Hiking around Los Angeles offers miles of spectacular views of the Pacific coast from the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Gabriel mountain range in the Inland Empire, and the iconic Hollywood sign in Griffith Park. Here are some of the best LA hikes.
Article for Travelmag.com by Mollie O’Brien
Hiking is a large part of the culture of Los Angeles. There are so many places in the region to explore, offering an opportunity to appreciate the region’s scenery and escape the cloying urban sprawl, while getting closer to nature. These seven hikes have been selected to cover each region of Greater LA, from South Bay’s Ranchos Palos Verdes Peninsula, up to North County’s Malibu vineyards. Ranging from easy walks to challenging treks, each of these hikes greatly rewards the effort you’ll put in.
Hollywood Sign via Canyon Drive
Hiking to the Hollywood sign in LA’s Griffith Park is a memorable experience, and a must when visiting Los Angeles. This trek uses a combination of interconnecting trails to take hikers up behind the enormous metal letters, offering views of Greater LA and beyond. The trek is about six miles, with roughly 1,100 feet (335m) of elevation gain and will take about three hours to complete. Start at the trailhead of Brush Canyon Trail at the north end of Canyon Drive in the city of Hollywood. There’s a free parking lot here, and you’ll find a plaque at the trailhead that points you toward the Hollywood sign.
The Trail: The first 30 to 40 minutes is uphill on a wide dirt path, after which there’s a bench with a viewpoint that offers panoramas of Los Angeles. The most challenging and steepest part of the journey is now over. Then, there’s a fork in the path, with a sign that’s marked “Mulholland Trail” heading left towards the Hollywood sign. After about 20 more minutes, there’s another fork. Follow the sign that points to Tyrolian Tank along Mt. Lee Drive trail, a moderately steep but paved path. After about 20 minutes of following this trail, hikers will be up behind the famed Hollywood sign. The sign itself is fenced off for safety reasons. From this vantage point there are fantastic panoramic views of Los Angeles and beyond, particularly on clearer days.
Trailhead: 2980-3000 Canyon Dr, Los Angeles
Catalina Island’s Two Harbors Ballast Point Loop
Just off the coast of Los Angeles is the rural escape of Santa Catalina Island, which is accessible by ferry service or private boat. From the small town of Two Harbors, you can walk the Ballast Point Loop trail, a moderately challenging three-mile hike with just under 1,000 feet (305m) of elevation gain. This adventure features a steep ascent rewarded with breathtaking views overlooking the ocean, the town of Two Harbors and the string of islands below. Be sure to bring water, because there are no services along this rugged hiking trail.
The Trail: Begin hiking from the bus stop and bathrooms which are just uphill from the Two Harbors visitor center. Follow the road south past the little red schoolhouse and continue toward Catalina Harbor. Keep left on the road that crosses toward the east side of the harbor. There might be a group bison encounter, as these animals now reside on the island. The road grade is pretty flat until this point, where the road splits just before the 1-mile mark. The route turns uphill onto a small trail that begins to rapidly gain elevation. At the top of the hill, there’s a cluster of rocks and views of the ocean for miles.
From here, follow the road downhill as it turns east. Before reaching the lowest point in the dip, bear left to keep on the trail. At mile two, hikers will hit Banning House Road. Follow it downhill toward town, but look left for a bird’s-eye view of Catalina Harbor, and right for 25-mile views of Los Angeles on a clear day. Stay straight on the main road and head toward the eucalyptus along the steep descent. The downhill section of this loop follows an old dirt road with views of the island’s old radio tower. The final stretch of the descent will pass the Banning House, Two Harbors’ only hotel. At the bottom of the hill turn right to bypass the little red schoolhouse which still educates kids aged 5-11, and return to town.
Trailhead: 1 Banning House Rd, Avalon
Ranchos Palos Verdes: Terranea Discovery Trail
Terranea Resort in the South Bay of LA’s Ranchos Palos Verdes is open to the public for exploration and costs around ten dollars for all day parking with validation at the resort. Terranea Resort faces south on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, which means hikers can watch the sun rise and set in one day from a single location. There are two miles of coastal trails lining the clifftops of the resort through the site’s 102 acres of open space.
The Trail: The Terranea Discovery Trail, which starts on the northern part of the property, is a family-friendly trail that runs throughout the resort’s grounds for just under two miles with under 200 feet (61m) of elevation gain. This trek will take about one hour to complete. The hike has interpretive nature stations along the way for guests to stop and learn about the local wildlife. There are also views of the historic Point Vicente Lighthouse and hikers might even be able to catch a glimpse of sea lions and whales throughout the year.
Trailhead: 100 Terranea Way, Rancho Palos Verdes
Inland Empire: Angeles National Forest’s Waterman Mountain Loop Trail
The Waterman Mountain Loop Trail is a moderate six-mile hike near Mount Wilson in the Angeles National Forest, roughly an hour outside of downtown Los Angeles. This hike takes about three hours to complete, and even though it only includes 1,400 feet (427m) of elevation gain it’s challenging because it starts at nearly 7,000 feet (2,134m) up in the mountains. It’s best done between the months of March to November when there’s no snow. There’s plenty of parking near the trailhead, but visitors need to display a forestry park pass, which can be purchased at a variety of convenience stores including gas stations nearby. Bring a map or a pre-downloaded digital map as there’s no internet or cell service in this region.
The Trail: Of the many pretty views along the way to the top, the best is about one mile into the climb, when there’s a point looking beyond the San Gabriel Mountains and across the San Gabriel Valley toward the silhouette of Santiago Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains. The Waterman Mountain peak is marked with a sign that states the elevation: 8,039 feet (2,450m). About 3.3 miles into the descent, bear right at a fork in the path to stick with the main road down Mount Waterman. Hike past a few frisbee golf baskets, and descend toward Mount Waterman Village, where a small lodge is perched at the top of the main chairlift for Mount Waterman Resort.
Trailhead: Waterman Hiking Trailhead, CA-2, Pearblossom
Mid-City: Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook
This moderate hike takes two hours and features about 300 feet (91m) of elevation gain over 1.25 miles. Parking is free on the street at the base of the hill. There are multiple ways to climb to the top of this mid-city peak in addition to the moderate trail that zig zags to the top. Exercise enthusiasts who want a tougher workout can choose to take the stairs which climb straight up for nearly a mile. The easiest way to get to the top would be to walk on the sidewalk along the road that leads up to the visitor’s center and amphitheater area. The visitor’s center contains seasonal exhibits on native wildflowers, birding and wildlife, plus stories of how this area’s land – historically drilled and exploited for oil – has now become a symbol of conservation and restoration, to the benefit of all.
The Trail: The Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook hike is unique because it’s located in an urban area of Los Angeles. But for such a short trail, it offers impressive views of Greater Los Angeles. To the west, hikers can see Santa Monica Bay. To the northwest, the mountain ridges of Malibu rise up. Century City and the Sony Pictures lot is visible down below, and the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Observatory can be seen toward Hollywood. To the east there’s downtown LA, framed by the San Gabriel Mountains which are sprinkled with snow in the winter months.
Trailhead: 6300 Hetzler Rd, Culver City
Santa Monica: Topanga State Park’s Parker Mesa Overlook
Parker Mesa Overlook is located on the west side of Topanga State Park. It’s a roughly seven-mile trek with 1,171 feet (357m) of elevation gain that offers views from the peak of the entire LA basin. This means hikers will be able to see from the San Gabriel Mountains to the east, Catalina Island to the south, and the crescent shaped coastline of Santa Monica to the west on a clear day. There’s very little shade on this trail, so as always, it’s important to be sure to pack water and sunscreen.
The Trail: Start at the Los Liones Trailhead, which begins on Los Liones Drive in the Pacific Palisades at a clearly marked gate. There’s plenty of free street parking on the road. About a mile in there will be a vista point and junction with the Paseo Miramar Trail. Take a hard left, following the wide fire road up the hill. From here, the trail continues to roll up and down the mountain and reaches the junction to Parker Mesa Overlook at the three-mile mark. At the top, there are several strategically placed benches aiding a well-deserved rest and photo opportunities.
Trailhead: 580 Los Liones Drive, Santa Monica
Malibu Wine Hikes
For oenophiles who love a good walk before a tipple, Malibu Wine Hikes offers a guided, two-mile hike suitable for all ages which explores the vineyards of Malibu’s Saddlerock Ranch. This trek climbs approximately 300 feet (91m) in elevation and offers consistent views of the Pacific Ocean and vineyards on all sides. Hikers will learn firsthand about the types of wines produced on the ranch’s property and can catch a glimpse of the well-preserved Chumash illustrations at the “Cave of the Four Horsemen” along the way. There’s also the chance to sample produce from the onsite organic garden and take plenty of photos. At the end of the hike, each person is awarded with an entire bottle of the property’s wine in the varietal of their choosing, with selections of white, red and rose. Onsite parking is included with the purchase of a ticket.
Trailhead: 32111 Mulholland Highway, Malibu