Memorial Day: Best places to hike, plus kayaking begins on the L.A. River

Photo illustration of places to hike
Take a hike this Memorial Day weekend. Danielson Monument, top; Nicholas Flat Trail, middle; Mt. Baldy Trail, bottom.
(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

By Mary Forgione

Welcome to The Wild! (View in web browser here.)

For the record:

6:07 a.m. June 2, 2021An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly said the Trust for Public Land bought the former Banning Ranch oil field. The Trust has an exclusive option to buy the land.

No plans for Memorial Day weekend? Think about exploring the trails in Southern California. Some of my favorites are these lesser-known routes. Find details at the 50 best hikes in L.A.


  • Nicholas Flat, Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu. The terrain and the views make this one of the best coastal hikes around. The “flat” part of the hike leads to grassy meadows and a pond where you can stop and picnic. Hopefully you’ll see birds and ducks in the unexpected pool. Park at Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu and head inland from there. 6.9 miles round trip, 1,664 feet of gain.
  • Danielson Monument, Pt. Mugu State Park. This sweet hiking destination starts on the Newbury Park side of the park. You may see lots of hikers in the first few miles, but few press on to the burial site of rancher Richard E. Danielson Jr., who donated land to the state park. You’ll know you have reached it when you see the “Peace, Love, Joy” arch. Enjoy a quiet moment before you return. 5½ miles round trip, 800 to 1,000 feet of gain.
  • Timber Mountain, Icehouse Canyon, Angeles National Forest. Go early to avoid the heat and to nab a parking spot at Ice House Canyon in the Mt. Baldy area. The canyon leads to many different destinations, which accounts for the crowds and the cars. Don’t be put off. You’ll get a workout heading up the switchbacks to Icehouse Saddle. It’s shady and cool at 8,300 feet. 8.9 miles round trip, 3,325 feet of gain.

Need more ideas? My colleague Christopher Reynolds searched the state for this summer’s best outdoors destinations. Check out the 40 best California outdoor experiences — and see how many you’d like to visit.

3 things to do this week

An illustration of kayakers
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

1. Go kayaking on the L.A. River. It’s official! The L.A. River will open for the season on Memorial Day (May 31). That means you can kayak and fish (as well as birdwatch and walk) in the Elysian Valley and Sepulveda Basin sections of the channeled waterway. The paddling covers only a few miles but takes you on a city landmark. L.A. River Kayak Safari leads 2½-hour guided tours that cost $75 for adults and plans to start Monday. L.A. River Expeditions also leads tours ($50 to $70 on weekends) in two stretches of the river starting in mid-June. You can also rent a kayak and do your own tour on Memorial Day and summer weekends for $37.50 from LA River Kayaks, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting wellness and river access. The season ends Sept. 30.

Photo of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

2. Hike with a docent on easy trails at a Palm Springs high point. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes you from the desert floor to the mountains in 10 minutes. Guided nature walks, led by Mt. San Jacinto State Park volunteers, return May 29. Choose the Desert View Trail, 1½ miles starting at 11 a.m., or the Long Valley Nature Trail, a ¾-mile loop starting at 1:30 p.m. The weekend hikes are free, but tram tickets cost $26.95 for adults and $16.95 for children 3 to 10 years old. Find more info here. Want more hiking options? Here are 50 hikes that take you there.

Mountain biking is on at Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs.
(Snow Valley Mountain Resort)

3. Why visit ski resorts now? They’re shifting into summer with bike parks and golf. Winter is so over. Ski resorts from Southern California to Mammoth Mountain have opened or will open their chair lifts to mountain bikers, hikers and anyone who wants to take a chairlift to see the views. Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs opened for summer last weekend with bike park lift tickets ($42 to $49) and scenic rides ($19 to $25). Mammoth Bike Park will open May 28, with access to 14 trails (lift tickets start at $44, with advance purchase). The Container Village at the Main Lodge offers bike repair and rentals. Yep, it’s the last weekend you can ski at Mammoth too. And you can golf at 8,000 feet at Sierra Star Golf Course. Ski, bike and golf for $139. Mountain High near Wrightwood opens its Sky High Disc Golf Course Fridays through Sundays at the resort ($15 a round).

Wild things

A photo of an East Pacific green sea turtle swimming off La Jolla Shores.
An East Pacific green sea turtle swims off La Jolla Shores.
(Jami Feldman)

You don’t need to go to the Galápagos Islands to see giant green turtles. A handful of East Pacific green sea turtles has made their home off La Jolla, where they stay year-round. “We have long seen these turtles living in spots like San Diego Bay and the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge,” Jeff Seminoff, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “But they just sort of appeared under our nose here in La Jolla, which is so cool. This speaks to their ability to survive and thrive in diverse habitats.” The turtles also appear in the San Gabriel River in Long Beach.

The must-read

A photo of a prickly pear cactus in bloom at the former Banning Ranch oil field in Newport Beach.
A prickly pear cactus blooms at the former Banning Ranch oil field in Newport Beach.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

How does an old oil field become a thriving nature preserve? Very carefully. The Banning Ranch oil field, a 384-acre site in Newport Beach, may be purchased by the Trust for Public Land, which has an exclusive agreement to buy the parcel. It has received a $50-million donation toward that goal. The idea is to transform the “rusting pump jacks, brine tanks and winding dirt roads” into green space. “With sweeping coastal views and fantastic recreational opportunities, a future park at Banning Ranch could serve 8.4 million people who live within an hour’s drive,” said Diane Regas, president and chief executive of the nonprofit. The trust now has 12 months to raise an additional $47 million to complete the $97-million price tag. Read the full story here.

The red flag

Illustration of a Grand Canyon warning
(Noun Project; photo illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

It’s nice to bring friends on a hike, but more than 100? Not cool, says Grand Canyon National Park. A man from Washington state allegedly organized a massive hike from the South Rim to the North Rim last October. The park usually limits group permits to 12 to 30 people. During the pandemic, the number dropped to 11 people. Rangers got wind of the plan on social media, but that didn’t seem to deter alleged leader Joseph Don Mount. According to the federal complaint, one social media post read: “As you could imagine, a park official telling me I can’t hike the R2R [rim to rim] with more than 11 people isn’t going to prevent me from doing one of the greatest hikes on the planet.” People turned up and the hike went forward, the complaint said. Mount has been charged with giving a false report or false information about the hike, engaging in business in a park without a permit, violating the group size limit and other charges.


Illustration of a prosthetic leg in the ocean.
(Photo illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

Surfing stories sometimes sound unbelievable; add this one to the list. It doesn’t involve deadly sharks or riptides, but it does involve the discovery of a prosthetic leg on the ocean floor. Sebastian Morris, 13, and his dad Bobby went diving in the waters near Panama City Beach, Fla., last May. Like many, Sebastian was hoping to find ancient treasure, according to In a way, he did. Sebastian pulled the artificial limb to shore, scraped off the barnacles and then set about finding the person to whom it belonged. His dad posted a photo of the limb on Facebook, which led them to Sgt. Carter Hess, who had a tale of his own to share. Read the full story here.

A metal water bottle and a bucket hat emblazoned with the words "The Wild."
(Los Angeles Times)

Want something new to wear on the trail this summer? Add a white, sun-reflecting bucket hat with The Wild logo to your hiking wardrobe. You can pick up a branded water bottle too. Click here to order.

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Click to view the web version of this newsletter and share it with others, and sign up to have it sent weekly to your inbox. I’m Mary Forgione, and I write The Wild. I’ve been exploring trails and open spaces in Southern California for four decades.

Mary Forgione