Featuring sunset views, dense forests, and ocean breezes, the best hiking in and near Los Angeles will challenge everything you think you know about the city. Let’s face it — the Walk of Fame is far from the best walk L.A. has to offer.
When I moved to the Los Angeles area nearly 10 years ago I, too, thought of it as an overcrowded metropolis. But I’ve since found plenty of fun day hikes within the city and less than an hour’s drive away (just don’t forget about the traffic).
I’m sharing my top picks for L.A. day hikes, plus a few bonus backpacking trips. A word to the wise: make sure to check trail conditions. It’s not always sunny and 75 here, and hikes of different distances, elevation gain, and difficulty levels can pose unique challenges.
From the city itself to the San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, and other popular destinations, read on to discover the best hikes in and near Los Angeles. Then, strap on your day pack and get out there.
Despite Los Angeles’ famed urban sprawl, you can find a number of green spaces — and surprisingly tough treks — right inside the city. If you get up early enough, you can hop on a trail and still have time to grab brunch and mimosas.
Distance: 2.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 377 feet
Sandwiched between Culver City and south Los Angeles, Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area forms a green oasis amid the concrete jungle. The Kenneth Hahn Community Loop covers all the park’s highlights, plus views of downtown L.A. and the San Gabriel Mountains on clear days.
Arrive early to beat at least some of the crowds that flock to this trail, especially on weekends. You can complete the walk in about an hour and a half, but you may want to take longer to soak up the views, particularly if you have a four-legged friend by your side.
Distance: 2.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 757 feet
Runyon Canyon Trail easily holds the title of Los Angeles’ most popular hike. The loop trail winds uphill on a series of switchbacks, offering city views and peeks at the Hollywood sign, before descending steeply downslope and returning you to your car.
You won’t get a solitary hike by any means, but this iconic, relatively relaxed trail is right in the middle of the action. Tourists can enjoy L.A. skyline vistas and potential celebrity encounters, while dog owners will love the off-leash areas.
Distance: 3.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,407 feet
Dozens of different hikes lead to the Hollywood sign, but this strenuous route tends to scare off more casual strollers, so you may actually find some peace and quiet up here. You can also spot several other famous L.A. landmarks along this loop trail.
Though you’re in the heart of the city, hiking this trail requires shoes with solid traction and a pair of trekking poles for the ascent. This one’s not for anyone seeking a quick jaunt, but if you’re looking for a quad-burner with great views, say no more.
If you’re facing northeast of Los Angeles (say, sitting in traffic on I-5) you can’t miss the towering peaks of the San Gabriel Mountain range. Roughly an hour’s drive from the city center, these mountains are home to some of the most scenic trails in SoCal.
Distance: 9.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,246 feet
One of my favorite hikes, this trail follows the east fork of the San Gabriel River before ending at the Bridge to Nowhere, an impressive arch bridge built in 1936. Here, you’ll find a crystal-clear swimming hole and opportunities to see wildlife like bighorn sheep.
The evenly spaced elevation gain makes this trail great for families, but don’t get too confident — bring trekking poles and grippy shoes for stream crossings, and either lots of drinking water or a filter. Far too many hikers run out of water on this exposed trail.
Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 715 feet
A short drive from L.A., Hermit Falls’ main attraction is a deep swimming hole bordered by sheer cliffs and a waterfall. To access the falls, you’ll only need to walk about a mile along a well-maintained trail, crossing a clear stream before scrambling down a rocky canyon wall.
If “swimming hole, cliffs, and a waterfall” didn’t give it away, this hike gets very crowded on weekends and turns into something of a party hub. While you’ll have to share the falls, you can still go for a dip or a 50-foot cliff jump when water levels are high.[At the time of writing, the trail has been closed to recover from fire damage, but you should still try this hike as soon as you can.]
Distance: 9.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,943 feet
Start this loop to Mount San Antonio, aka Mount Baldy, aka one of SoCal’s most popular peaks, by heading toward the ski hut and climbing switchbacks to the peak. The route may seem tough, but this way you can descend on the Devil’s Backbone, a much rockier and steeper trail.
Unfortunately, Mount Baldy frequently makes headlines due to tragedies with inexperienced hikers, especially in icy winter conditions. If you’re a skilled winter hiker or trail runner then by all means, go ahead. Everyone else should wait until summer and hike with caution.
Distance: 3.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 692 feet
Considering its short length, seasonal waterfall, and proximity to Los Angeles, it’s no surprise that this trail draws hundreds of hikers every weekend. From the Switzer Picnic Area on CA-2, you’ll head downhill to Switzer Falls, passing Bear Canyon along the way.
As with any popular hike, you’ll want to get to the trailhead as early as possible. You should pack bug spray and spare clothes for a swim in the stream below the falls, but you won’t need much more gear since the route isn’t particularly technical.
Distance: 14.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,868 feet
At over 14 miles and nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain, the Mount Wilson Trail can come on strong. But hikers not put off by those numbers will be rewarded with beautiful views, year-round greenery, and a smooth, gradual climb to the peak.
This oft-overlooked gem will be quieter than many L.A. hikes — until you reach the road-accessible summit, which can get crowded on weekends. On the bright side, you can visit the observatory, eat at the Cosmic Cafe, or even catch a ride back down the mountain.
Distance: 7.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,775
Love switchbacks? The climb to Mount Baden-Powell has got you covered, with a whopping 40 switchbacks on the Pacific Crest Trail. At the exposed summit, you’ll be greeted by a 1,500-year-old tree and 360-degree views of the surrounding San Gabriels.
This hike is best done in the morning during summer, early fall, or late spring — basically, whenever the trail is dry. Speaking from experience, snow does nothing to improve all those switchbacks. You’ll need a solid pair of trekking poles, plus sturdy hiking boots.
Northwest of Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountain range is dotted with Malibu mansions and spectacular hikes alike. These coastal peaks stay cooler than their inland counterparts, ideal for summer strolls. Head here to catch sea breezes and breathtaking ocean views.
Distance: 4.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,190 feet
In Topanga State Park, Los Leones Trail offers some of the best coastal views around. As you hike up a wide fire road, you’ll catch glimpses of Venice Beach and the Getty Villa before arriving at Parker Mesa Overlook, where you can take a break on one of the benches.
Don’t forget sun protection, trekking poles, and — you guessed it — drinking water. If you’re up for some light bushwhacking, an overgrown route downhill from Parker Mesa turns this trail into a loop, though you’ll have to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes.
Distance: 3.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 669 feet
Solstice Canyon Loop boasts classic Southern California scenery, and some bonuses: a waterfall, exotic plants, and the ruins of the Tropical Terrace, a mansion that burned down in 1982. It’s also worth noting that hikers can (gasp!) actually enjoy some shade on this trail.
Pack a can of bug spray and take some snacks to munch by the waterfall — on warm days, you might want to roll out a picnic blanket and stay here for a while. You won’t need much more gear than that, besides a good camera to snap photos of the sights.
Distance: 3.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 475 feet
Right off the Pacific Coast Highway, the Escondido Falls Trail features two waterfalls which, naturally, make this one of the more popular coastal trails. However, those hoping for a swim might be disappointed, as the upper falls are on private property and both falls often run dry.
Visit in winter or spring for your best shot at seeing the elusive falls, as well as wildflowers in bloom. During the rest of the year, you can focus on the natural landscapes and rolling hills around you.
Distance: 6.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
The crown jewel of the famous Malibu Creek State Park, the Malibu Lake Trail runs parallel to Malibu Creek up a narrow, but scenic sandstone canyon. Along the way, you’ll pass native Californian flora and relics from “M.A.S.H.,” one of several films and shows shot here.
Bring ample sun protection and water for this hike. The trail’s proximity to the coast means hikers often don’t expect such a hot and dry environment, especially in summer. During winter and spring, though, you may be able to cool off in the creek.
Distance: 5.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,341 feet
Don’t be alarmed by that elevation gain — save for a short climb at the very beginning, the Mishe Mokwa Trail is graded for smooth strolling. Native plants and ocean views define this loop hike, which covers some of the tallest points in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Plan an early start to avoid crowds and the heat, and slather on sunscreen before you hit the trail. If you consider yourself navigationally challenged, print out a map and pay close attention to trail markers, as many spur trails in the area can lead you astray.
Although popular, the San Gabriels and Santa Monicas aren’t the only places to take a hike near L.A. On these trails, you can spot unusual landmarks, great views, and peeks into Californian geography and culture.
Distance: 3.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 472 feet
Vasquez Rocks has guest starred in numerous films, including “Star Trek” and “A Thousand and One Nights.” This also falls on the Pacific Crest Trail, so you can get in a bite-sized PCT hike without the commitment of a cross-country trek.
Except for the rocks themselves, this desert trail is very exposed. Pack more than enough water (and maybe some extra snacks for hungry PCT hikers). As you walk, admire the arid landscape and native California plants, like yucca and California junipers.
Distance: 5.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 587 feet
Every spring, thousands of brilliant orange blooms carpet the hills of Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. The Antelope Loop Trail keeps hikers a safe distance from the fragile flowers while still affording up-close views of this colorful, yearly phenomenon.
Poppy season runs from mid-February to mid-May and folks come from all over to take in the spectacle, so parking can be tough. During the rest of the year, the hike is still worth a walk to catch views of the neighboring mountains with far fewer crowds.
Distance: 1.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 715 feet
This isn’t your average L.A. hike — to complete it, you need to be comfortable with rock scrambling and a few tough climbs. But intrepid hikers can catch L.A. views from Castle Peak and walk through the Cave of Munits, significant to the native Chumash people.
Despite the trail’s sub-two-mile length, the terrain here can get very technical, so you’ll need to have appropriate footwear. Rock climbers may want to hike in with ropes and helmets, as those craggy sandstone walls offer several fun routes.
I know, I know. Los Angeles doesn’t look anything like a prime backpacking destination, but you’d be surprised by the area’s numerous options for overnight trips. Here are a few of my favorites that will suit all skill levels, from beginners to expert ultralighters.
Distance: 4.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 905 feet
I often recommend this hike to beginner backpackers — it’s got just enough ascent and scenery to keep things interesting without scaring anyone off. From Crystal Lake Campground, you’ll climb to Windy Gap, then continue straight to Little Jimmy Trail Camp.
The campground can get pretty busy on summer weekends, so try to arrive as early as possible to snag your walk-in site. Once you do, settle in and enjoy the many amenities, like a freshwater spring, fire pits, bear boxes, and even a state-of-the-art backcountry toilet.
Distance: 14.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,035
This route descends steadily from Mount Lowe Motorway to the Idlehour Trail Camp. This means you’ll have to hike uphill on your way back out, including a traverse up and around Mount Markham, but you can motivate yourself with views from the aptly named Inspiration Point.
Made up of three hike-in tent sites, Idlehour Camp is relatively undeveloped. So, there are fewer visitors but also little to no amenities, including water. After you figure out all the logistics, though, you can’t beat this hike for solitude and calm.
Distance: 37.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 7,939
The bucket list-worthy TCT takes hikers on a nearly 40-mile tour of Catalina Island’s rugged backcountry. While strenuous, this hike features panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, chances to spot wildlife, and well-kept campgrounds with potable water.
Hikers planning to tackle the TCT must reserve permits, then take a ferry from San Pedro to Two Harbors to reach the trail. Once you arrive, double-check your pack. If you happen to forget any gear, you can typically purchase a replacement in Two Harbors before setting out.
Between day hikes and backpacking trips, the best hiking in and near Los Angeles will show you a whole new side of Southern California. Hikers of all skill levels can find great trails both within L.A. and less than an hour’s drive away.
If the Bridge to Nowhere, Mount Baldy, or Malibu Lake trails sound too intimidating, you can try plenty of other popular destinations. These hikes vary widely in distance, elevation gain, and difficulty, giving you several options for a walk in the woods.
No matter where you hike, always pack water and sun protection. Don’t be the hiker who underestimates a tough trail, or worse, the hiker who leaves trash and graffiti. Though these hikes may be near L.A., they’re wild places to preserve for everyone’s use.
Remember to respect the landscape, both manmade and natural, as you explore the best hikes in and near Los Angeles. And if you feel like you might be missing out on the full L.A. experience, don’t worry — Hollywood will still be there when you’re done.
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Last Updated on October 13, 2023