It’s an uncharacteristically cool afternoon for June in Los Angeles. The sky is covered in a layer of dark grey clouds and upon exiting our car, we are greeted with a cool, gentle sprinkling of rain. My father, my buddy Sean, and I are hiking in the Angeles Mountains, near Eaton Canyon Park. The hike is supposed to take us up into the hills and through a ravine with a small creek running through. Though my father and I used to hike frequently when I was a kid, it had been some time since my we did hiking of any kind so we were eager to get our hearts going and feet back out on the trail. Sean, on the other hand, is an avid runner and does this sort of thing frequently. We hadn’t quite expected these two realities to clash, but clash they did.
We began our ascent up a small, windy path that double back on itself a few times, climbing altitude rather quickly. We let my friend Sean take point and he began rushing up this trail, much to the annoyance of my father and I. Slowly, each step became even more agonizing than the last and my lungs felt as if they were going to explode, but I was not going to be the one to ask us to stop. We had barely started, I remember thinking to myself, and I did not want to be the one with the weak lungs who can’t keep up.
My father came to my rescue and through his heaving chest asked if we could stop so he could catch his breath. We stopped, still on a steep incline. My lungs were burning and I struggled to regain control of my breathing. I glanced at my father to see how he was doing and it seemed to me like he hadn’t been able to catch his balance, but I brushed it off as nothing. He is my dad, I remember thinking; he is always the one that has been pushing me to go faster.Then he started to fall.
I rushed behind him to catch him before he stumbled down the mountain and Sean rushed to help as we both began to topple over sideways. “Give me your water bottle!” I snapped, panic beginning to show in my voice. I snatched the water bottle out of his hand as we laid him on his side in the bushes immediately next to us. As soon as was about to pour water on his face, he jumped up again and began asking us what we were all standing around for looking so panicked and why it looked like I was about to pour water on his face. When I told him that he passed out he simply refused to believe me. He didn’t remember it. Needless to say, we took our time the rest of that hike and it turned into a very pleasant afternoon. The cool, gentle rain was a nice touch to the otherwise dry and brush-covered Angeles mountains. And no one else passed out so that was a plus.
So why do I tell this story? One, because I still use it to make fun of my dad to this day and the thought of memorializing it on the internet is an opportunity much too great to pass up, but secondly, because there is a genuinely surprising amount of hiking trails around southern California that I did not know about it. Ranging from short one to two mile hikes (where my father and I should have started) all the way to ten to fifteen mile loops, there are plenty of trails all over the southern California area accessible to any and all skill levels. Be sure to pick trails relative to your skill level as well as bring lots of water and snacks.
Santa Monica Mountains:
The Santa Monica mountain range is home to hikes ranging from a short 1.5 mi hike to a waterfall to a huge 11.75 mi loop around the entire La Jolla canyon, exploring the beautiful Point Mugu State Park on the western end of the Santa Monica mountains. Whatever your skill level, the Santa Monica Mountain range provides a wide range of accessible trails to any and all skill levels, all with a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean.
San Gabriel Mountains
Creeks and water falls and canyons and a mountain named Watermelon, this 340,000 acre national monument has it all. Also boasting one of the highest peaks around, the scalable Mt. Baldy tops off at 10,064 ft. tall. The San Gabriel mountain range has trails from under a mile to over twelve, and all at various altitudes and sceneries. There are also plenty of campgrounds scattered throughout the park if camping is more your style. You will, however, have to buy an Adventure Pass to gain access to the mountains, either $5 for a day pass or $30 for an entire year.
Griffith Park Trails
Griffith Park has been a favorite for Angelinos for a long time now. Located just five miles from downtown, Griffith Park is home to some of Los Angeles’ most famous attractions: the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, and the Greek Theater. But tucked away in this park is much more than these three famous attractions. Griffith Park is full of hidden trails, picnic areas, an abandoned zoo, and even the old Batcave from the Batman TV series. From trails with an overview of Hollywood to hidden cedar groves with a surprising degree of seclusion, Griffith Park has a hike suited for every skill level and for tourists and locals alike.
A small mountain range in the San Fernando Valley, these mountains offer a variety of easy-access trailheads in both Burbank and Glendale making them much more accessible to us city folk. Full of canyons, tall picks, and fantastic views of the surrounding area, this mountain range features both short and long hikes but all several hundred feet above sea level, so keep in mind that the air will be thinner the higher you go. Free to use and usually open to mountain bikers and leashed dogs, these trails are sure to please even the most seasoned hiker.
Palos Verdes Peninsula
Boasting some of the most beautiful ocean views, trails in Palos Verdes offer a green escape from the concrete jungle we all live in. Home to much shorter hikes than most so far, these hikes are perfect day trips. From climbing up and down green canyons, touring an old quarry, to exploring coastal cliffs, Palos Verdes are perfect for an afternoon on the cool coastline to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily city life.
Perhaps one of the most popular local trails, the 3.8 mile loop to Escondido Falls is a pleasant and rewarding trip to a surprisingly serene waterfall. The trail begins just off Pacific Coast Highway, passes through some Malibu residences, leads you through a public park, and eventually leads you to a flowing creek that needs to be crossed a few times before reaching the lower falls. For the more adventurous, to the right of the Lower Escondido Falls there is way to climb up almost .15 miles to reach the three-times larger Upper Escondido Falls, a some 150 foot high falls.
A 6.8 mile round trip in the San Gabriel Mountains, this trail is easily accessible from the popular Switzer’s Picnic Area. This trail is full of boulder-hopping, creek-crossing, fun tucked into beautiful forested mountains and canyons with gorgeous views all the way through. Full of pools to dip your feet into, this trail, though tucked away in the mountains, is a great place for the whole family to enjoy the outdoors. Great for an afternoon or a stop on a longer camping trip, Switzer falls remains one of Los Angeles County’s best waterfalls.
Bridge to Nowhere
This rather strenuous 10 mile round trip hike is a pretty famous hike in the San Gabriel mountains. The trek follows the path of an attempted highway built, culminating in a huge concrete highway bridge in the middle of the canyon. The hike offers plenty of places to swim in the cool creek (depending on the water levels). Though this hike is perfect in the summer, it is accessible all year round, simply be wary of the weather. Flash floods can be deadly in this canyon so be sure to keep an eye on the weather. I know this is southern California, but if there is even a hint of a storm in the area, it may be best to go another day. You will also need to get a Wilderness Permit which can be obtained at any ranger station or visitor center in the area.
A relatively shorter 3.8 mile loop in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area, this trail leads you to a winding staircase that brings you to the abandoned home of Nazi sympathizers. Yes, you read that right: Nazi sympathizers. Though some of the buildings have been demolished and some are queued for demolition in the future, there are still plenty of structures left to be explored. The ranch, like many things in Los Angeles, has a very long and rather odd history. Be sure to do some research and read up on the place before you head out there and explore, as the added historical context will make the hike all the more worth it.
Franklin Canyon Reservoir Loop
A short 1.4 mile loop on the north end of Franklin Canyon Park part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, this short trail is a great introduction to the area and provides a nice, easy, and green escape from the city. It heads right into heavily forested areas that do not feel right outside of Beverly Hills at all. It’s a very green loop around ponds and reservoirs full of wildlife and trees and greenery and makes for a fantastic afternoon walk.
Whatever your taste or skill level, southern California is ripe with trails for tourists and locals alike who want either a quick afternoon hike or a longer, full day in the outdoors. Southern California beaches are great, don’t get me wrong, but there is so much more outdoors to be had in southern California. So let’s go see the world together; happy trails friends!