Hiking is critical element of Angeleno culture. It’s the ideal combination of enjoying the opportunity to be outside, soak up some Vitamin D, add to your tan, and get the heart rate up so that you can enjoy an oceanside cocktail (or two, or three…) later, sans guilt.
There are really truly so many fantastic hikes to enjoy in the Greater LA area from the oceanviews of the coast up in the Santa Monica Mountains, to inland’s alpine adventures in the Angeles National Forest — and beyond.
Here are nine of my favorite trails in the Greater LA area, ranked in terms of difficulty from my personal experience hiking them myself. Personal disclaimer: I hike, a lot.
[Note: As of summer 2020, hiking is currently permitted in Los Angeles County, but as always, be safe, and protect yourself and others from transmitting COVID-19. Remember to wear a mask, stay six feet from other hikers at all times, and be respectful of the #leavenotrace principles!
Some of these photos were taken over the last couple years of hiking in LA pre-COVID which is why I’m not masked-up in all of them…]
Rustic Canyon Trail, Will Rogers State Park, Pacific Palisades
The Rustic Canyon Trail is a roughly four mile loop which covers just under 1,000 feet of elevation gain located just North of Santa Monica, up in the Pacific Palisades area by Will Rogers State Park. It features spectacular views of the sand and sea, below.
The easiest possibility for reliable parking (because this IS Los Angeles, after all….and fighting for parking is a real cluster) is at the staging area near the polo field at Will Rogers State Historic Park. Parking currently costs $10 for the day, and the fee goes toward funding the park’s upkeep and preservation of the land.
I usually do this hike as an out-and-back route because the trail has been overgrown when I’ve tried to go farther than the pictured bridge, which crosses the mountain’s saddle. This is a steep trek, without much shade — so make sure to bring water and sunblock. Views from the top peek a panorama of the southwest, including Santa Monica’s ocean waters — and eastern views across the city toward DTLA.
Parker Mesa Overlook Trail Via Los Liones Trailhead, Malibu
Parker Mesa Overlook is located on the west side of Topanga State Park — a roughly seven mile trek with 1,171 feet of elevation gain with views from the peak of the entire LA basin — including the San Gabriel Mountains to the east, Catalina Island to the south, and the crescent shaped coastline of Santa Monica to the west. There’s very little shade on this trail, so as always, be sure to pack water and sunscreen!
I started from the Los Liones Trailhead, which begins on Los Liones Drive in the Pacific Palisades at a clearly marked gate. There’s plenty of free street parking on the road.
About a mile in, you’ll reach a vista point and junction with the Paseo Miramar Trail. Take a hard left, following the wide fire road up the hill. From here, the trail continues to roll up and down the mountain and reaches the junction to Parker Mesa Overlook at the three mile mark.
When you reach the top, there are several strategically placed benches for your booty to enjoy some well-deserved rest and some highly posed photo opps…
Henninger Flats Trail, Pasadena
The Henninger Flats Trail is a 5.5 mile out-and-back trail in Altadena featuring 1,400+ feet of elevation gain on a fire road, with virtually zero shade. There’s limited free street parking at the trailhead — but make sure you’re respectful of local residents and neighbors.
Begin the hike from the start of the Mount Wilson Toll Road on Pinecrest Drive in Altadena. Begin hiking down Mount Wilson Toll Road, which is paved for the first tenth of a mile and cross the white concrete bridge spanning across Eaton Canyon which comes to a junction with Eaton Canyon Trail 0.25 miles from the start. Stay to the left and continue up Mount Wilson Trail Road, which climbs all the way to Henninger Flats in a steady 1,325 feet climb in just over 2.7 miles.
Past the fourth well-placed bench with an impeccable view, at roughly the 2.8 mile mark, you’ll reach the top of the climb, at Henninger Flats where there’s a campground, visitor center, and tree nursery operated by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Inside the Henninger Flats Visitor Information Center you can check out a map of the San Gabriel Mountains to learn about the history of Henninger Flats. In addition to finding out about the trees grown on the land, you can also see examples of the animals that live in the San Gabriel Mountains. Check out more details on Henninger Flats’ history, here!
From the top, true west spies toward the Verdugo Mountains and the edge of the San Fernando Valley. Looking southwest you’ll have views toward the skyscrapers in downtown Los Angeles backed by the rounded mass of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
On a clear day, you can even spot Long Beach Harbor on the left side of the peninsula with Santa Monica Bay on the right. If the air quality is pristine, across the Pacific Ocean, you may be able to make out Catalina Island.
Mandeville Canyon Trail, Brentwood
The Mandeville Canyon Trail is a 7.1 mile well-traveled, dog-friendly trail that gradually ascends the out-and-back route in Brentwood (I once hiked the trail and saw later that same day that I JUST missed Gwyneth Paltrow — no joke) with 1,102 ft of elevation gain. This is one of my favorite hikes in Los Angeles, because during the entire hike traveling in both directions you’ll have clear views of the ocean.
Parking is free on the nearby residential street — so just be respectful of the folks who live there.
Walk up the fire road for roughly 3.5 miles, where you’ll come to the summit of what was once one of several summits around Los Angeles used as a Nike missile defense site in the 1950s to detect and intersect Russian missiles and aircraft directed at the city.
Above Mandeville Canyon is San Vicente Mountain, a 1,960-foot summit that was used at the start of the cold war as a defense site to protect Los Angeles from Soviet attacks (you can read more about THAT, here).
Climb the steps up to the old lookout tower and take in the panoramic views, below. Here, you can see south over the canyons and ridges and to the west you can see the higher peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains of Topanga State Park and beyond. To the North you can see the Encino Reservoir and the belly of the San Fernando Valley.
Hike back down the same way you came up for unending views of the sea and the California Coastline.
Zuma Ridge Trail, Malibu
The Zuma Ridge Trail is a 5.6 mile wide fire road which offers several great lookouts over Zuma Beach, Point Dune, Malibu, and the ocean beyond. The trailhead lies at the end of Busch Road where a small dirt lot offers ample space for vehicles.
It’s a steep trek, and there’s not much shade — but there’s plenty of open space over the course of this steady climb up. At the top, there’s a small labyrinth and a cairn (that pile of rocks you’ll sometimes see stacked on trails) which can mean a variety of different things.
Overall, this is a quick, steep trek with fantastic views of Malibu and greater LA!
Sunset Peak Trail, Angeles National Forest
The Sunset Peak Trail is a 7.3 mile out-and-back trail with 1,272 ft of elevation gain located in the Angeles National Forest, about one hour outside LA. There’s free parking near the trailhead, and luckily, it’s one of the rare places you can park in the Angeles National Forest without needing a parking pass.
Just be respectful of the residents who live there and be mindful of safety measures during these times. And also be mindful of how when you’re within the Angeles National Forest, you won’t have any phone service!
Overall, the climb is a straightforward, steady incline to the peak on a wide fire road, which is mostly shaded. The journey takes a few hours to reach the peak at 5,976 feet depending on your pace… but there’s no need to rush, as it’s beautiful alpine views for the majority of the hike.
At the top, I’ve read that the metal rubbish that’s there is the remains of an old fire tower that burned down years ago. Views that are more aesthetically pleasing to the eye include vistas of Mt. Baldy and the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains.
This hike is best enjoyed from April through October. Since it’s at high elevation, snow can be a challenge in the winter and early spring.
Waterman Mountain Loop Trail, Angeles National Forest
Waterman Mountain Loop Trail is a 6 mile loop trail located near Mount Wilson, in the Angeles National Forest located about one hour outside of LA. There’s parking near the trailhead, but you’ll need to display a forestry parks pass which you can buy at a variety of stores including gas stations, 7/11’s and other convenience stores along the way to the trailhead — read more about this on the National Forestry Service’s website, here.
There’s no cell service here — so be mindful of making sure you have a method of ensuring that you can stay on the right trail (Conner and I got lost and our 6 mile loop turned into 8 miles. Luckily we have the AllTrails app which lets me download trail maps and we were able to find our way back to the trail.).
It’s a relatively gradual ascent, but you’re starting off at nearly 7,000 feet of elevation, which makes it a more challenging trek overall. There are plenty of impeccable views along the way — the best is which is about one mile into the climb when there’s a point looking beyond the San Gabriel Mountains and across the San Gabriel Valley toward the silhouette of Santiago Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains.
When you reach the top, it’ll be marked with a sign that states the elevation to which you’ve climbed: 8,039 feet.
During your descent at 3.35 miles from the start, bear right at a split to stick with the main road down Mount Waterman. Hike past a few frisbee golf baskets, and descend toward Mount Waterman Village where a small lodge is perched at the top of the main chairlift for Mount Waterman Resort, (which actually does have brief ski season — LA literally has it all).
Keep right to follow the road down, and continue back toward the parking area making sure to stay on trail!
South Ridge Trail to Tahquitz Peak, Idyllwild-Pine Cove
South Ridge Trail to Tahquitz Peak is a 7.8 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail with an elevation gain of 2,187 feet. It starts at 6,400 feet and finishes at 8,846 feet with the very last mile being the most killer. This trek is located in Idyllwild-Pine Cove which is about two hours outside of Los Angeles and requires a wilderness permit.
There’s little shade available on the second half of this hike, so make sure to bring plenty of sunblock and water — and the last mile up is by far the steepest part of the journey, so be prepared for switchbacks!
On the southern side of the mountain, you can spy great views down into Garner Valley and the view towards the desert region of SoCal.
Inspiration Point Via Sam Merril Trail to Castle Canyon Trail, Altadena
Inspiration Point via Sam Merril Trail to Castle Canyon Trail is a 9.4 mile out-and-back trail located near Altadena. Although I don’t have space to include turn-by-turn directions within this post, check out The Hiking Guy’s full feature on this exact route for more detailed instructions on how to keep on-trail, here!
This climb follows the old Mount Lowe railway route up to Echo Mountain, where you’ll be able to see the old ruins of the Echo Mountain mountain resort. As you climb the trail, your route will parallel some of the old Mount Lowe Railway route, which was the only electric mountain railway ever built in the USA.
The railroad lead to the Echo Mountain House Resort which you can find the ruins of — including a hotel, restaurants, tavern, observatory, million candlepower searchlight, and the famous echo-phones which you can still use today! There’s a fascinating history behind this building of which only the foundation remains. Check it out, here!
There are some informational plaques that you can stop to read and pretend that it’s because you’re super interested in learning about the history of the building when in reality it’s because this hike is pretty strenuous and you needed a break… Lots of people turn around once they reach this point, but to continue to the top, keep heading toward the Castle Canyon trail to Inspiration Point which is located on your right.
This hike is one of those hikes where it just keeps getting steeper as you get closer to the top — but don’t give up. The views from the peak are 100% worth it! Closer to the top after about 4.9 miles of hiking, you’ll start to see the Inspiration Point pavilion which taunts you as you approach in this never-ending incline.
The pavilion itself at the top is really neat. There are viewing tubes, each pre-set with the correct direction to look toward its respectively labeled sight. There’s even a viewing tube for Inspiration Point – hiking humor.
Now that you’ve made it to the top it’s time to relax, take in the views, and enjoy a snack. It’s certainly an inspiring journey.
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