One of my favorite things about Los Angeles, which is often undiscovered by many travelers, is the natural outdoor opportunities that abound in the city. One moment you could be hiking Hollywood Boulevard, and mere minutes later hiking a ridgeline with a panoramic view of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. Another moment strolling the shops of Santa Monica, and the next hiking the 67-mile Backbone Trail through the Santa Monica mountains. That’s not something you can do in just any city. So today I’m sharing five of my favorite hikes in Los Angeles.
5 hikes in Los Angeles
Temescal Canyon was one of my first Los Angeles hikes, and to this day is my favorite hike. On my first trip there, I remember cruising down the iconic streets of Sunset Boulevard through West Los Angeles, before hitting Temescal Canyon Road, seeing the Pacific Ocean open up in front of me, and the rolling hills of the Santa Monica Mountains behind me. The hike itself affords a workout and elevation gain that you don’t always get with urban hikes, while the reward is the peak, perched above the Pacific Palisades and Pacific Ocean, overlooking Los Angeles. Temescal Canyon is a moderate hike which you could easily complete in 3 hours if just going to the main peak. However, there are some other offshoot trails, such as the short trail to the waterfall, albeit more of a trickle this time of year. Weekends are moderately-trafficked, so if you want to avoid crowds, I’d recommend hiking it early morning on weekends, or on weekdays.
I see you Los Angeles locals, judging me through your screen for recommending Runyon Canyon. I realize some of the ridiculousness of Runyon Canyon, like those who get dolled up to take selfies on the trail and that one time there was valet parking. However, Runyon Canyon was my gateway to the great outdoors of Los Angeles when I first moved here. I lived in the heart of Los Angeles in West Hollywood and could walk there. I could walk, in Los Angeles, in West Hollywood, to a hiking trail. Mind. Blown.
Selfies and parking aside, Runyon Canyon is a great workout, especially if you hike the entire trail. Plus, it’s among the best views in Los Angeles, where you can see the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Park, Hollywood, downtown Los Angeles, and on a nice clear day, the Pacific Ocean and outer lying islands. However, I highly recommend hiking weekdays, and especially weekday mornings, if you want to avoid crowds and have the best opportunity to find parking. If you time it right, you may even show up in time for free yoga classes at the base of Runyon Canyon.
Echo Mountain is what I consider the most interesting hike in Los Angeles. Located just north of Pasadena, Echo Mountain has a fascinating story, which hikers will discover in part as they weave their way up to the summit. More than a century ago, the summit was home to Echo Mountain Resort, where guests would wind their way around the mountain on a cable incline railway to the top, gaining 1,300 feet of elevation along the way. Decades later, the railway and old Victorian hotel now live on in ruins and a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Who said L.A. has no history?
The Echo Mountain trail itself is a moderate six-mile hike, characterized by a series of switchbacks up to the top. Dogs are welcome, too, though leashes are required. Additionally, Echo Mountain is considered one of the best night hikes in Los Angeles for the lights that dot the valley and landscape below the mountain. Lit as it may be at night, don’t forget your headlamp. On those warm summer days bring ample amounts of water (for you and your dog).
Mount Baldy (San Antonio)
Alright you serious hikers and adventurers, Mount Baldy is for you. Located on the eastern border of Los Angeles County, Mount Baldy is not only one of the best hikes in Los Angeles, but one of the best hikes in Southern California. However, with double-digit miles (a little more than 11 miles) and a 10,064-foot summit, this is neither a walk in the park, nor your everyday urban hike in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, choosing to take the chair lift (yes, seriously) would cut off a few miles from your hike. Be that as it may, it doesn’t cut out the hardest part of the hike, the last part as you near the summit. The payoff is an amazing summit view, where it’s not unusual to be above the clouds with incredible 360-degree views as far as the eye can see. On the way down, reward yourself with a beer at Top of the Notch, and then at the bottom, a visit to San Antonio Falls. I urge you to bring lots of water and refill at Top of the Notch. Finally, I only recommend hiking Mount Baldy in the warmer months. While this is Southern California, it’s a 10,000-foot mountain (and a ski mountain during the winter), and is dangerous for hiking in the winter.
That’s right, you can hike the Hollywood Sign and almost get close enough to touch it. This is one of my favorite hikes in Los Angeles for a number of reasons. One, it’s the Hollywood Sign, and the view behind it looking out across Los Angeles is one of my favorite views (and photos) in the city. Furthermore, it’s a really fun, pleasant hike, especially with others, plus provides access to a number of other trails in Griffith Park, which boasts more than 50 miles of trails. The most direct path to the Hollywood Sign used to be at the end of North Beachwood Drive. However, the city has been forced to reroute hikers. While there are a number of different Griffith Park trails that eventually wind their way to the Hollywood Sign, I’d recommend parking as close to Griffith Park Observatory as possible, and taking the trail near the parking lot that leads away from the observatory. The Los Angeles Times recently explained that Hollywood Sign hike here, or, for an alternate route, follow the Modern Hiker’s instructions for the Canyon Drive hiking route to the Hollywood Sign.