Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA’s Hidden Natural Side
Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Echo Mountain Trail - Views of Downtown from Above
Perched high above the LA basin, the Echo Mountain Trail offers exhilarating views of downtown LA from a unique vantage point. This moderately difficult hike takes you up the ruins of an old railway to a historic observatory, revealing stunning panoramas over the vast metropolis below.
The journey begins in a shady canyon at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Lush ferns and trickling streams line the trail as you make your way gradually uphill via well-maintained switchbacks. The steady incline gets your heart pumping, but frequent glimpses of the rugged natural landscape keep your mind occupied.
About halfway up, the path opens up, treating you to your first birds-eye perspective over the urban sprawl. From this lofty position, the sight of distant skyscrapers clustered between rolling green hills makes the city appear almost quaint.
Press on further and the landscape becomes rockier, with crumbling concrete slabs that once supported a railway now littering the mountainside. The echoes of hammering and sawing ring out from these vestiges of the site’s industrious past.
The final ascent is steep but short, delivering you right to the doorway of the historic Echo Mountain House. This observatory was built in the late 1800s as an upscale resort, but now lies in ruins, providing visitors with a glimpse into a bygone era.
The pièce de résistance is the sweeping panorama that unfolds when you step out onto the front porch. From this unmatched vantage point, the L.A. basin is laid out before you in all its vastness. Looking south, downtown's glass towers glitter in the sun, while the sinuous band of the concrete river snakes its way east.
Turn north and on a clear day, even the distant Channel Islands are visible off the hazy coastline. The sprawling metropolis seems to go on forever. But from this lofty eyrie, the city almost appears orderly - a patchwork of neighborhoods stitched between the rugged mountains and the shimmering Pacific.
What else is in this post?
- Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Echo Mountain Trail - Views of Downtown from Above
- Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Solstice Canyon - Waterfall Oasis Close to the City
- Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Runyon Canyon - Celebrity Sightings & City Overlooks
- Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Griffith Park Trails - Variety of Routes with Epic Views
- Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Malibu Creek State Park - Walk Through Classic Movie Sets
- Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Santa Monica Mountains Trails - Ocean Vistas & Grasslands
- Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Verdugo Mountains Trails - San Gabriel Peak Payoff
- Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Kenneth Hahn State Park - Unexpected Wilderness in Urban Jungle
Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Solstice Canyon - Waterfall Oasis Close to the City
Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains just a stone's throw from the bustling freeways and neighborhoods of Malibu, Solstice Canyon offers a peaceful respite from the city in a waterfall oasis seemingly transplanted from a tropical paradise. This moderate out-and-back hike follows a shaded creek up to the base of a spectacular 60-foot cascade, revealing an unexpected pocket of tranquility hidden right in LA's backyard.
Unlike many waterfall hikes which require arduous climbs to reach their payoff, the journey to Solstice Canyon Falls remains relatively flat. The well-maintained dirt trail meanders alongside bubbling Solstice Creek, shaded by a verdant canopy of California sycamores and coast live oaks. Dappled sunlight filters through the leaves, landing on massive boulders blanketed in emerald moss. It’s hard to believe you’re just minutes from the Pacific Coast Highway.
A little over a mile in, the mellow walk leads you right to the base of the two-tiered falls. Here the canyon narrows, funneling the full force of the cascade into a churning pool. The thunderous rush of water reverberates off the stone walls as mist rains down, inviting you to sit awhile on the rocks and soak in the serenity of this hidden refuge.
While Solstice Canyon appears largely unaltered, remnants of human influence are visible throughout, hinting at the area's forgotten history. Just downstream from the falls lie the evocative remains of a turn-of-the-century estate burned down in 1895. The surviving stonework pays homage to the site’s gilded age beginnings as an elite rural enclave for wealthy Angelenos.
Throughout the year, the waterfall trail showcases the canyon’s rich diversity of ecosystems. In winter months, temperatures are cool and lush greenery abounds. Come spring, wildflowers like poppies, lupine and sage bloom in vibrant bursts across the hillsides. When summer heat dries up the falls to a trickle, shade-giving oak and sycamore trees keep the route pleasantly cool. Autumn brings fiery foliage and flowing cascades fueled by the first rains.
Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Runyon Canyon - Celebrity Sightings & City Overlooks
Tucked into the Hollywood Hills, Runyon Canyon Park is a 160-acre urban oasis popular for hiking and celebrity sighting. While the trails offer panoramic views over the LA basin, the park's reputation stems primarily from its status as a prime spot for spotting the rich and famous.
As one of the few large open green spaces located squarely in the heart of Hollywood, Runyon Canyon acts as a magnet for celebrities and their pooches. On any given day, eagle-eyed hikers may spot famous faces like Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Alba, or Justin Bieber getting their steps in or walking the dog. Even if the human celebrities don't make an appearance, famous Instagram pets like Tuna Melts My Heart are known to frequent the park.
While you may have to jostle for position with the paparazzi at the main gates, the hiking trails themselves offer plenty of breathing room. The three-mile loop crosses gently rolling hills covered in sagebrush, affording stellar views in every direction. To the north rises the iconic Hollywood sign. Gaze south and downtown LA's skyline glitters between the layered ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains.
For those seeking a workout, the challenging Ranch Trail switchbacks up the canyon wall, gaining 300 feet of elevation in just 0.8 miles. The path earns its name from the old Rancho Los Amigos estate which once sprawled across these dusty hillsides. Today only retaining walls and rusty water pipes remain amidst the prickly vegetation.
At the top, the Wisdom Tree stands as a monument - an odd solitary juniper growing from the rocky bluffs. Legend claims it sprouted overnight, but it was actually transplanted here deliberately in the 1980s as an offbeat art installation. Nonetheless, its windswept branches and hilltop location imbue it with an air of mystique.
The Tree provides a shady respite and photo-op before continuing on the panoramic ridgeline trail back to the bustling city below. As you traverse the undulating path, each rise and fall reveals new angles on the urban sprawl. But the real magic comes at sunset, when the fading light sets the basin aglow in hazy pastels.
Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Griffith Park Trails - Variety of Routes with Epic Views
Sprawling over 4,300 acres, Griffith Park is one of LA’s quintessential urban escapes, offering a staggering diversity of hiking trails to satisfy trekkers of every ability. While some routes cater to hardcore hill-and-peak-baggers, others provide gentle strolls perfect for families or anyone just seeking time away from the asphalt jungle. But the common thread connecting all these paths is the panoramic views over Los Angeles that reward hikers at seemingly every turn.
For an easy hike with epic payoff, try the Burbank Peak Trail. This 1.5-mile loop ascends a small summit overlooking Burbank and the San Fernando Valley, revealing bird’s-eye vistas over the LA Zoo and Autry Museum of the American West next door. The steady uphill is manageable for most, although you may find yourself huffing and puffing in the thinner air. The exposed ridgeline makes it a great spot for a picnic while gazing out at the encircling mountain panorama.
Seeking more seclusion? Lace up your boots and tackle the Brush Canyon Trail. Set in a quieter corner of Griffith Park, its 6.2-mile loop climbs over 1,100 feet into the backcountry, far from the city bustle. The strenuous uphill hike travels through oak and bay laurel woodland, across exposed ridgelines and past old marine fossils beds. Your reward is having the trail practically to yourself and a glorious perspective looking down over the vast park and out to the Pacific Ocean.
For an easier but no less stunning walk, try the Ferndell Trail in Western Canyon. Its flat mile-long course traces a fern-filled stream shaded by California bay trees and coast live oaks. With family-friendly access right off Los Feliz Boulevard, escape the city and soak in the tranquil rainforest ambience only five minutes from the Greek Theater.
Of course, the park’s marquee hike remains to the iconic Griffith Observatory perched on Mount Hollywood. Tackle the Observatory Trail’s steep 1.5-mile ascent and relish the world-famous views over LA and out to Catalina Island. Inside the art deco landmark, explore exhibits on space, time and more. Watch a live planetarium show projected on the huge dome ceiling to grasp the mind-boggling scale of the universe.
Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Malibu Creek State Park - Walk Through Classic Movie Sets
Nestled amongst the chaparral-cloaked ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu Creek State Park transports visitors back in time through landscapes made famous as Hollywood movie sets. Meandering along the trails reveals natural backdrops almost unchanged since the days of celluloid dreams, when stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson rode through the canyons on horseback.
The park’s most iconic hike follows the grassy M*A*S*H site, where the hit 1970s sitcom was filmed. Concrete foundations and rusted vehicles remain scattered about from the set. While studio facades have been removed, the natural valley between the jagged peaks looks much as it did when Radar and Hawkeye ran across this little piece of Korea-in-California.
Those seeking total immersion can even book an overnight stay in the ranch house featured as the home of Colonel Potter. Wake up amidst the Santa Monica Mountains just as the actors did decades ago.
For scenery straight out of a fantasy flick, ascend the Charmlee Wilderness Trail up Sonoma Ridge. The steep single-track climbs 700 feet through coastal sage scrub before emerging onto exposed sandstone outcrops. Follow the billowing ridge to Cinemgeddon – a crumbing concrete platform used as a helicopter pad in action films. Peer out across grassy valleys framed by craggy peaks and it’s easy to picture dinosaurs or aliens lurking out there.
Speaking of extraterrestrials, a short detour off Long Canyon’s fire road reveals the eerie cave made famous in Planet of the Apes. Within this rocky grotto, Charlton Heston made his on-screen discovery that time had moved in reverse. While no talking apes inhabit the area today, bizarrely tilted strata make this unusual cave a sight unto itself.
For a deeper dive into movie history, join a guided tour. Knowledgeable docents share behind-the-scenes tales, transforming a peaceful nature walk into a vivid trip to the silver screen past. Learn how stuntmen emulated Native American attacks for Westerns in Crags Ravine. Discover which modern films featured the caves along Century Lake’s shoreline.
Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Santa Monica Mountains Trails - Ocean Vistas & Grasslands
Tucked between the Pacific Coast Highway and the 101 Freeway, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area somehow feels far removed from LA's urban pace. Over 150,000 acres of open space create an outdoor escape with ocean vistas, rolling grasslands and canyons seemingly transplanted from the Wild West. Meandering along the area's extensive trail system serves up sweeping coastal panoramas alongside an unexpected dose of tranquility.
For effortless ocean viewing, Paso Picacho Trail is a prime pick. The flat 2.5 mile loop circumnavigates a grassy mesa in Point Mugu State Park, delivering nonstop blue sea and island views with minimal elevation gain. As Tom Haxby notes, "the panorama looking south over the Pacific is stunning!" Meander through golden fields swaying in the sea breeze before stopping to picnic atop the bluffs. Keep eyes peeled for migrating whales during winter months.
In spring, early risers can catch colorful sunrises over the shimmering waves and Channel Islands beyond. As Michael S. described, "We caught the sunrise casting beautiful lavenders and pinks across the sky and water." Just minutes from the chaos of the PCH, this peaceful perch lets you soak in the soothing sights and sounds of the endless ocean.
For more seclusion and a taste of the ranching lifestyle, ride through Paramount Ranch. Meander along the Coyote Canyon Trail on horseback, traverse wooden bridges over gurgling streams and take in views of the rolling grasslands. The landscape evokes the ranch's 1920s beginnings as a Hollywood filming location for Westerns starring the likes of Gary Cooper and Bob Hope. Though the sets are now gone, the area's untamed natural beauty persists.
Inspiring vistas also abound inland. Solstice Canyon Trail climbs 900 feet over 5 miles from canyon bottom to ridgeline, serving up far-reaching ocean views. The strenuous trek passes the lush Solstice Creek before emerging onto exposed bluffs. There the Pacific gleams in the distance beyond the jagged ridge silhouettes. As Seong K. describes, "the end of the trail opens up to an incredible ocean view with the mountains in the foreground." Expect cool coastal breezes atop this airy perch.
Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Verdugo Mountains Trails - San Gabriel Peak Payoff
Tucked between the San Gabriel and San Fernando mountains, the Verdugo range offers a peaceful escape from the bustling urban valley. The rocky ridges and chaparral-cloaked slopes seem a world away from the surrounding neighborhoods of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena. Among the jewels of this hidden pocket of wilderness is the hike to San Gabriel Peak, delivering big rewards after a steep haul.
The strenuous, nearly 4-mile out-and-back trail climbs over 1,600 feet from Beaudry Motorway to the summit viewpoint. While the relentless uphill slog earns this route a difficulty rating of hard, trekkers say the panoramic payoff at the top makes the effort worthwhile.
The path wastes no time kicking into high gear after leaving the parking area. As hiker Wilderness D. notes, you begin "climbing right off the bat and seem to never stop until you reach the top." Switchbacks cut steeply up the mountainside beneath a forest canopy. As you rise higher, views open up over downtown Glendale and the maze of freeways slicing through the San Fernando Valley.
The steady incline rules out rushing, forcing a measured pace with frequent breaks to enjoy the expanding vistas. Midday hikers should prepare for full sun exposure, as the ridgeline path travels mostly shadeless. But as you push higher, cooling ocean breezes provide relief.
Approaching the summit, the landscape turns rocky and desert-like. The final slopes feel like high alpine terrain since you’ve ascended nearly a mile in elevation. Reaching the rounded peak delivers a well-deserved rush. The panorama stretches from mountain to sea – a 360-degree view you'll want to savor before the knee-jarring descent.
To the north, the urban valley sprawls below, beyond which rise the San Gabriels dusted in snow. Gazing west, you can trace the path of the arcing ridgeline you just conquered. Peer down the southern slopes to spot Verdugo’s rocky sister peaks and the neighborhoods of La Crescenta and Montrose. Scanning east reveals the San Bernardino Mountains shimmering hazily in the distance.
While some Los Angeles hikes can get uncomfortably crowded, San Gabriel Peak maintains a remote feel thanks to the challenging ascent. The workout deters casual hikers, leaving the summit a peaceful perch for soaking in the vistas. Watch hawks riding thermals and commercially jetliners angling into Burbank airport.
Over the Hills and Through the Woods: 8 Scenic Hikes That Showcase LA's Hidden Natural Side - Kenneth Hahn State Park - Unexpected Wilderness in Urban Jungle
Tucked into the Baldwin Hills overlooking Los Angeles, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area packs an unexpected natural punch for such an urban location. This little-known park preserves over 400 acres of rugged wilderness terrain within the sprawling metropolis. Meandering along the dirt trails reveals rolling hills blanketed in native chaparral and savanna grasses. Dramatic vistas open up over the vast city below and out to the Pacific Ocean beyond. It’s a hidden natural refuge reminiscent of Africa’s plains and hill country - yet located just minutes from downtown LA.
While this state park bears the name of former LA politician Kenneth Hahn, the area’s history stretches back centuries before modern development. Tongva Native Americans inhabited these hills for thousands of years before Spanish settlers arrived in the late 1700s. By the 1960s, the bald topography reminiscent of lion habitats in Kenya earned the area the nickname “Hahn’s African Plains.” After extensive damage from oil drilling and degradation, preservation efforts began in earnest during the 1980s to restore the landscape and protect it for public enjoyment.
Today visitors to Kenneth Hahn Park immediately sense the wild flavor as the city sounds fade behind them. The Bald Hills Loop trail traverses slopes blanketed in golden grasses swaying in the breeze. In spring, vibrant wildflowers like poppies, lupine and mariposa lilies add splashes of color. Oaks dot the hillsides, providing spots of shade along the way.
While the 2.6 mile loop never gains more than 400 feet in elevation, several steep sections get hearts pumping. As Andre Y. described, “Be prepared to feel the burn in your glutes and quads!” But brief flats segments balance the uphill trek, providing time to catch your breath.
At the crest, a peaceful grove of trees provides respite before continuing on the rolling ridge. Dramatic vistas open up in both directions. Gazing north reveals downtown LA’s skyline shimmering above the green basin. Turn south and the giant cranes of Port of Los Angeles are visible dockside. On extra clear days, the twin peaks of Catalina Island appear floating off the hazy coast.
After completing the Bald Hills Loop, venture out on the Sycamore Canyon Trail to soak in more vistas. The 1.5 mile path delivers overlooks into the park’s namesake canyon, where trickling seasonal streams support sycamores, oaks and willows. Descending into this shaded hollow for a picnic, it’s easy to forget you’re minutes from the 110 Freeway. Hawks and vultures soar on thermal updrafts, scanning for prey amidst the rock outcrops.