Los Angeles’s wealth of outdoors activities is no secret, and in Southern California, it’s hardly ever a bad time to get outside.
Hiking is a cheap way to enjoy the fresh air and the delightfully mild Southern California winter. 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 come with spectacular sights.
Each of the routes below offer beautiful or unique views along the way or at the end: waterfalls, stunning views, leftovers from filming location heydays. So bribe friends and family by promising them a beautiful waterfall or stunning views, and get out there.
As with any outdoor adventure at any time of the year, it’s a good idea to pack more water than you anticipate needing and check the weather before you head out. This list of hiking essentials is a good way to prepare for even the shortest of walks in LA’s wilderness.
Also, don’t forget to check trail conditions—between November’s Woolsey fire and the federal government shutdown, plenty of popular parks and paths are closed or badly damaged.
Now, time to hit the trail!
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. Though the area was hit by the Woolsey fire, there are still some (scorched) rusted Army Jeeps and other signs of filming here, making for a nice photo op.
Because of the fire, the park was briefly closed, but it reopened earlier this month. (The campground remains closed, according to the park’s official website, due to an ongoing investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.) Since the landscape is recovering from a devastating wildfire, do take extra care to stay on the existing trails.
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.
Who can say no to a waterfall? The photogenic water feature is the 40-foot-tall Paradise Falls, tucked into Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks.
A roughly 2-mile hike to see the falls can be extended into a moderate 4.5-mile hike by adding on a stop at Lizard Rock, which offers vistas of the Stagecoach Bluff area and the surrounding valley. Modern Hiker has a well-illustrated guide to the extended hike.
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.
Eaton Canyon’s lower waterfall has water in it right now—it’s no Niagara but it’s pretty nice to look at. (Eaton’s upper falls are closed indefinitely.) The hike to the falls is relatively shady and fairly 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.
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.
In 2016, it was rumored that the buildings were being torn down, but photos show that it remains a mostly well-preserved site in a beautiful setting. Hikespeak provides detailed directions from the start of the trail.
If all of the trails above seem too tame, there’s always the hike from Sierra Madre’s Chantry Flat to Mt. Wilson, which is a punishing but beautiful trail about 7 miles up with a 4,200-foot gain in elevation. Lots of people do this hike as conditioning, to work up to bigger peaks.
The big reward at the end—if you’re up for it by then—is the Mount Wilson Observatory. Though its weekend tours and cafe are closed for the winter, the grounds, museum, and 100-inch telescope viewing gallery are open year-round.
Added bonus for visiting the Observatory: the parking lot right below it, where 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, and cars will need a $5 day-use Adventure Pass to park there. Passes are available for purchase at multiple locations. (It’s unclear whether permits will be checked during the government shutdown, but it’s probably best to err on the safe side; they can be bought in plenty of nearby locations.)
Hikers could also continue back down for an approximately 14-mile hike, if desired.
Not to be confused with the similar-sounding Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks, 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 on post-hike snacks while you sit down and cool off. Get there early, though: The park closes at sundown.