From moonlight hikes to shady trails near the beach
by Bianca Barragan Jun 23, 2017, 11:00am PDT
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated with the most recent information.
Los Angeles’s wealth of outdoors activities is no secret, and now that summer is here, it’s a good time to get out of the house and enjoy that sun.
Hiking is a great, cheap way to enjoy the fresh air and fantastic weather, but for those more reluctant hikers—folks who need a little carrot to dangle in front of them as they trudge up a hill—we’ve compiled a list of Los Angeles-area hikes that all come with spectacular sights along the way or at the end: waterfalls, stunning views, unique leftovers from heydays as a filming site. So bribe friends and family by promising them a cool dip in a waterfall, or a selfie with some leftovers of a M*A*S*H episode, and hit the trails.
Since it’s summertime, be extra vigilant for rattlesnakes and pack more water than you anticipate needing. This list of hiking essentials is a good way to prepare for even the shortest of walks in the wilderness.
Now, time to hit the trail!
1. Malibu Creek State Park
Hikes in Malibu Creek State Park have Hollywood connections, as the park includes areas that were used to shoot M*A*S*H and South Pacific. There are some rusted Army Jeeps and other signs of filming here, and it seems like every hiker who passes through stops to have her picture taken with one of the rusty relics.
The hike to this point and back is under 5 miles round-trip and gains less than 200 feet of elevation, making it a pretty good trip for families with kids who can be coerced onto the trail.
Heads up: You will have to pay the $12 entrance fee to park in the lot if you want to start the hike at Crags Road; the trailheads for South Grassland Trail and Cistern Trail are both close to free parking. Hikespeak offers good directions with pictures here.
2. Echo Mountain
Want to have a picnic among some picturesque ruins? The trail to Altadena's Echo Mountain will make you work for it. Beginning at the very top of Lake Avenue and through a big, beautiful gate, the 5-mile (round-trip) trail is all steep-ish switchbacks and little shade, but it is very well-maintained. It’s also peopled enough that a solo hiker can feel secure.
The reward is a dynamic history exhibit and shaded, very spread-out picnic space left over from the resort that used to be on the site.
There are also large pieces of the dismantled Mt. Lowe Railroad that once brought resort-bound vacationers here, and an old metal echo phone; yell into it and have your words bounce off the mountains back to you. Amazing! Click over to SoCal Hiker for image-heavy directions.
3. Wildwood Canyon
Burbank’s Wildwood Canyon offers an easy-to-moderate 2-mile loop, with a peak providing sweaty explorers some amazing city views and a permanent reclining chair/memorial on which to kick back and relax until it's time to carry on.
There are picnic grounds, restrooms, and drinking water off of Wildwood Canyon Road, too, so you can compare photos and munch post-hike snacks while you sit down and cool off. Get there early, though: The park closes at sundown.
4. Eaton Canyon
Eaton Canyon's lower waterfall is looking fairly robust right now, likely thanks to snowmelt. (The upper falls are closed indefinitely.) The hike to the falls is relatively shady and relatively flat—the roughly 3-mile round-trip hike only gains about 375 feet.
Start hiking from the nature center, where there are restrooms, water, and people to talk to about the trails. This is a really nice novice hike or ideal for a day when you don't feel like being in pain later.
5. Murphy Ranch
By now, a lot of people know about Murphy Ranch—the compound built by 1930s Nazi sympathizers in Malibu’s Rustic Canyon that was eventually supposed to have enough self-contained infrastructure to provide for a small town's worth of people. But who has really gone through the trouble of seeing the place for themselves?
This generally flat hike comes in at just under 4 miles and starts only a few miles from the 405. The grounds are graffiti-covered but the structures that were built are still mostly in one piece (or in discernible pieces), and there are staircases and gates still standing, too. It was rumored last year that the buildings were being torn down, but photos show that it remains a really well-preserved site in a beautiful setting. Hikespeak provides detailed directions from the start of the trail.
6. Mount Wilson
If all of the trails above seem too tame, there's always the hike from Sierra Madre's Chantry Flats to Mt. Wilson, which is a punishing but beautiful trail about 7 miles up with a 4,200-mile gain in elevation. Lots of people do this hike as conditioning, to work up to bigger peaks.
One great reward at the end—if you're up for it by then—is the Mount Wilson Observatory's weekend tours. They start promptly at 1 p.m. and offer visitors a chance to see the 100-inch telescope. You can catch it if you start the hike early enough, a good idea anyway because the parking at Chantry Flat fills up fast.
Added bonuses for visiting the Observatory are the snack shack, which offers cold drinks and food you might buy at a local softball game (chili dogs, Fritos, etc.) and restrooms. Plus, at the parking lot right below the Observatory, some kind soul might be waiting in a car to take your tired bones home.
The lot is about 30 minutes north of La Cañada. Cars parked in the lot will need a $5 day-use Adventure Pass, available for purchase at multiple locations.
Hikers could also continue back down for an approximately 14-mile hike, if desired. Detailed directions here.
7. Solstice Canyon
Solstice Canyon is a popular hike and with good reason: The trail takes hikers past waterfalls, the ruins of a burned-out Paul R. Williams mansion called Tropical Terrace, and the remains of what was once believed to be the oldest building in Malibu.
The National Park Service maintains a great website with directions to the trailhead and a downloadable map. If you go up the Rising Sun Trail and down the Solstice Canyon Trail to the TRW Trail, as suggested by Robert Stone in his book Day Hikes Around Los Angeles, it's about 6 miles total. ModernHiker takes a slightly different route.
8. Mount Baldy
Out in the Inland Empire, Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts hosts a bi-monthly summertime series called Moonlight Hikes, which employs barbecue to get people to hike 2.5 miles and gain about 1,300 feet of elevation. They also offer tickets that include one-way or round-trip rides on the ski lift to the top, for those who can’t or don’t want to hike.
The hike itself isn't an outrageous challenge and the reward here is the amazing far-and-wide views of city lights, live music, and, of course, that barbecue.
Tickets run about $25 ($30 at the door), depending on whether or not you elect to ride the ski lifts. They can be purchased online.