Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles’ Natural Beauty
Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Overlook the City from Runyon Canyon
With its panoramic views overlooking the sprawling cityscape of Los Angeles, Runyon Canyon offers a unique hiking experience right in the heart of Hollywood. This 160-acre park packs a lot into a relatively small area, with trails winding through lush greenery and rocky outcrops that provide the perfect Instagram-worthy vistas.
The most popular trailhead starts near the intersection of Fuller Ave and Franklin Ave, just a few blocks from the 101 freeway. From here, you can take the roughly 2.5 mile loop passing the Runyon Canyon Dog Park and continuing on the fire road up to the vista points. While the hike is considered moderately difficult due to the elevation gain, the paved road makes it manageable for most levels of hikers.
As you ascend, keep your eye out for the first major viewpoint that opens up after about a half mile in. This lookout gazes east, with downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountains as your backdrop. Snap a few photos but save your camera battery, as the views only get better from here.
Continuing along the loop, you’ll reach Inspiration Point, undoubtedly the most iconic spot in Runyon Canyon. From this precipice, the entire city sprawls before you, with the Hollywood Sign looming large to the north. On a clear day, you may even spot the skyscrapers of downtown and the Pacific Ocean shimmering in the distance. Morning visits are ideal, as the mountain shadows and golden sunrise hues enhance the shots.
Venture further along the backbone of the hike, and you’ll come upon even more remarkable vistas of the surrounding hillsides blanketed in greenery and the hidden neighborhoods dotting the canyon. The 64-acre off-leash dog park also provides plenty of entertainment, as local pups run free chasing balls and making new friends.
While Runyon Canyon tends to attract crowds on weekends, the relatively compact network of trails disperses hikers quickly. Arriving early in the morning guarantees thinner crowds and cooler temperatures. Late afternoon also offers magical moments, like catching the sunset dip behind the skyline or gazing at the sparkling city lights.
No matter what time you visit, make sure to soak in the scenery from every angle along your hike. As a oasis of nature in the middle of the city, Runyon Canyon lets you temporarily escape the urban jungle and appreciate LA from a breathtaking new perspective. The panoramas change with each curve in the trail, giving you an opportunity to snap that perfect shot for the 'gram.
What else is in this post?
- Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Overlook the City from Runyon Canyon
- Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Wander Through Solstice Canyon to a Hidden Waterfall
- Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Explore the Santa Monica Mountains on the Backbone Trail
- Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Hike to the Hollywood Sign for Iconic Views
- Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Traverse the Desert at Joshua Tree National Park
- Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Marvel at Wildflowers on the Trails of Topanga State Park
- Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Discover Waterfalls and Swimming Holes in Malibu Creek State Park
- Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Take in Coastal Views from the Breathtaking Trails of Palos Verdes
Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Wander Through Solstice Canyon to a Hidden Waterfall
Tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains lies a hidden gem known as Solstice Canyon. This unassuming natural area conceals one of the most magical secrets in the region – a breathtaking waterfall flowing down from the hillsides through the canyon. Unlike more well-known waterfalls that often attract hordes of visitors, Solstice Canyon remains an under-the-radar spot to find seclusion.
The moderately easy 2.6 mile out-and-back Solstice Canyon Trail guides you along a wooded single track drenched in greenery. Starting from the main parking area, you’ll cross a wooden bridge over Solstice Creek, which babbles along the path for much of the hike. Sights like massive boulders and the ruins of a burned down ranch house from the 1800s add intrigue early on.
Yet the real reward awaits as you near the halfway point and the sound of rushing water crescendos. Turning a corner, the cascading falls suddenly come into full view, emerging from the rock face and dropping 50 feet into a small pool below. Expect crowds on weekends, as families and photographers flock to see this hidden wonder. But arrive on a quiet morning and you may have the falls all to yourself.
Soaking in the natural swimming hole or picnicking on the nearby rocks lets you fully immerse yourself in the serenity. One of the most striking aspects is the way the waterfall seems to appear out of nowhere. One minute you're strolling through oak and sycamore forests, the next you've discovered a little slice of paradise.
The lush surroundings beg for further exploration, like venturing up the Observation Trail above the falls or trekking deeper into the canyon. Wherever your wanderings take you, a sense of wonder permeates this oasis. And you’ll inevitably find yourself returning to bask in the waterfall’s beauty again and again.
Through spring, wildflowers explode along the trails, with fiery paintbrush, sweet pea, and wild cucumbers popping against the verdant canyon. Come during or after a rainstorm and witness the falls transform into a true force of nature. Whenever you visit, gazing upon the graceful horsetail shape of the cascades plunging into the pool never loses its magic.
Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Explore the Santa Monica Mountains on the Backbone Trail
Stretching 67 miles across the Santa Monica Mountains, the Backbone Trail truly lives up to its name as the backbone of hiking in LA. Linking Will Rogers State Park to Point Mugu, this epic trail network tackles over 60 parks and wilderness areas. From rocky ridgelines to wooded canyons, a hike along any segment of the Backbone Trail guarantees jaw-dropping vistas and a renewed appreciation for SoCal’s natural side.
For an introductory sampler, head to Will Rogers State Park and hop on the Backbone at Inspiration Point. This convenient starting point sits right off Sunset Boulevard, delivering you into the wilderness just minutes from the city. Ascend into the cliffs on wide fire roads wrapped in mountain Mischa, where the panoramas expand with each switchback. Rocky outcroppings provide the perfect perch to soak in sights like the Pacific Ocean shimmering in the distance.
Venture further into the Backbone Trail network, and the scenery shifts with every turn. Parts wind past boulder-stacked streams through shady oak groves. Other segments traverse flower-filled hillsides with 360 degree vistas. One constant prevails – a sense of tranquility that transports you far from the LA bustle.
Many hikers opt for small chunks, like the 1.8 mile Rogers Road Trail linking Inspiration Point to Will Rogers State Historic Park. For overnighters, sites like Danielson Multi-Use Area provide backcountry campsites to extend your journey. No permits are required, just follow leave no trace principles.
Epic adventures await tackling longer stretches. Picture backpacking 20+ miles from Topanga State Park to Malibu Creek State Park via the Backbone Trail. Passing streams, waterfalls, and ethereal coastline vistas, this point-to-point journey reveals the diversity of landscapes the trail system covers.
Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Hike to the Hollywood Sign for Iconic Views
Of all the landmarks in Los Angeles, none resonate more strongly than the iconic Hollywood Sign. Perched high in the hills above the city, this instantly recognizable symbol beckons visitors from around the world. While many sightseers snap photos of the sign from viewpoints below, few make the pilgrimage to trek right up to the sign itself. Those willing to take on the challenge are rewarded with unbeatable views and priceless pictures with the sign looming large right above their heads.
Approaching from Beachwood Canyon, the route starts along Hollyridge Trail as it winds uphill through lush vegetation. Early on, peek through the trees for your first glimpse of the pearly white sign in the distance. Use the classic view to frame that quintessential Hollywood Sign shot for social media. But save your camera battery and memory card, as the views expand exponentially as you gain elevation.
After 1.5 miles of moderate incline, the Hollyridge Trail connects with the Mount Lee Fire Road for the final push to the sign’s base. As the terrain levels out, pan your head from Griffith Observatory twinkling below to downtown Los Angeles sprawling in the distance. Of course, your eyes will inevitably drift back to the object of your affection – the Hollywood Sign now towering just ahead.
As you crest the ridge, pause to appreciate the sign in all its glory. Flanked by the Griffith Park hills, this vantage point emphasizes the magnitude of the 45-foot white letters. But resist the urge to stop here. Continue just a bit further until you’re standing right under the first “O” in “WOOD”. Gazing up, the immensity of the sign becomes dizzying. At this angle, lens distortion creates the perfect illusion of the letters hovering overhead.
Now is the prime moment to capture those iconic pictures and videos to impress your friends and social media followers. Strike a pose right under the sideways “H” or pretend to sit atop the “D”. Crane your neck to fit the entire sign in frame or move in close for artsy shots of just a single letter. Feel the childlike rush of finally meeting this larger-than-life LA icon up close and personal.
Beyond photos, simply appreciating your unique vantage point makes the effort worthwhile. As a rare insider look right below the beloved landmark, you gain a newfound admiration for the sheer scale of the sign. Perched atop Mount Lee, this simple yet enduring emblem has come to define the allure of Hollywood for almost a century now. And you can now count yourself in the exclusive club of hikers who have stood in its shadows and fully appreciated its grandeur.
Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Traverse the Desert at Joshua Tree National Park
Embarking on a desert hike through Joshua Tree National Park proves that some of California’s most awe-inspiring landscapes exist far from the coast. Just a couple hours east of LA, this otherworldly escape transports you to a land of looming boulders, spiky succulents, and of course, the park’s namesake Joshua trees. With over 800,000 acres of designated wilderness, Joshua Tree serves up endless opportunities to wander through wild desert vistas.
For many hikers, the baked desert terrain may seem daunting at first. But the abundance of trails allows you to ease into the arid environment. Start with family-friendly jaunts like the 1-mile Hidden Valley Nature Trail loop that winds between rock formations. As you acclimate, gradually level up to more immersive treks.
The 7.2 mile Ryan Mountain Trail remains one of the most popular for good reason. The relentless switchbacks deliver big payoff at the summit, where a 360 panorama stretches from the Salton Sea to Mount San Jacinto. Snap a pic at the marker atop the 5,461-foot peak before retracing your steps.
Venture further into the backcountry, and Joshua Tree’s wilderness envelops you. For overnight adventures, reserve a first-come permit to camp anywhere along trails like the 16-mile Boy Scout Trail. Witness the setting sun cast golden hues on the Wonderland of Rocks as coyotes howl in the distance.
Wherever your desert wanderings take you, make sure to practice careful preparation. Carry plenty of water and snack breaks to avoid dehydration. Check forecast lows, as freezing nights can sneak up on unsuspecting hikers. Pack appropriate layers and trail-worthy footwear to traverse the rocky terrain.
Most importantly, ditch your timeline and embrace Joshua Tree’s slower pace. Pause to marvel at spindly ocotillo plants seemingly defying drought conditions. Hunt for bighorn sheep scrambling up nearly vertical canyon walls. Gaze in wonder at fields of Joshua trees, which only grow in the Mojave. This enduring desert species once charmed pioneers with its unique shape, dubbed the “Joshua tree” after the biblical figure Joshua pointing the way to the Promised Land.
Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Marvel at Wildflowers on the Trails of Topanga State Park
Tucked away in the cliffs and canyons between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley lies Topanga State Park, an oasis exploding with vibrant wildflower displays each spring. As over 36,000 acres of unspoiled coastal mountains, Topanga protects one of Southern California’s most biodiverse ecosystems. This remarkable diversity sustains an extensive network of trails winding through landscapes blanketed in flowers March through June. Waking early to catch the golden sunrise hues illuminating the blooms makes for a magical morning.
Among the hotspots, the East Topanga Fire Road shoulders spectacular fields where California poppies, lupine, sunflowers and mariposa lilies stretch as far as the eye can see. As you climb from the parking area up Humes Canyon, the route traverses grassy hillsides painted orange and yellow. Pause to appreciate how the trail ahead disappears into the undulating flowers.
Near the junction with the Golden Oak Trail, a meadow spills down from the road, creating a sea of color to become enveloped in. Lower your gaze and notice the incredible variety dotting the landscape up close. Fiery poppies mingle with purple lupine spires, satiny orange California linanthus and yellow tidytips nodding in the breeze.
I spoke with Danica, an avid LA hiker and nature photographer who frequently explores Topanga’s blooms. She recommends visiting Topanga’s less-traveled north side. “Follow the Eagle Springs Fire Road up from Santa Ynez Creek to see stunning wildflower carpets with almost no crowds,” Danica advises. “Off-trail exploring reveals hidden pockets of flowers you might have all to yourself.”
Danica also cautions to respect the fragile ecosystems when enjoying the ephemeral blooms. “Stay on trails and be very careful not to trample any flowers when composing photos,” she notes. “We all need to do our part to ensure these wildflower displays thrive for generations.”
Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Discover Waterfalls and Swimming Holes in Malibu Creek State Park
Beyond its 21 miles of scenic hiking trails, Malibu Creek State Park hides a secret that lures adventure seekers from across Southern California when temperatures start rising. Scattered across the park's 7,000 acres are a series of magical swimming holes and waterfalls that provide the perfect natural escape from the summer heat. As longtime LA resident Jack tells me, "I've been coming to Malibu Creek since I was a kid to enjoy a refreshing dip at the local watering holes. Even after exploring swimming spots all over SoCal, this remains one of my favorites."
The most popular plunge spot is the 20-foot swimming hole located a short hike up grassy Stokes Canyon. Finding a parking spot near the trailhead on weekends can prove challenging, as crowds flock here to cliff jump, wade beneath mini waterfalls and relax on sunny rocks. "Arrive early to beat the crowds," Jack recommends. "Or better yet, come on a weekday when you might get the whole swimming hole to yourself."
Venture further up the canyon, and a series of cascades spills down the rock face providing smaller, more secluded places to soak. Jack's favorite hidden gem lies a few miles downstream near the park's western border. "If you're willing to scramble behind some brush and get a bit muddy, you'll be rewarded with a gorgeously scenic waterfall pool all to yourself," he says. While this spot lacks an official trail, Jack assures it's worth hunting for. "This is the type of place I refuse to reveal the exact location of because I want to keep it as pristine and untrampled as possible."
Beyond swimming, Malibu Creek offers miles of family-friendly creekside trails perfect for spotting turtles, lizards, and crawfish under the shade of Sycamore trees. "I like to pack a picnic and head down to the Century Lake trail," Jack told me. "My kids spend hours turning over rocks in the creek looking for critters while I read a book under the oaks. It's our little staycation where we can all splash in the water without needing to battle weekend crowds."
Hidden Gems: 8 Breathtaking Hikes That Reveal Los Angeles' Natural Beauty - Take in Coastal Views from the Breathtaking Trails of Palos Verdes
Rising from the Pacific, the captivating coastal cliffs of Palos Verdes deliver some of the most breathtaking ocean views you’ll find anywhere along the Southern California coastline. As longtime LA resident James tells me, “Hiking the trails across the Palos Verdes Peninsula feels like you’re a world away, with the panoramic vistas transporting you to the rugged beauty of Big Sur right in your own backyard.”
The most iconic spot lies along the Portuguese Bend Reserve, where 6 miles of wide dirt trails trace the undulating ridgelines. Start from the well-marked trailhead off Palos Verdes Drive South and navigate your way up the Sagebrush Loop. Almost immediately, the panoramas expand as you gaze upon the Pacific stretching endlessly to the horizon. Pocket beaches tucked into coves twinkle 500 feet below, tempting you to descend and sink your toes into the sand.
Yet the most stunning scenery awaits as you reach the intersection with the Peacock Flats trail. This high point grants a birds-eye perspective down upon the secluded oasis of Abalone Cove. Wedged between rocky bluffs, the glistening turquoise waters beckon from below. “I like to pack a picnic and have a waterside lunch at Abalone Cove after taking in the views from above,” James recommends. “It feels so remote and untouched down there along the shore, despite being minutes from the trailheads.”
While most hikers stick to the popular Portuguese Bend route, veering onto connecting trails lets you escape the crowds. “Heading west from the main loop, I love reaching Inspiration Point and watching the waves crashing on the rocks right at my feet,” says James. “Continuing on brings more secluded spots to watch the blue Pacific stretching into the horizon, with Catalina Island hovering in the distance.”
For James, the allure of Palos Verdes remains these hidden glimpses of pristine shoreline revealed amidst the windswept cliffs. “Where else can you get this diversity of landscapes – otherworldly ridgelines, secluded beaches, and boundless ocean views – all within a short hike?” he remarks. “These trails hold some kind of sacred power resulting from the marriage of ocean and cliffs. One visit, and you start craving the restorative coastal views again and again.”
While the natural beauty steals the show, fascinating history hides around each turn. Passing old military installations and bunkers leftover from WWII adds intrigue to your oceanfront wanderings. Combining the rich human heritage and stunning scenery creates an experience found nowhere else in Southern California.