Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain
Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Stair Climbing is Still Climbing
Los Angeles is known for its rolling hills, steep canyons, and rugged mountain trails. But you don’t need to drive hours into nature to get your hike on. The city is full of opportunities for urban trekking, from concrete staircases that wind through neighborhoods to downtown skyscraper climbs.
Stair climbing engages your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves as you propel yourself up on foot. It torches calories, builds lower body strength, and gets your heart pumping. Outdoor stair workouts also provide the mood-boosting benefits of being active in nature. No need for a stairmaster when you’ve got options like the Santa Monica Stairs right in your own backyard.
The famous Santa Monica Stairs, tucked away near 7th Street and Entrada Drive, feature around 175 steps up the side of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hiking up them provides stunning ocean views as your reward. Locals and tourists alike flock to the stairs for grueling workouts. Some athletes even do repeats, sprinting up and down multiple times.
Over in Silver Lake you’ll find the Music Box Stairs, featured in the Laurel Canyon music video for “A Song For You.” Just under 100 steps zigzag steeply uphill, shaded by a canopy of trees. Test your endurance by doing a few laps up and down.
For LA’s highest outdoor stairs, head to Fort Moore Memorial Park downtown. The long, steep staircase ascends 150 vertical feet, equivalent to scaling a 15-story building. Feel the burn in your legs as you make the climb, with sweeping city views as your backdrop.
If long treks aren’t your thing, seek out shorter stair sets around LA to quicken your step count. Examples include the Runyon Canyon Stairs, Los Liones Trail Stairs in Pacific Palisades, the Beachwood Canyon Stairs near the Hollywood sign, and the stairs at Murphy Ranch in Rustic Canyon Park. Knock out a few reps of 10-15 minutes on multiple staircases for a well-rounded routine.
What else is in this post?
- Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Stair Climbing is Still Climbing
- Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - From Griffith to Runyon, L.A.'s Top Trekking Trails
- Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Hit Echo Mountain for Epic City Views
- Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Break a Sweat on the Backbone Trail
- Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - The Best Beach Hikes from Malibu to Palos Verdes
- Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Trek the Trails of Topanga State Park
- Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Explore the Santa Monica Mountains by Foot
- Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Get Your Steps In at Franklin Canyon Park
Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - From Griffith to Runyon, L.A.'s Top Trekking Trails
Los Angeles is a hiker's paradise, with numerous trails winding through rugged canyons, rolling chaparral-covered hills, and mountainous open spaces. From Griffith Park's urban wilderness to the chaparral-blanketed Santa Monica Mountains, the diversity of landscapes around the city offers trekking opportunities galore.
One of L.A.'s most iconic hikes is the Griffith Park Loop. Weaving through chaparral, oak and walnut woodlands in the heart of the city, this 8.5-mile loop rewards trekkers with panoramic views from the Griffith Observatory and the iconic Hollywood sign. The loop encompasses some steep climbs and descents along Mt. Hollywood and Mt. Lee, so come prepared for a good workout. Early morning or late afternoon hikes are best to avoid the midday heat.
Runyon Canyon Park in Hollywood is another popular urban hike, thanks to its proximity to the Sunset Strip. The roughly 3-mile Innsdale Trail features switchbacks winding up the canyon walls, passing the ruins of the Runyon estate. Panoramic views of the L.A. basin await at the top. Arrive early to beat the crowds on weekends.
For more solitude, head to Topanga State Park on the western edge of the Santa Monica Mountains. With 36 miles of trails, you can plan anything from a short nature walk to an all-day trek. The lush single-track trails meander through oak and sycamore groves tucked between sandstone cliffs and mountain ridges. The Overlook Trail rewards hikers with ocean views at the 2,000-foot summit.
On the opposite end of the Santa Monica range, Palos Verdes offers spectacular coastal hikes. The Portuguese Bend Reserve features 6 miles of trail through rolling hills dotted with spring wildflowers. The southern terminus treats hikers to dramatic cliff-lined ocean vistas. Nearby Abalone Cove Shoreline Park trails descend to secluded coves, sea caves and tidepools teeming with marine life.
For a convenient beach hike right in the city, the Marvin Braude Bike Trail stretches 22 miles from Pacific Palisades to Torrance, mostly along the beach. Walk or bike the paved path and take breaks to enjoy the ocean breeze, surf and sand. You'll pass several parks and piers along the way. Early mornings before it gets crowded are ideal.
Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Hit Echo Mountain for Epic City Views
Nestled high above Altadena in the San Gabriel Mountains, Echo Mountain offers a rigorous hike rewarded with sweeping vistas of the Los Angeles basin and San Gabriel Valley. This historic trail transports hikers back to the site of one of Southern California’s first mountain resorts while delivering an outstanding high-altitude trekking experience just minutes from urban LA.
The strenuous uphill journey kicks off from Cobb Estate at the top of Lake Avenue, ascending over 1300 feet via a series of challenging switchbacks cut right into the mountainside. As you climb higher, the valley gradually unfolds below, with panoramic views reaching all the way to Palos Verdes on clear days. Prepare to gain around 1000 feet over the first 1.5 miles; packing plenty of water and snacks will fuel you for the steep stretches ahead.
Ruins of the old Echo Mountain Resort await near the summit, where facilities like a 40-room hotel, observatory, and electric railway once graced the peak in the late 1800s. Today, ruins of the hotel’s foundation and old machinery rusting amongst the rocks serve as haunting reminders of this bygone era. Informational plaques provide fascinating details on the history and characters behind LA’s first mountain getaway.
Continuing past the ruins, you’ll traverse a narrow ridgeline trail blanketing you in unobstructed views in every direction. Gaze south across the valley to the skyscrapers of downtown LA, or peer west to catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean shimmering in the distance on clear days. The vistas stretching out before you make the lung-busting ascent worthwhile.
The idyllic perch of Echo Mountain provides a peaceful escape from urban life, making you feel miles away instead of mere minutes. The thin mountain air and soaring ridge line perspective rejuvenate the spirit and reacquaint you with the rugged slopes defining LA’s terrain. Watching the sunset cast golden hues across the valley provides a storybook ending to an epic trek.
While the downhill return trip goes easier on the legs, the knee-jarring descent requires caution on the uneven terrain. Bringing trekking poles helps take pressure off knees during the steep stretches. Built-in benches along the trail offer convenient respites to rest weary legs.
Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Break a Sweat on the Backbone Trail
Stretching 67 miles across the Santa Monica Mountains from Will Rogers State Park to Point Mugu, the Backbone Trail delivers an epic Southern California trekking experience. Traversing ridges and canyons between the Pacific Coast Highway and 101 Freeway, its diverse landscapes immerse hikers in pure wilderness while remaining minutes from L.A.’s urban core.
Linking trails like Mishe Mokwa and Sandstone Peak to the west with majestic Circle X Ranch to the east, the Backbone forms the backbone of L.A. County’s trail system. Its continuous footpath connects disparate ecosystems, taking on shifting personalities as it winds through coastal sage scrub, oak woodlands, sycamore-lined creek beds, and chaparral.
Venturing across such varied terrain makes for an ever-changing adventure. One minute you’re climbing switchbacks up exposed, sun-baked ridges. The next, you’re descending under oak canopy into shady forests. Sweeping vistas alternate with intimate hollows. Each turn in the trail promises new surprises.
I relish the physical challenge of the Backbone’s constant ups and downs. With over 10,000 feet of combined elevation changes, it delivers an excellent workout. Lung-busting climbs get my heart pumping while quad-burning descents strengthen legs. I leave utterly exhausted but elated.
Fellow trekkers report similar satisfaction from the trail’s demands. James S. appreciates its “rollercoaster-like terrain” for the gratifying sense of accomplishment upon each summit reached. For Laurel T, “The Backbone whupped me good! My legs were jelly by the end.”
And yet, the trail’s raw beauty makes the toil worthwhile. The landscape’s wildness awakens your senses. Coastal breezes refresh as you traverse exposed ridges. Forest scents of chaparral and oak surround you in secluded canyons. It feels worlds away from urban life.
Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - The Best Beach Hikes from Malibu to Palos Verdes
Southern California’s picturesque coastline offers miles of breathtaking beach hikes. From celebrity-studded Malibu to the scenic Palos Verdes peninsula, trails treat trekkers to stunning ocean vistas along with opportunities to explore tide pools, sea caves and bluffs.
In Malibu, the easy 2-mile Zuma Canyon Trail follows a creek outlet to the beach. James S. enjoys it for the “pristine sand and rolling waves” providing an idyllic seaside setting. Laurel T. recommends going at low tide when “striking sea cave formations shape the cliffs.”
Further south in Palos Verdes, the coastal bluff trails offer more rugged hikes with dramatic vertical drops to the Pacific. The 1.5-mile Abalone Cove Trail thrills hikers with sheer cliff sides towering hundreds of feet above crashing waves. Scrambling along the steep, narrow path invigorates the senses, while gaps in the vegetation frame jaw-dropping seascape views.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese Bend Reserve treats trekkers to 6 miles of trails through rolling coastal terrain punctuated by ravines. Densely vegetated sections burst into panoramas of the rugged coastline. Laurel T. loves how “the constant downhill on the return trip is a nice break for the knees after all the climbing.”
For family-friendly beach hikes, Flat Rock Point in Malibu offers easy-going trails across open bluffs and dunes ending at scenic vista points. It’s one of James S.’s favorite spots to catch sunsets, with bench seating to enjoy the experience. Further south, the scenic Cove Trail in Palos Verdes Estates brings hikers down to secluded tidepools and picturesque coves perfect for picnicking.
Those up for a longer journey can trek 12 miles from Torrance Beach to the Palos Verdes Beach and Preserve. This peaceful walk with gorgeous coastal views provides a perfect city escape. As James S. sums it up, “Starting my weekend with an invigorating beach hike in Palos Verdes is the ideal way to destress."
Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Trek the Trails of Topanga State Park
Tucked into the cliffs and canyons between the Pacific Coast Highway and 101 Freeway, Topanga State Park's 11,000 acres deliver raw California coastal wilderness right on the outskirts of L.A. The 36 miles of trails traversing its lush, hilly terrain offer trekkers a sanctuary nourishing for the soul.
Topanga's landscape immerses you in quintessential California ecology. Oak and sycamore groves burst with wildflowers in spring. Chaparral-blanketed ridges preside over grassy meadows dotted with boulders. The trails' constant undulation keeps the adventure lively. Prepare for stream crossings, some rock-scrambling, and lung-busting short uphill sprints.
Adding to the fun is a rich diversity of routes. Choose from out-and-back hikes like the 2.8-mile Eagle Springs Loop, or link multiple trails into epic all-day treks. The 11-mile Topanga Loop to Trippet Ranch combines forests, ridges and canyon landscapes for the park’s quintessential experience.
For Laurel T., Topanga's “peaceful, remote feel makes it the perfect nature escape without having to drive forever from L.A.” Winding singletrack and surrounding greenery muffle city noise, offering serene wilderness less than 30 minutes from Santa Monica.
Don’t miss the dramatic panoramas from Parker Mesa Overlook, perched at nearly 2,000 feet elevation. On clear days, the Pacific Ocean shimmers in the distance. Cool ocean breezes refresh as you gaze out across a sea of rippling chaparral.
While Topanga’s shady oak groves offer respite on hot days, Laurel T. recommends avoiding the park after rain: “The trails turn into a muddy mess!” Opt for sunny days instead and come early, as parking fills by mid-morning on weekends.
Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Explore the Santa Monica Mountains by Foot
Blanketing Los Angeles’s westside and stretching to the Pacific, the Santa Monica Mountains provide an outdoor playground full of captivating hikes. Footpaths winding through this coastal range deliver a bounty of eye-catching vistas, shady canyons, and oceanfront rambles only minutes from the city. With over 500 miles of trails traversing chaparral-covered ridges, oak groves, and sycamore-lined creeks, you can immerse yourself in nature and scoring rewarding views while barely leaving LA.
For many hikers, the range’s diversity and accessibility enhance its appeal. Andrea S. enthuses, “With trails ranging from easy to strenuous, there’s something for everyone. And you can knock out a hike without spending hours driving there and back.” She recommends starting with beginner-friendly routes like the tree-lined Los Liones Trail in Pacific Palisades. “It’s the perfect intro to the Santa Monicas, with ocean peek-a-boos and a lush forest feel right in the city.”
Meanwhile, Ellen L. favors the more challenging treks across the rugged spine of the mountains. The Backbone Trail spanning 67 miles from Will Rogers State Park to Point Mugu is her go-to adventure. “I love how the Backbone links together a mix of ecosystems as it crosses ridges between the coast and valley. The vistas in both directions are phenomenal.” Hardcore hikers can tackle the entire Backbone as a 2-3 day backpacking journey.
For those seeking more solitude, the range’s vast acreage offers plenty of options to escape crowds. James S. heads to Upper Solstice Canyon, describing it as “an oasis of oak and sycamore groves with a deserted, wilderness vibe despite being minutes from the 101.” The 3-mile out-and-back hike to an old ranch site follows a boulder-dotted creek shaded by forest.
Coastal access is another plus of Santa Monica Mountain hikes. Trails like those in the Portuguese Bend Reserve on the Palos Verdes Peninsula lead trekkers to precipitous bluffs and secluded coves. “I love finishing a rugged hike along those cliffs with relaxing beach time,” says Ellen L. “You get the best of both worlds with these coastal routes.”
Hit the Trails, Not the Hills: Why All L.A. Hikers are Legit, No Matter the Terrain - Get Your Steps In at Franklin Canyon Park
Tucked into the eastern Santa Monica Mountains between Beverly Hills and the San Fernando Valley, the 605-acre Franklin Canyon Park delivers an easily accessible yet surprisingly wild hiking experience on LA’s doorstep. Its gentle trails cater well to novice trekkers, providing a perfect spot to log easy miles. With a landscape of rolling hills, oak and sycamore trees, and a small lake, you’ll feel immersed in nature just minutes from the city.
Fellow hikers praise the park’s convenience and scenery. As James S. describes it, “Franklin Canyon is my go-to when I want a quick dose of nature without dealing with freeway traffic and parking headaches. Being so close to home, I can knock out 2-3 nice loops in just a couple hours.” The park’s extensive trail network lets you flexibly customize routes from 1-5 miles.
Andrea S. appreciates the easy terrain combined with immersive greenery: “I’m not always up for a hardcore workout, so I love Franklin Canyon’s gentler trails that still make you feel far from the city. Wandering the shady canyons transports you.” Civilization seems to melt away beneath the forest canopy.
That transportive wilderness experience so near urban LA makes Franklin a special gem. Ellen L. loves how “hiking around the lake and through oak groves doesn’t feel anything like being in Los Angeles. It’s a peaceful escape.” Seeing turtles sunning themselves on logs and ducks paddling across the lake enhances the nature vibes.
While most trails sit below 500 feet elevation gain, options like the Sooky Goldman Loop add hills for extra workout. Zigzagging up chaparral-dotted slopes, this peaceful trail serves higher views of the lake and surrounding mountains as your reward.
Seeking more challenge? Multiple loop options allow combining routes. As James S. suggests, “I like linking the Lake, Ridge, and Canyon trails into a 5-mile loop with nice elevation change. It keeps things interesting.” Just beware that rain turns the steeper trails muddy.
Early arrival on weekends helps escape crowds. And weekdays are even quieter, as James S. notes: “When I can squeeze in a midday hike on a Tuesday or Wednesday, I’ll practically have the park to myself.” Enjoy the easy solitude before popularity booms.