Grateful hikers return to Griffith Park: ‘Like being set free’

This trail south of Griffith Park offers spectacular views.
This trail south of Griffith Park offers spectacular views.
(Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

Porsche O’Neil wasted no time going to Griffith Park, enjoying a seven-mile hike Saturday morning that featured natural sights and sounds, including two deer browsing in a glade of oak trees while acorn woodpeckers flitted among their gnarled branches.

“Those deer were happy, beautiful and eating without a care in the world,” she said. “And hikers were respectful. Everyone oohed and aahed from a respectful distance. Nobody rushed toward them with cameras. It’s been that kind of a wonderful day.”

Los Angeles County officials reopened trails and golf courses with restrictions Saturday morning. Face coverings are required in parking lots, trailheads and other crowded areas; hikers are required to wear them on trails only if they’re unable to keep six feet apart from others. At some locations, vest-wearing park monitors will keep an eye out for compliance.

City trails also reopened this weekend, with the exception of Runyon Canyon, which remains closed.

The reopening of Griffith Park’s trails Saturday could not come soon enough for Hector Cervantes, a 35-year-old machinist and avid hiker, who said, “After three months at home in lockdown, I was starting to feel like a slave in a prison run by dangerous germs.”


“To finally be outdoors again,” he added, trudging down a shady stretch of Vermont Avenue crowded with fellow hikers, “is like being set free.” Roads into Griffith Park remained closed to traffic.

Ben Peeler, 61, a professional steel-guitar player with a keen eye for detail, noticed that “the trails, picnic areas and roads are more overgrown with vegetation than I’ve ever seen them.”

Waist-high chaparral and grass in certain areas transformed popular trails and fire roads into almost unrecognizable narrow strips of dirt, which explains why Berhain Berlain, 34, of Los Angeles, and his partner, Dora Esteban, 22, “got lost in the brush for a few hours.”

“The trails were also harder to climb than the last time I was here,” he added sheepishly. “That might be because I haven’t been out of the house much lately.”

For wildlife, the throngs of visitors, many of them with dogs on leashes, suddenly flooding the park’s canyons and slopes Saturday marked an abrupt end to a historic respite from the usual tumult and clatter of humanity across the urban ecosystem that is home to skunks, coyotes, deer, bobcats and a lone mountain lion known as P-22.

Many of the hikers in ball caps, running shoes and face masks returned home with memories of seeing mountain quail, deer and snakes moving through the brush edging the park’s paved lanes, rugged trails and firebreaks. As the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted in phases, however, the serenity will be replaced by a crush of cars, tour buses and helicopters hovering over the Hollywood sign.

“The coronavirus lockdown has reminded us,” Peeler said, “that we’re tramping through the living room of plants and animals that were here first, before it was surrounded by one of largest cities on the planet.”

The gradual reopening of recreational areas comes as the state moves slowly into an economic recovery plan. Some businesses were permitted to reopen for curbside pickup services Friday, the first step in easing stay-at-home restrictions.