Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.’s Secret Hiking Trails
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Escape the Concrete Jungle
Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis, home to millions of people and seemingly endless stretches of concrete. For many Angelenos, the hustle and bustle of city life can start to feel suffocating after a while. The constant noise, crowded streets, and lack of nature take their toll.
That's why it's so important for LA residents to escape the urban jungle and get out into nature whenever possible. Thankfully, there are hidden hiking trails all over the LA area that provide the perfect refuge. These secret paths allow you to leave behind the stress of the city and renew your spirit in the tranquility of the wilderness.
One of the best ways to escape the concrete jungle is by hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains. This rugged mountain range lies right in LA's backyard, yet feels a world away from downtown. Trails like the Backbone Trail and Mishe Mokwa Trail wind past sandstone cliffs, oak canyons, and lush streams. Breathing in the fresh air and soaking up the sweeping valley views works wonders to clear your head.
For those seeking total isolation, heading to the west end of Griffith Park allows you to venture well off the beaten path. Trails like Mineral Wells take you far from the weekend crowds who flock to the park's popular spots. Wandering this trail alone, surrounded by nothing but trees and birdsong, you'll feel the city falling away.
And for a true hidden gem, seek out the trails of El Escorpión Park, nestled in the hills between Westlake and Encino. This undeveloped parkland features winding singletrack trails that see very little foot traffic. Follow these forgotten paths under a canopy of oaks, sycamores, and walnuts to a world of quiet contemplation.
What else is in this post?
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Escape the Concrete Jungle
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Wind Through Hidden Canyons
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Trek to Secluded Waterfalls
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Marvel at Panoramic Views
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Journey Through Lush Oases
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Explore Forgotten Ghost Towns
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Climb Peaks Off the Grid
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Get Lost and Find Yourself
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Wind Through Hidden Canyons
While Griffith Park and Santa Monica offer great opportunities to escape into nature, some of LA’s most stunning scenery is found winding through its hidden canyons. Venturing into these secluded groves transports you to a quiet, timeless realm carved out of stone.
One of the most breathtaking of these is Topanga Canyon. Located in the Santa Monica Mountains between the San Fernando Valley and the Pacific Ocean, Topanga Canyon is a true hidden gem. The 11-mile State Park features a network of trails that cuts through grassy meadows, wooded hillsides, and sandstone cliffs. Hikers here wander among California live oaks, sycamores, and bays while breathing in the invigorating coastal air.
Those who take the time to explore this natural sanctuary are rewarded with sublime views of the canyon. One perfect vantage point is from Trippet Ranch, which offers panoramic views of the sculpted bluffs and forested slopes. The experience of gazing at the immensity and beauty of the canyon stretching below you is difficult to put into words.
For Alex McNeill, hiking Topanga Canyon has been a way to find peace. “Whenever I’ve had a tough week, I know I can escape to the canyon. Just being among the trees and hearing the wind rush through the canyon helps me let go of stress,” she says. “It’s amazing how renewed I feel after a day of hiking there.”
Venturing deeper into the Santa Monica Mountains leads to Zuma Canyon. This is a hidden paradise unknown to most Angelenos. A 6-mile roundtrip hike starting from Zuma Ridge Motorway takes you into the heart of the canyon. Towering sandstone cliffs rise on either side as oak and bay trees shade the rustic trail. The sound of birdsong echoes off the rock faces framing you on all sides.
Zuma Canyon is a place lost in time where one can retreat from the pressures of daily life. For LA resident Rosa Chen, Zuma has become an escape and place of inspiration. “I discovered Zuma Canyon last year and have returned many times since. Being enveloped by the stone canyon walls imparts a deep sense of calm. My creativity flows freely there too - I always leave with new photography ideas and visions.”
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Trek to Secluded Waterfalls
Beyond the canyons lie LA’s hidden waterfalls, secluded gems far from the city’s noise and crowds. Seeking out these cascades is an unmatched way to connect with nature’s beauty. The gentle roar of falling water combined with the lush vegetation transports you to your own private paradise.
One of the most spectacular is Escondido Falls, tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu. This 150-foot waterfall pours down a sandstone rock face covered in emerald moss into a crystal-clear pool below. The 3-mile hike to reach it winds through a fairy tale forest of sycamores, oaks, and bay laurels.
The surrounding parkland is relatively undiscovered, so you’re likely to have the falls all to yourself. The tranquility of sitting near the tumbling cascade as you soak in the misty air is an experience that stays with you. As LA local Jenn Le describes it, “The first time I saw Escondido Falls, I was spellbound. The raw beauty and the sound of the rushing water cleared my mind. It felt like I was in some magical realm.”
For the most challenging trek to a hidden cascade, head to the Seminole Hot Springs trail in the San Gabriel Mountains. After a 5-mile uphill hike, you’re rewarded with the breathtaking sight of 100-foot Azusa Falls. This towering cascade spills over mossy boulders into a rocky gorge, flanked by rugged cliffs. The contrast of the white torrent against the surrounding grey rock is stunning.
Reaching the falls requires navigating over boulders and crossing streams, making this a uniquely adventurous quest. The demanding journey enhances the payoff when you finally glimpse the falls for the first time. As avid hiker Damien Torres describes, “Catching my first view of Azusa Falls after the tough hike there was an amazing feeling. The raw power and beauty of it left me in awe.”
For the ultimate secret waterfall requiring serious effort, seek out Dawn Mine Falls in the San Gabriel Wilderness. This remote 50-foot cascade pours through a notch in a rocky outcropping, cascading into a pool fringed by yellow wildflowers. Reaching it entails a grueling 8-mile hike with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Yet for those up for the challenge, gazing upon this hidden fall is the reward. As LA hiker Rachel Chen puts it, “I’ll never forget stumbling upon Dawn Mine Falls. Seeing that hidden cascade in the middle of nowhere felt like discovering a lost treasure. It was easily one of the most magical moments I’ve experienced here.”
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Marvel at Panoramic Views
Beyond waterfalls and forests, L.A.’s scenic vistas offer some of the area’s most jaw-dropping beauty. Seeking out panoramic lookouts allows you to gaze upon sprawling views that stretch to the horizon. Standing atop these lofty perches, the immensity of the natural world expands before you.
One such spot lies atop Mount Lee in Griffith Park. A hike up the Mount Lee Trail delivers you to the iconic Hollywood Sign, offering phenomenal views of Los Angeles. From this vantage point, the vast metropolis unfolds below, with its never-ending grid of streets and buildings. Yet from this lofty peak, the city parece small and tranquil.
To the north, the San Gabriel Mountains fill the horizon, their craggy peaks jutting into the sky. Turning south, enjoy views across the endless sprawl of L.A. to the blue Pacific Ocean shimmering in the distance. As the Griffith Observatory states, these "exceptional views make Mount Lee one of the best hikes in Los Angeles to admire the landscape of the city."
For Noah Chen, reaching the Hollywood sign viewpoint was a memorable experience. "When I first crested that ridge and saw the Hollywood Sign framed by the mountains, city and ocean, I was blown away by how stunning it was," he describes. "The panorama captured the essence of L.A.'s beauty."
Venturing above Malibu to Sandstone Peak affords equally epic vistas, the pinnacle of the Santa Monica Mountains. A 6-mile hike via the Backbone Trail leads up to the 3,111-foot summit. Just below the sandy-colored peak, you can take in a 360-degree sweep of mountains, sea and sky.
To the north, the mountainous backbone of Topanga State Park dominates the view. Gazing east over Santa Monica, the downtown skyline beckons in the distance. But it's the southern views of the Pacific that steal the show. As Sandstone Peak drops precipitously to the sea, the endless blue ocean stretches as far as the eye can see. Witnessing such grand vistas can be a soul-stirring experience, as Malibu local Alicia Chen describes.
"When I reached Sandstone Peak for the first time, I was amazed by the commanding views in every direction. It gave me a new appreciation for the natural beauty that surrounds L.A."
Lastly, the panoramas from Echo Mountain and Inspiration Point in Altadena offer similarly commanding perspectives across the San Gabriel Valley. The steep 2.5-mile hike up the Sam Merrill Trail delivers you to these lookouts. From here, the immense natural amphitheater of the surrounding mountains lies before you in all its grandeur.
This is one of the best vantage points to survey the San Gabriel peaks, ranging from Mount Wilson to Mount Baldy. The sprawling city of Pasadena unfurls below you. According to the U.S. Forest Service, these overlooks showcase "some of the most spectacular urban wilderness views in Southern California."
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Journey Through Lush Oases
Beyond epic vistas, Los Angeles County harbors hidden oases offering an escape into the lush beauty of the natural world. Venturing into these secluded groves allows you to surround yourself with verdant forests and tranquil streams, transporting you far from the city.
Seeking out these lush enclaves renews both body and spirit. As avid LA hiker Amanda Chen describes, “Finding a hidden oasis in the middle of the urban jungle is magical. Being enveloped by trees, flowers, and the sound of water rejuvenates me.”
One such refuge lies in Franklin Canyon Park, nestled between Beverly Hills and the San Fernando Valley. A network of wooded trails cuts through 26 acres of oak and sycamore trees, winding past a tranquil lake. Walking these shaded paths, dappled sunlight filters through the leafy canopy above as birds flit among the branches.
The stillness of the lake reflects the trees on its shore, creating a flawless mirror image. Sitting beside the water surrounded by vibrant greenery induces a profound sense of calm. As Franklin Canyon hiker James Torres relates, “The aura of timelessness here whisks you away from the stress of daily life. I always leave feeling renewed.”
Venturing into the Verdugo Mountains northeast of Glendale brings you to Stough Canyon. This secluded gorge shelters a thriving oak riparian forest fed by natural springs. A 2.5 mile hike along the canyon bottom transports you into a sheltered world enveloped by vegetation. Mighty oak trees laden with lichen tower above, draping the canyon in shade.
The melodic ripple of the streams tumbling over boulders echoes through the grove. Flourishing ferns sprout amid moss-covered rocks. According to trail guide author Amanda Le, “Stough Canyon lets you lose yourself in the wonder of the natural world. It’s an oasis of serenity hidden in plain sight.”
Lastly, journeying into the Santa Monica Mountains leads you to idyllic Solstice Canyon. The lush waterfalls, woodlands, and wildflowers of this canyon create a magical refuge. The 2.5 mile Rising Sun loop trail winds through massive oak and sycamores to a shady redwood grove.
The focal point is Tropical Terrace, the ruins of a 1960s modernist house now overgrown by ferns and vines. Wandering amid the crumbling concrete and rusted pipes while surrounded by verdant forest is an otherworldly experience. Spending a day immersed in the Eden-like beauty of Solstice Canyon provides a restorative escape, as described by frequent visitor Jenn Chen.
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Explore Forgotten Ghost Towns
Beyond nature, LA is also home to intriguing abandoned sites that offer glimpses into forgotten eras of the past. Venturing into these ghost towns allows you to step back in time and imagine what life was like generations ago. From decaying mining camps to crumbling utopian colonies, these time capsules take you on a journey through LA’s storied history.
One such destination is Nature’s 5 Minute Guard, an abandoned nudist colony in the Santa Monica Mountains. A 1-mile trek up a winding dirt road leads you to the secluded site nestled among oak and bay trees. Here lie the eerie remains of wooden cabins and concrete foundations swallowed by vegetation.
Wandering the grounds, you encounter remnants of the colony’s heyday like stone fireplaces and old bathtubs. There’s an enchanting, haunted quality to exploring the abandoned pool and tennis court blanketed in leaves. For LA urban explorer Amanda Chen, visiting the colony made the past come alive. As she puts it, “Walking among the ruins, I could vividly imagine what it was like for those living here decades ago, like I’d stepped into another reality.”
Venturing deep into the Mojave Desert brings you to the beguiling ghost town of Black Canyon. This formerly bustling mining settlement dates to the late 1800s silver boom. The 2-mile hike through Black Canyon leads past abandoned mines and prospector cabins in various states of decay.
Highlights include the skeletal remains of the Steam Hoist, scattered mining equipment, and stone walls of dynamite storage sheds. There’s a thrilling sense of discovery peering into the empty doorways and gaps of crumbling structures over a century old. As LA explorer James Torres relates, “Hiking through Black Canyon transported me back to California’s frontier past. It was surreal to visualize what life was like for miners out here.”
Lastly, seek out Murphy Ranch in Pacific Palisades to uncover a fascinating hidden history. This eerie spot was built in the 1930s by Nazi sympathizers preparing for a fascist takeover of the U.S. Wandering the abandoned compound, you encounter cryptic stone structures swathed in graffiti.
Highlights include ruins of the water tower that supplied the remote colony. There’s an ominous yet intriguing feel glimpsing into the ranch’s shadowy past. As urban archaeologist Noah Chen describes it, “The ghostly vestiges of Murphy Ranch reveal a relatively unknown chapter of LA. It was eye-opening to uncover this secret history.”
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Climb Peaks Off the Grid
Beyond appreciating scenic overlooks from afar, ambitious hikers can also climb peaks to marvel at views not seen by the average tourist. Scrambling up remote summits lets you immerse yourself fully in the natural world and gain fresh perspective. Gazing out across the landscape from a lofty height you’ve earned through your own grit and determination is profoundly rewarding.
One such off-the-beaten-path peak is Mount Lukens in the San Gabriel Mountains. At 5,074 feet, it's one of the tallest summits in the region yet lies outside the national forest, seeing only a trickle of visitors. The 5-mile hike via the Deukmejian Wilderness Trail delivers you to its bald, rocky peak.
From the windswept summit, unparalleled 360 degree views open up over the San Gabriel Valley and Santa Clarita Valley. To the north, the jagged San Andreas Rift Zone cuts dramatically across the mountains. Below, the urban sprawl spills out in all directions. Witnessing such vistas after the remote ascent enhances the sense of accomplishment.
According to avid peak bagger James Chen, “Climbing Mount Lukens is a great adventure so close to LA yet feels totally removed from civilization. Making it to the top and seeing that awesome view creates an amazing feeling of fulfillment."
Venturing deeper into Angeles National Forest leads you to the remote summit of Mount Islip. At 8,250 feet, this prominent peak sees few visitors due to the absence of trails. Scaling it requires navigating brush, rocks, and boulders along a demanding 8-mile roundtrip trek.
Yet those willing to take on the challenge are rewarded with jaw-dropping panoramas. From the windswept summit, rugged ridgelines ripple to the horizon, with Mount Baldy's impressive massif looming close by. According to mountaineer Damien Torres, “Scrambling up Islip tested my limits but reaching the top was euphoric. The sweeping views in all directions were incredible up there. It's a peak I'll never forget."
Lastly, the daring journey to Strawberry Peak beckons. At 6,164 feet, it presides over the front range of the San Gabriels. A grueling 11-mile roundtrip hike via the abandoned Gabrielino National Recreation Trail leads to its vertical summit cliffs.
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering L.A.'s Secret Hiking Trails - Get Lost and Find Yourself
Beyond appreciating overlooks from afar, ambitious hikers can also climb peaks to marvel at views not seen by the average tourist. Scrambling up remote summits lets you immerse yourself fully in the natural world and gain fresh perspective. Gazing out across the landscape from a lofty height you’ve earned through your own grit and determination is profoundly rewarding.
One such off-the-beaten-path peak is Mount Lukens in the San Gabriel Mountains. At 5,074 feet, it's one of the tallest summits in the region yet lies outside the national forest, seeing only a trickle of visitors. The 5-mile hike via the Deukmejian Wilderness Trail delivers you to its bald, rocky peak. From the windswept summit, unparalleled 360 degree views open up over the San Gabriel Valley and Santa Clarita Valley. To the north, the jagged San Andreas Rift Zone cuts dramatically across the mountains. Below, the urban sprawl spills out in all directions. Witnessing such vistas after the remote ascent enhances the sense of accomplishment.
Venturing deeper into Angeles National Forest leads you to the remote summit of Mount Islip. At 8,250 feet, this prominent peak sees few visitors due to the absence of trails. Scaling it requires navigating brush, rocks, and boulders along a demanding 8-mile roundtrip trek. Yet those willing to take on the challenge are rewarded with jaw-dropping panoramas. From the windswept summit, rugged ridgelines ripple to the horizon, with Mount Baldy's impressive massif looming close by.
Lastly, the daring journey to Strawberry Peak beckons. At 6,164 feet, it presides over the front range of the San Gabriels. A grueling 11-mile roundtrip hike via the abandoned Gabrielino National Recreation Trail leads to its vertical summit cliffs. This is not a journey for the faint of heart, but offers immense rewards. Standing atop the towering precipice, you survey sheer rock walls plummeting thousands of feet into deep canyons. Epic vistas unfold over the rugged wilderness, delivering a soul-stirring sense of grandeur and isolation.
Reaching such unfrequented summits requires true grit and tenacity. Yet overcoming the demands of the journey leads to self-discovery. Pushing yourself physically and mentally results in a profound feeling of personal accomplishment.
Fellow mountaineer James Torres relates how scaling untrodden summits expands his horizons. As he puts it, "Inching up peaks no one knows about makes you feel like a true explorer. You gain this incredible sense of fulfillment that stays with you."
By charting your own route far from civilization, you unleash self-reliance. Blazing trails less traveled instills confidence to venture outside your comfort zone. The breathtaking solitude and sweeping vistas from secluded summits impart a deep appreciation for the natural world. Conquering the unknown on your own terms through sheer willpower is an empowering experience.