My Top Three Favorite Hikes in Los Angeles

It’s official - I’ve left Los Angeles for the perceivable future! 

And it’s bittersweet, if I’m being honest. California is an explorer’s paradise; just look at all the things I’ve done in the past year (not to mention when I lived here back in 2012)! There’s been so much that I could never chronicle it all on the blog, and I’ve had to rely on Instagram to keep up with me. 

Before jumping headfirst into what’s next, I thought I’d recap some of my favorite activities that slid through the cracks - namely, the hikes. When I first moved to LA I joined a few local hiking groups on Facebook (one of my first orders of business when moving anywhere) to find suggestions, and throughout my stay I often did simple Google searches for “the best hikes in Los Angeles”, “the best hikes in SoCal”, and importantly for my pale ass, “SHADED hikes in Los Angeles”. I regret that I never got to them all (and since I was working full-time I mainly did day hikes), but of the ones I was able to complete, these memorable paths were my Top Three:

1. Chantry Flat / Mt. Wilson

The website where I initially found this hike dubbed it the “Enchanted Forest”, and there’s no confusion as to why! The first time I did it was in October, and the colors were spectacular. Technically it’s in Arcadia, about a 30 minute drive from where I was living in Burbank, but there was so much vegetation and mist that it was like an autumnal fairytale - vey rare in the LA area. Everywhere else usually looks dead and dusty (ahem, Griffith, Runyon, Wildwood), and it was the rejuvenation I needed at the right time. That first trip I showed up later in the afternoon on a gloomy day, so there was hardly anyone there and I had the route to Hermit Falls almost all to myself. At this time of year the falls were dried up, and unfortunately there is a ton of graffiti on the rocks of the creek area when you get there, but it’s still a beautiful hike. 

I wanted to show my friend the gem I’d found, so I came back again the very next day. When we arrived it was totally packed, which I think is more typical. We couldn’t find a parking spot in the regular lot, so we drove further and further back down the way we came until we finally spotted a space on the shoulder of the road where the car could fit (I’m not sure if this is *technically* allowed, but dozens of other cars were doing the same thing). This time we took the trail to Sturtevant Falls (there are a few different routes starting from the Chantry Flat parking area), which I think is the bigger of the two waterfalls during the summer. There was only a slight trickle, but no graffiti!

The third time I came back in November, a friend and I hiked the entire 7 mile trail from Chantry Flat to the Mount Wilson Observatory. It’s a loop trail that’s actually 14 miles if you plan to hike back down afterwards, but we only had a half a day at our disposal so we parked one of our cars at the Observatory and the other at Chantry Flat. Once we reached the top, we drove back down and saved some time, but since there’s a cafe at the Observatory where we could have replenished our energy and the return trip would have been mostly downhill, it shouldn’t have been too strenuous to do the whole thing if we’d had the time. 

The full hike up Mt. Wilson ruled. We got a different perspective when the trail took us up and over the Sturtevant waterfall I’d only witnessed from below the last time, and there were huts and campgrounds along the way that were fun to explore. One spot in particular with well-maintained cabins and gaming equipment can be reserved; a group was partying there when we trekked through and said they definitely recommended the stay. 

The first half of the hike was a breeze, then the last bit gained steeper and steeper elevation with every step. In total Mt. Wilson tops out at only around 5,710 feet, but our legs felt it. I was glad to have this guide saved on my phone, because we did get confused at one fork in the trail and having the directions to reference kept us on course.

*Note: Chantry Flat trailhead is currently closed for the government shutdown….Trump ruins all our fun once again :(
*Note 2: You’re supposed to buy a
day pass, but no-one was ever present at any of the locations where I tried to buy one. Parking and hiking without the pass gave me a ton of anxiety because I kept worrying I’d get towed, but nothing bad ever happened.

2. Echo Mountain

This 5 1/2 mile hike is in Altadena. I really should have lived more towards the east of town!

I found the Echo Mountain hike via Sam Merrill Trail on Hikespeak and on HikingGuy, which both give thorough rundowns. There is only one trail and it’s incredibly obvious, so it’s almost impossible to get lost on this one except maybe in the first few hundred yards when you’re trying to make sure you’re at the correct starting place at the ravine/dry riverbed HikingGuy mentions. From there it’s just good fun, with tons of switchbacks and a fair amount of uphill trekking to give your thighs a solid workout! The day I went a lot of people were clogging up the trail, but free street parking was easy to find in the neighborhood surrounding the trailhead. The views were spectacular; I could see across Los Angeles and all the way to the ocean! Once I arrived at the top there were artifacts and ruins from the railroad and resort to investigate. People paused to eat at the picnic tables while soaking in the view, or yelled out to test the echo. It’s worth reading up on the history of the trail to fully appreciate the payoff at the top. 

A friend did this hike at nighttime. He said it was cool to see all the city lights, and since he did it on the fourth of July he could watch fireworks across LA. Even with a headlamp I would be worried about this since the trail is rather narrow and I already tripped over a few rocks in the daytime, but apparently it’s a common night excursion. He also told me a story of his friend getting lost up there at night, though, and having to be air lifted out, so I guess like anything it depends on your skill and preparation. 

3. Malibu Creek State Park

I found this one while searching for hikes that included water to wade in! The rock pools here are incredible, I’ve been three times. The hike to them is only about a mile, and it’s not really a “hike”, just a long walk with no elevation or anything. BUT, pro tip if you have trouble with the sun like me: the walk in and out is still gnarly in the summer (unless you go on a particularly overcast day, like in the last four pictures in the below slideshow). Leave as early as possible, wear sunscreen and a hat, and keep hydrated to avoid heatstroke.

It’s usually busy here with a lot of families and people blasting boom boxes (I will never understand subjecting other people to your music), but I found that the earlier I arrived the more privacy I had (though I’ve never had it all to myself no matter the time of day), and it’s so much fun that I wasn’t bothered much by anyone anyway.

More adventurous swimmers jump from the highest rocks into the pools below, and rock climbers practice scaling the ledges nearby. I mainly swam and explored the rocks, which felt gloriously cool on a summer’s day. You can also hike other trails in the area, including the one leading to the MASH site (where they filmed the TV show).

*Note: They finally caught the creep who’d been attacking people in the park at night, so all should be safe.
Note 2: I always wished I brought cash with me when I went because local farms sold strawberries and other fresh fruit near the park entrance. 

I most regret never getting to the Bridge To Nowhere hike, which I was supposed to do with my cool neighbors Steve and Jen, who usually hike many miles into the backcountry way past the heavily frequented area of the bridge (where people bungee jump!) and know it like the back of their hands. I also wanted to see the weird Nazi spot at Murphy Ranch, hike Escondido Falls, and I definitely want to come back sooner rather than later to try the Six Pack of Peaks challenge! Like many other things in California (particularly the ghost town of Bodie, Sequoia National Forest, and YOSEMITE), they will have to remain on my bucket list for the future to keep me hungry and in a constant state of FOMO. 

I think I could live in California all my life, and maybe one day if I get tired of moving around it will be my long-term spot, but I keep asking myself: how can you ever know that for sure if you haven’t seen and experienced all the alternatives? There’s too much out there left undone, waiting for me. I’ve never seen the Smoky Mountains or the Grand Canyon. I’ve never lived abroad! All things I’ve got up my sleeve for the coming year…..fingers crossed.

If you get the chance to do any of these hikes, let me know what you think! And even though I’m not in Cali currently, I’m always looking for more suggestions for next time. Drop me your SoCal recommendations and make me jealous.


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