L.A. Walks: Will Rogers State Park
Nobody walks in L.A.? Ridiculous! This is one in a series of articles exploring the many opportunities for walking in (and around) a major city.
WILL ROGERS STATE PARK
Distance: 2.5 miles
Duration: 1 hour
Transportation: Metro bus Nos. 2, 302
This is a casual, low-impact mountain hike that begins and ends in a scenic, historic spot ideal for weekend picnics and perfect for wowing out-of-town guests.
The park is open 8 a.m. to sunset, and there are tours of the Western Ranch house on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. From April to October, you can watch polo on the weekends.
Begin this walk in Pacific Palisades at Will Rogers State Park — accessed from Sunset Boulevard, off of Will Rogers State Park Road, just east of Chautauqua Boulevard. Leave your car outside the park gates for free street parking. Otherwise, plunk down $12 for parking in the lot and drive right in.
Once inside the 186-acre park, take a moment to enjoy the scenic grandeur. The great cowboy-actor-writer made his home here from 1929 until his death in 1935. (He died in an airplane crash with aviation pioneer Wiley Post, in Alaska, at the height of his fame.) Rogers had built his family a rambling ranch house with a wide front porch overlooking a polo field, and he studded the roads on the property with lines of eucalyptus trees.
The house and grounds, deeded to the state by the Rogers family in 1944, after the death of Rogers’ widow, remain much as they were in Rogers’ day. Many equestrians stable their horses here. Some of them play polo on the big field, where matches of the “game of kings” — open to the public and free — are held 2 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays. You can even rent a horse and take a trail ride. (See https://www.willrogerstrailrides.com. A 50-minute ride costs $55.)
But not today. Today, you walk.
Find the paved service road running uphill from the main parking lot, away from the polo field, between the wide green lawn on the left and a collection of picnic tables on the right. Walk to where the service road meets the stables and the horse riding ring. Turn left, and after 100 feet you’ll find the entrance to the Inspiration Loop Trail.
It’s a trail for horses too, as well as mountain bikes and dogs on leashes. (Posted signs advise you to share the road. But on a recent Saturday morning, we saw fewer than a dozen other walkers, and no bikes or horses, for the duration of the hike.)
The gentle climb begins along a well-maintained dirt path. You pass under eucalyptus, coast live oak and sumac trees, curving around a hillside decorated with yucca, sage and cactus. Only a few minutes into the walk, the first ocean views arrive, thanks to the elevation you gained driving up from Sunset Boulevard. Soon the views widen, swinging south and east.
By the time you get to the peak, you will have a panorama that sweeps from the Santa Monica Pier through Century City to downtown Los Angeles.
After almost exactly one mile, turn right at the marker for Inspiration Point. Follow a narrower path for five minutes or less, then take a sharp left up a trail fitted with railroad-tie stairs. Climb a steeper trail under low-hanging trees for a brief few minutes, and emerge onto Inspiration Point itself.
The park maintains a collection of benches and tables here to help you enjoy the view, which on a clear day is staggering. When you’ve soaked up all you can, continue across Inspiration Point to the opposite side, and find the trail descending. Walk down until you meet Inspiration Loop Trail again, and turn right.
The trail slopes downhill and meets the embarkation point for the Backbone Trail on the left. Skip this unless you’re in the mood for a really long walk: The Backbone Trail starts here, climbs through Topanga State Park and continues a full 55 miles to its culmination near Point Mugu. You should save that walk for another day. Or another lifetime.
Continue downhill, keeping to the main trail wherever you find spurs of smaller ones wandering off to the right or left. In time, the trail will wind its way through columns of elderly eucalyptus, between which you will catch glimpses of the park below — horses, stables, polo field, picnic grounds. Continue on down, until the trail meets the stables once more.
To the immediate right you can view the Will Rogers Blacksmith Shop, if that sort of thing interests you. Or turn left and head downhill across the wide, green lawn to the ranch house.
Just beyond the ranch house is the visitors center, which houses some of Rogers’ movie and cowboy memorabilia, as well as a gift shop. Free guided tours of the house are available on the hour, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
If the polo field has ponies on it, settle in to watch a chukker or two. Even if you’re not part of the horsy set, it’s a grand game to watch, and this is one of the only places in Los Angeles where the matches are open to the public.
Fleming, who lives in Silver Lake, is the author of “Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles” and “Secret Stairs East Bay: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Berkeley and Oakland.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments and suggestions for future walks.