pressed juice, pick a place to go after for brunch or reward donuts, hit one of LA County’s best trails, take lots of selfies to prove you were there and, if it happens to be winter, remark loudly at least once about how they can’t do this in New York right now. We've chosen the 12 best hikes to take in the area from leisurely walks to intense climbs.
Situated at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena, it’s a 190-acre nature preserve with a visitor’s center with live animals, equestrian trails, a seasonal stream and mountain biking. But the real reason both parking lots are almost always full is the 40-foot waterfall at the end of a 2-mile, one way jaunt that has a 375-foot elevation change, some scrambling over boulders and a potential creek-crossing (depends on recent rainfall). Spring brings wildflowers. Otherwise it’s mostly oaks, sages, buckwheat and prickly pear cactuses. The chance to cool off in the misty natural pool makes this spot particularly busy when temperatures spike.
This 1.5-mile Hollywood Hills route off Fuller Avenue is the ultimate see-and-be-seen exercise experience, especially during the after-work rush. It isn’t uncommon to see celebrities sweating it out alongside trainers and clients, yoga enthusiasts and agents on phones on the rugged outer loop. The top provides a great view of the LA basin and occasionally the sea. It’s near a dog park and allows off-leash roaming so expect lots of pups and their walkers. Not all of them are diligent about picking up poop so stay frosty. Lather up with sunscreen as the trail's exposed and bring a padlock to add to the growing collection.
To call this mostly shade-less 6.4-mile journey with 1,050 feet of elevation change challenging is an understatement. But the payoff for traipsing around Griffith Park, navigating fire roads and heading up the 1,700-foot Mount Lee is worth the workout as it summits directly behind the iconic letters of the Hollywood Sign and looks out at mountain ridges, mansions and the sprawling city below. Want the same photo op with a little less exertion and a shorter time commitment? Take the Innsdale Trail. Seeking solitude and don’t mind a climb? Try the less populated but steep 3-miler on Cahuenga Peak via the Burbank Peak and Aileen Getty Ridge trails.
Set on 605 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains between Beverly Hills and Sherman Oaks, this park’s beginnings can be traced back to 1914 when William Mulholland (as in the drive) built a reservoir. Saved from development in the ‘70s, it became a pleasant and easy place to ramble thanks to more than 5 miles of trails through woodlands and chaparral. The most demanding is the 2.3-mile Hastain, Kids and birders will appreciate the lake and duck pond. Fun facts: The lake was the fishing hole from the opening credits of "The Andy Griffith Show" and the titular black lagoon where the movie's Creature lived. It’s also where the cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s "Sound Of Silence" was taken.
Prepare to be wowed. Located off the Antelope Valley Freeway about an hour from downtown LA in Agua Dulce, striated and towering rock formations created by millions of years of seismic activity and erosion jut from the earth. Although some rise 150 feet in the air, the incline is mostly gentle so even youngsters can climb up and down the trails that blanket Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. It’s a former hideout of outlaw Tiburcio Vásquez, a significant prehistoric site for the Shoshone and Tataviam peoples and another popular filming location. Captain Kirk battled the Gorn here in "Star Trek." It also played a role in "Blazing Saddles" and "Little Miss Sunshine." The famed Pacific Crest Trail passes through here.
Smack dab in the middle of the city, this Baldwin Hills urban park is a pleasant place to spend the day with a fishing lake, barbeque pits, a Japanese garden, a variety of sports fields/courts and playgrounds. It also holds 7 miles of footpaths including the 2.2-miles Burke Roche and the 2.6-mile Ridge Trail, which unlike most trails in LA, guide hikers’ gaze toward the Hollywood Hills, the downtown skyline and the often snowy peaks far past it. Can easily be combined with a trip up the 260 taxing slab stairs at the nearby Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook.
It isn’t one of Griffith Park’s harder or longer hikes, but it is one of the coolest if you happen to nerd out over sci-fi. In less than 15 minutes, you’ll find yourself in the bowl-shaped former Brush Canyon quarry with 100-foot tall walls and scrubby vegetation. On one side is a man-made tunnel, which played the entrance to the Bat Cave in the 1960s "Batman" TV series. The unique area in the southwest section of the park has also been seen on screens in "The Searchers," "Invasion Of the Body Snatchers" and "Army of Darkness." While in the park consider also hiking to the old zoo site where retired cages provide the backdrop for silly photos.
The Palos Verdes Peninsula’s 399-acre wide open space boasts a diverse array of hikes from easy strolls to strenuous hillside schlepps. (The White Point Nature Preserve is even wheelchair and stroller friendly.) Despite being open to foot and horse traffic and providing spectacular views of the coastal bluffs, the ocean and Catalina Island, there are far fewer users in these parts than on comparable Malibu hikes. Examine tide pools in Abalone Cove, catch a sunset (and maybe a spouting whale) from Vicente Bluffs and see super blooms in the Linden H. Chandler Preserve and the Forrestal Reserve. Keep your eyes peeled for sunbathing seals and endangered El Segundo blue butterflies.
In 1936, engineers began work on a road between the San Gabriel Valley and the mountain town of Wrightwood. They built a beautiful 120-foot-high arched bridge over the San Gabriel River near Azusa. But before they could connect the byways, the great flood of ’38 washed out the southern road and the project was abandoned. But the bridge remained and now it is the pinnacle of an epic leg-busting 10-mile hike that follows and crosses the river. Bungee America might be out with some daredevils taking a leap of faith off the bridge towards the water below. Bring provisions and a wilderness permit.
Opting outside to see something architecturally significant might feel antithetical yet that’s a huge part of why people are motivated to select this particular Malibu hike. The 2.6-mile family-friendly, easy (guaranteed you will see someone in flip-flops!) and often shaded canyon path ends at the well-preserved ruins of the Tropical Terrace House. It was built in 1952 by renowned architect Paul Revere Williams, the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects and the designer behind the LAX Theme Building. En route hikers will also see the ruins of the Keller House, a stone hunting cabin that is more than 100 years old, and a multi-tiered waterfall. Tack on the Rising Sun Trail to gain more altitude and add extra distance.
Nestled into a tranquil Hollywood Hills residential neighborhood, a mostly flat 3.5-mile paved loop encircles Lake Hollywood, which technically speaking isn’t a lake at all. It’s two man-made reservoirs. But the lush coastline zigs and zags regularly and attracts enough birds, raccoons and bobcats that it seems natural. A chain-link fence between the road and the water puts a slight damper on the majesty, but it’s worth enduring to get to where the barrier ends — the gorgeous Art Deco Mulholland Dam. Linger here and enjoy looking across the serene blue water, past patches of green trees and up to the Hollywood Sign and the Mount Lee radio towers.
Beginners beware! Mount San Antonio, better known to Angelenos as Mount Baldy because of its bowl’s treeless face, is the highest point in LA County and the third highest peak in Southern California. To get to the top, you’ll have to face 11 punishing miles with minimal coverage from the sun, no bathroom facilities, thinning air and almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s even more dangerous when the wind kicks up or snow is present. However, this hike is a rite of passage for the serious and if you are experienced enough to handle all of that, you will be rewarded with fresh air, potential animal sightings and stunning panoramas. On a perfect visibility day, adventurers claim they can see from the Pacific Ocean across the wavy ridges of the San Gabriel range and out to the Mojave Desert. Start early, park at Manker Flats and secure a National Forest Adventure Pass