This is a guest post by Trek Tech favorite Casey Schreiner. Follow his amazing beard at @modernhiker.
Admit it. You read that title and thought “Do you mean like getting out of your car and hiking on the freeway because traffic is so bad?” or “Like hiking over passed out celebrity impersonators on Hollywood Boulevard?” or “Like driving a quarter mile to your plastic surgeon’s office and hiking from your car to the operating table?”
I’ve been living in Los Angeles for 11 years now and I’ve heard it all before. As the center of the Entertainment Industry, L.A. gets a reputation as a city full of plastic flakes who’d rather stay fit and tanned in an air-conditioned gym while reading terrible scripts than be caught going outside and getting dirty - but here’s a secret - L.A. is a GREAT outdoors city.
Not only is the weather almost always perfect for going outside, but we’ve got a ton of options. We have four National Parks within a few hours’ drive, there’s a 655,000 acre National Forest right in our backyard, and - get this - the geographic center of the City of Los Angeles lies within the boundaries of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the world’s largest urban National Park. So forget everything you think you know about L.A., and next time you’re in town consider one of these five great hikes.
SANTA ANITA CANYON
Less than 20 miles away from downtown Los Angeles lies Santa Anita Canyon, a shaded, riparian hideaway that features 100-year-old cabins, multiple waterfalls, several backcountry camp sites, and one of the nation’s last operational mule pack stations. An extensive trail network gives you plenty of hike options, but a fun 9 mile loop takes you through most of the highlights and will make you earn the barbecue at Adams’ Pack Station on the way out. On hot days, expect some crowds cooling off under Sturtevant Falls or taking a hair-raising plunge off of nearby Hermit Falls.
BRIDGE TO NOWHERE
Today, the San Gabriel Mountains form the backbone of the Angeles National Forest - but to early settlers they were mainly seen as a major impediment to north-south travel. In the 1930s, several attempts were made to cut roads through the range into the Antelope Valley to the north - including a few along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. Nature had other ideas, and the roads were washed away in a devastating flood in 1938. Now, hikers can trek 5 miles into this rugged wilderness canyon spotting remnants of the road, tunnels, and old gold mining operations before arriving at a 120-foot tall concrete arch bridge - the only intact remnant of that ill-fated road. This route has dozens of river crossings and almost zero shade, so you’re going to be wiped out by the time you cross the bridge and scramble down to the river’s swimming holes below. But if you’re not - the bridge is also the home of the only bungee jumping site in Southern California (run by the oldest bungee jumping company in the country!).
If coastal views are more your thing, head out to the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountain Range - Sandstone Peak. At 3111 feet and about 5 miles from the coast, this mountain commands tremendous views of the coast from Catalina and the Palos Verdes Peninsula past the Channel Islands and up toward Ventura (on clear days you can even make out Santa Barbara and the Los Padres National Forest). A 7 mile loop on the Mishe Mokwa Trail has a little bit of everything that’s great about hiking in Southern California - coastal chaparral, intermittent streams, views of multiple mountain ranges, and even some great climbing routes if you’re in the mood. When you’re done, you can refill at Neptune’s Net on the Pacific Coast Highway - a seafood shack beloved by fried food aficionados and bikers alike.
At 10,064 feet, Mount Baldy is the highest point in Los Angeles County and the third most prominent peak in Southern California. If you’re looking for a challenge, this is it - in wet years the peak can hold snow through May, and even in the summer the trail’s 10 mile length and nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain make it an adventure for anyone who attempts. Victorious hikers will be rewarded with nonstop panoramic views of Southern California after they climb through a forest of pine trees and fallen boulders that might make them question if they are still really in the land of In-N-Out.
OK, let’s face it - if you’re in Los Angeles you’re going to want to hike to the Hollywood Sign. That’s fine - just don’t take a van to an overlook like a tourist - instead, take the surprisingly rugged Cahuenga Peak trail just north of the Hollywood Reservoir. This quick 3 mile out-and-back avoids the crowds of Griffith Park and ascends a steep ridge up a single-track trail to Cahuenga Peak after passing the Wisdom Tree, a local tree-celebrity (yes, we have those) that’s the lone survivor from a recent wildfire. From Cahuenga Peak, the trail makes a bee-line for the backside of the Hollywood Sign via a narrow ridge that will give you a commanding view of the L.A. sprawl. Pass a plaque for Hugh Hefner (who donated a bunch of cash to save this peak from developers), get your photo behind the Hollywood Sign, and make it back down to town in time for brunch.
Casey Schreiner didn’t go outside much until he moved to Los Angeles and discovered the wilderness hidden in plain view. In 2006 he founded Modern Hiker, which is now the oldest and most-read hiking blog in Southern California. In addition to owning too many pairs of hiking boots, Casey is also an award-winning television writer-producer. He lives in Los Angeles, makes his own beer, and has a great beard.