Photo credit: Chris Goldberg
Waterfalls, caves, mountain peaks, and ancient forests. This probably doesn’t sound much like Los Angeles to those who have sat in traffic on the 5 Freeway, gone sightseeing among skyscrapers in the city center, or hang out in their luxury beachside Los Angeles vacation rental.
But to those who are in the know, hiking trails in Los Angeles are some of the Golden State’s most picturesque and this guide will help you locate the best of the best.
Trails in the Los Angeles National Forest
Photo credit: JefferyTurner
Take a 20-mile-long drive northeast of the heart of downtown Los Angeles, and you’ll find yourself among the rugged peaks and solitude of the San Gabriel and Sierra Pelona Mountains. Established in 1908, Angeles National Forest has remained one of the top places to escape the city smog and traffic for more than a century. These five hiking trails in Los Angeles National Forest are ones you don’t want to miss, but don’t be surprised if you stumble across others that become personal favorites too.
Sturtevant Falls Trail
Photo credit: USDAgov
Length: 3.1 miles (out and back)
The Sturtevant Falls Trail, from Chantry Flats to Sturtevant Falls, is one of the more popular hiking trails in Los Angeles for its leisurely path through a lush portion of the San Gabriel Mountains. The pot of gold at the turn-around point is a refreshing 50-foot waterfall. Dogs are welcome on the Sturtevant Falls Trail but must be kept on leash.
Dawn Mine Trail Loop
Length: 5.1-mile loop
Hikers looking for a more strenuous but equally as scenic route will find the Dawn Mile Trail Loop as one of the top canyon hiking trails in the Los Angeles area. Located near Altadena, Calif., the trail sees moderate traffic and is open to furry friends. Caves, steep cliffs, several water crossings, lush greenery, and the fabled Dawn Mine make this a favorite among adventure junkies and nature enthusiasts living near or visiting the sprawling California metropolis known as LA.
Cooper Canyon Falls
Length: 3 miles (out and back)
Another dog-friendly hiking trail in Los Angeles, Cooper Canyon Falls is a must-visit route if you’re seeking hiking trails near Los Angeles to waterfalls. The Cooper Canyon Falls waterfall flows year-round, but provides an even more impressive show when the snow melts in April and May. The trailhead begins at the back of the Buckhorn Campground in Angeles National Forest and descends into a mountain canyon where the Cooper Canyon Falls flow amongst an old-growth forest. Spend a night or two at the Buckhorn Campground for easy access to the falls and other Angeles National Forest trails.
Fish Canyon Narrows
Length: 8 miles (round trip)
Fish Canyon Narrows is one of those hikes that will restore your love for Los Angeles just when you were about to be driven crazy by fellow motorists on your way there. Located on the far west end of the Angeles National Forest in the Sierra Pelona Mountains, this hike guides you past typical rugged and rocky SoCal terrain to a cool mountain stream that passes through towering red rock walls. Fish Canyon Narrows was named the No. 1 hike in the city by Los Angeles Magazine in 2009. Feel free to bring your furry friend, but don’t forget a leash.
Length: 13 miles (round trip)
Difficulty: Extremely Strenuous
Mount Baldy, formally known as Mount San Antonio, towers 10,064 feet over the City of Angels. While it’s not the tallest peak in the area (surpassed by San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Peak), Mount Baldy offers one of the most physically demanding hikes. The mountain’s 3,800-foot elevation rise in just 6 miles makes it a bucket-list climb for all advanced trekkers in the area. Overcome the common altitude sickness at the peak, and you’ll enjoy panoramic views stretching from Owens Valley to San Diego.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Photo credit: simonov
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has been labeled, “hidden in plain sight,” and there’s no better way to describe it. This nearly 157,000 acre recreation area in the Santa Monica Mountains is home to many of the Los Angeles area’s favorite parks, including Griffith Park, Malibu Creek State Park, Topanga State Park, Point Mugu State Park, and several other scenic escapes. It’s the largest urban national park in the U.S., offering countless hiking trails, green spaces, mountain peaks, canyons, and beaches to the nearly 20 million residents who call the Greater Los Angeles Area home.
Temescal Canyon Loop
Length: 2.6 miles (loop)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
The hiking trail in Los Angeles to Temescal Canyon is ideal for hikers and trail runners seeking a short but exhilarating climb. The Pacific Ocean views, waterfalls, canyons, and close proximity to Santa Monica are reasons to conquer this loop too. The trail starts and ends at Temescal Gateway Park in the Pacific Palisades, but it travels through the adjacent Topanga State Park, so you won’t see the entire loop on the map at the information kiosk.
Follow the signs for the Temescal Ridge Trail until it reaches a junction with the Temescal Canyon Trail, which will lead you back to the starting parking lot. Or choose from a number of extensions, like the Bienveneda Trail, Skull Rock, or the Rivas Canyon Trail, to turn your short hike into a more gruelling one.
Parker Mesa via Los Liones Trail
Photo credit: maveric2003
Length: 7.3 miles (out and back)
It’s not crazy to want to overlook the Pacific Ocean while exploring hiking trails in Los Angeles. The Los Liones Trail to the popular Parker Mesa overlook in Topanga State Park leads hikers through one of the lushest canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains to picture-perfect views of the Santa Monica Bay on one side and the San Bernardino Mountains on the other (on a clear day). While most people reach the esteemed Parker Mesa overlook from the western side of the park, this route from the south offers a more scenic and physically demanding approach.
Eagle Rock from Trippet Ranch
Length: 4.5 mile (loop)
Eagle Rock is one of the most impressive rock formations in Topanga State Park, and the 4.5-mile loop from Trippet Ranch is the best way to reach the 1,957-foot summit. Combining the Musch Trail with the Eagle Springs Fire Road creates a moderate loop with an elevation gain of 800 feet. Panoramic views from the peak of Eagle Rock include the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica Bay, and all of the tree-covered mountains dividing the two.
Brush Canyon Trail (Hollywood Sign)
Photo credit: dlofink
Length: 3 to 6.4 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
You haven’t truly hiked Los Angeles until you’ve taken the hiking trail to the Los Angeles sign. Several Griffith Park hiking trails will take you to the world-famous Hollywood Sign, including the Brush Canyon Trail (6.4 miles round trip), the Hollyridge Trail (3.5 miles round trip), and the Wonder View Trail (3 miles round trip). Each of the trails offers a sweaty journey through Griffith Park, but the longest and best day hike begins on the Brush Canyon Trail and links up with Mulholland Fire Road, then Mount Lee Road. You’ll ascend to the viewing area overlooking Los Angeles from behind the iconic white Hollywood sign.
The Wisdom Tree Hike
Length: 3 miles (out and back)
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
Cross hiking to the Hollywood sign off your bucket list, and it’s time to conquer the Wisdom Tree Hike. Continue along Beachwood Canyon beyond the trailhead to the Hollywood sign, and you’ll make the long, steep ascent to the Wisdom Tree. Find the tree, snap a few photos, and read some wisdom from the notebooks tucked into the ammunition boxes. Or, jot down a piece of your own wisdom for future hikers to ponder.
Mugu Peak Trail
Length: 2.9 miles (loop)
The highly trafficked Mugu Peak Trail near Malibu seems like a simple 2.9-mile-long loop, but the 1,279-foot elevation increase bumps this trail from a moderate hike to a difficult one. Fortunately, the spring and summer wildflowers, low rolling mountains, and postcard-worthy ocean views make the ascent worth the agony (and subsequent soreness) every time.
Other City Parks and Green Spaces
Photo credit: maveric2003
Hidden amongst the skyscrapers and glass-windowed buildings are several green spaces that often go unnoticed. Many of these are home to hiking trails that offer your daily dose of exercise and the outdoors just seconds away from the city center.
Kenneth Hahn Community Loop Trail
Length: 2.8 miles (loop)
The Kenneth Hahn Community Loop Trail, located within the Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area, is an ideal place to take a breath of fresh air steps from some of L.A.’s favorite neighborhoods and attractions (think Culver City). The 2.8-mile-long loop trail leads along a well-marked route past wildflowers to a hill offering expansive views of the city and the San Gabriel Mountains. Dogs are welcome but must be leashed.
Ascot Hills Park Loop
Length: 2.4 miles (loop)
Ascot Hills Park is a 93-acre park that offers several miles of hiking trails to walkers, hikers, and trail runners. The 2.4-mile-long loop, just one of a handful of the park’s routes, offers a comprehensive look at the park’s scenery as well as clear-day views of Catalina Island, the Hollywood Sign, the San Gabriel Mountains, downtown Los Angeles and more. The trail takes roughly one hour to complete and is ideal for furry friends on leashes too.
Ernest E. Debs Regional Park Loop Trail
Length: 5.2 miles
Just 4.3 miles from the heart of downtown Los Angeles and a brief walk from the Gold Line stop is Ernest E. Debs Regional Park. Stunning views of LA and Pasadena, excellent birdwatching, and varying terrain make this 5.2-mile loop one of the best hiking trails in Los Angeles for walkers, hikers, and trail runners wanting to stay close to home.
Visitors and longtime residents can rest assured that Los Angeles isn’t always the concrete jungle we see when commuting on the freeway or watching the Channel 7 news. This guide to the best hiking trails in Los Angeles proves you don’t have to venture far to fall back in love with the outdoors.