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Hikes in Los Angeles: 9 trails with spectacular endings

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If the trail isn’t crowded, feel free to take a hike

An aerial photo of a few hikers spread out on a winding trail The LA skyline is visible in the distance.
If you can stay six feet apart from other hikers, feel free to hit the trails.

With social distancing keeping more Angelenos home for more time than usual, many are eager to find safe ways to get out of the house for a bit. Luckily for those who are feeling cooped up, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has said there are a few outdoor activities still okay to do amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

”You should... feel free to take a walk, a hike, a run—just not with a group of people,” says Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the health department’s director.

Hiking doesn’t usually require you to come in contact with any frequently touched surfaces, and it’s not an enclosed space—both of which are issues of concern with the novel coronavirus.

“As long as you’re able to maintain that six foot radius around people that you don’t live with,” it’s okay to hike right now, says Dr. Russell Buhr, a pulmonary and critical care physician at UCLA.

That distance is key, especially now that more people might be headed for the trails. If it seems like you won’t be able to maintain that six-foot distance because a trail is too crowded, says Buhr, “choose a different place to exercise.” Going during the week if you are able or on off hours could be helpful too, according to Modern Hiker.

Also, remember to wash your hands after coming in contact with any handrails or drinking fountains. (Bringing your own water and other essentials, even on a short hike, is also always a good idea.)

Buhr does caution that the situation is changing daily. If the advice from public health officials changes, and the public gets told not go outdoors at all, “people need to listen to that,” he says.

But for now, you can hike safely with the people in your house, and LA has no shortage of excellent spots.

Below is a list of hikes with good endings—waterfalls, stunning views, leftovers from bygone film shoots—that has been updated to include trails where it shouldn’t be too hard to keep that six-foot distance. And though California’s state parks have closed their campgrounds, trails and beaches are still open. Need some more options? Modern Hiker has some additional suggestions.

1. Parker Mesa and Los Liones Trail

As spring approaches, beachy hikes are top of mind. This one, which starts in Pacific Palisades and ends in Topanga State Park, offers gorgeous views of the coastline and cuts through verdant hillsides. The 7.3-mile path described by Modern Hiker traverses the Los Liones Trail and leads to Parker Mesa, an overlook in the park. Sections of the trails are pretty exposed, making this a fine hike for a sunny February day, but it’s probably less bearable in the summer.

2. Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park

This historic park in Chatsworth encompasses part of the primary route between the San Fernando and Simi Valleys for the Tongva and Chumash who once lived in the area. Later, the route was used by the Spanish and by stagecoaches to travel between Los Angeles and points north.

Today, the park is dotted with reminders of the Chumash (like their grinding basins in rocks) and the stagecoaches (look down and you might see wheel ruts in the sandstone). There are also exciting natural features like rock formations, cliffs, and maybe even a seasonal waterfall.

And then there are the vistas. “Panoramic views of the rugged natural landscape [serve] as a striking contrast to the developed communities nearby,” says the park’s website, a nod to the impressive views of the Valley available from the park.

Nobody Hikes in LA has directions for a 5-mile hike through the park.

3. Bridge to Nowhere

If you’re looking for a bit more mileage, now might be the time to take a crack at the Bridge to Nowhere, located in the San Gabriel Mountains above Azusa. The trail is 10 basically unshaded miles, so once the days get hotter, it’s going to be a lot less fun to trek—check this one off your list before it’s too late! A note though: If there’s rain in the forecast, it’s best to postpone this hike—the area is prone to serious flash floods.

The trail gets its name from the surprising span that suddenly materializes over the San Gabriel River’s east fork at the terminus of the trail. When the bridge was completed in 1936, the plan was to link it to a highway through the area, according to Atlas Obscura; when that highway was washed out in a huge flood in 1938, that plan washed away with it, leaving the bridge alone in the mountains with no road to connect it to anything.

The path to get to the bridge is a long, if flat haul that involves multiple water crossings with water from ankle to knee-high and the potential for swimming and bighorn sheep sightings.

Modern Hiker has very good directions that include photos and notes about permits. There’s also a visitor center—the San Gabriel Canyon Gateway Center—on on San Gabriel Canyon Road right before the national forest begins; stop in for general information, any permits or maps you need, or to ask about trail conditions and water levels at the crossings.

4. Burbank’s Wildwood Canyon

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.

5. Amir’s Garden

If you’re looking for a shorter jaunt, this is a good one. It’s steep but short and ends with Amir’s Garden, a space created in 1971 following a major fire in Griffith Park. Though Griffith Park is a huge draw, this trail was sparsely traveled on Sunday and maintaining a six-foot space was a breeze, even in the garden. The garden is serene and wonderful, and the views after all the rain are expansive. Hikespeak has helpful directions.

6. Echo Mountain

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! SoCal Hiker offers image-heavy directions.

7. Paradise Falls in Wildwood Park

Who can say no to a waterfall? In this case, 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.

8. Murphy Ranch

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.

9. Malibu Creek State Park

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.

Since the landscape is recovering from the devastation of that wildfire, do take extra care to stay on the existing trails.

The hike to the old filming location 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 Trail are both close to free parking. Hikespeak offers good directions with pictures.