Need a pep talk while hiking in L.A.? There’s a hotline for that

An illustration shows: a bear, a plus sign, a "not allowed" symbol over wind-up teeth, an equal sign and a gummy bear.
What do you call a bear without teeth?
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

I did something I’d never done before during a morning walk in my local park: I listened to dad jokes.

“What’s another name for a sleeping bag?” A nap-sack.

“Why don’t sea gulls fly by the bay?” Because then they’d be bay-gulls.


“Why did the fish blush?” Because it saw the lake’s bottom.

You get the idea. I stopped after five jokes and thanked Steven, someone I’ve never met, for the chuckles. I had called the Walk & Talk hotline for a little company while I was out getting my steps. It was refreshing to engage with a real-live person rather than listen to something on an app. Boot retailer Merrell is hosting the hotline in honor of Great Outdoors Month, a designation the U.S. Senate made in 2019. It lasts through the end of June to “help motivate, guide and/or support callers on their journey to deepening their relationship with nature, no matter where they are or how far they go,” according to the company.

Are people really calling the hotline? “In the first two weeks of the hotline being live, we received nearly 200 callers, which is exciting,” Jenny Bernsteen, Merrell’s brand equity marketing manager, wrote in an email. “But it’s really about getting more people outdoors, so even if they hear about the hotline and go outside without dialing the hotline, we still consider that a win.”

Here’s how it works: Call (844) 925-5855 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time Mondays through Fridays, when people are there to take the call. You don’t get to vent about your problems; you can choose to have someone walk you through a guided meditation, recite cheesy outdoorsy dad jokes, offer up some motivational tips or speak on a few other topics.

Dad jokes remind me of all the other things to celebrate outdoors in June, starting with Father’s Day on Sunday. Skip the neckties and golf balls and take Dad out for a round of pickleball or a yoga session. Juneteenth is also on Sunday, which marks the day Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas. It’s now a federal, state and local holiday. Check out these 11 Juneteenth events in L.A.

4 things to do this week

Overnight Family Camping posters
(Los Angeles County Parks & Recreation)

1. Sign up to camp overnight at these close-to-home parks. No time to escape the city? Don’t worry, L.A. County Parks & Recreation has your back. The idea is to provide a safe place for families to spend a staycation under the stars at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas, Whittier Narrows Recreation Area in South El Monte, Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area in Irwindale, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Los Angeles and Castaic Lake State Recreation Area in Castaic. Each park will open to campers on June 24, July 22 and Aug. 24. Register in advance; $10 per person 13 and older; younger kids are free.


The sun shines on an empty picnic table that overlooks barren hills.
The Goldenberg Overlook at Harmon Canyon Preserve.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

2. Connect with nature at a Summer Solstice Drum Circle in a Ventura preserve. Get in tune with yourself and others by joining a drum circle at Harmon Canyon Preserve in Ventura. Longtime percussionist John Lacques leads the event, which doubles as a fundraiser for the 2,100-acre preserve that opened a year ago. Some etiquette tips: Leave your rings and bracelets at home, and always ask before playing someone else’s drum. Tickets cost $25 to $50; 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Side-by-side photos of a man in a "Mount Baldy" T-shirt and a woman standing against a mountain backdrop.
Justin Ramon of Just Trek and Dempsey Marks of AllTrails will lead a Mt. Hollywood hike.
(Just Trek)

3. Learn why everyone loves Mt. Hollywood on this guided hike. The hike to Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park is a classic route. The hiking group Just Trek partners with the AllTrails hiking app to host a hike 8:30 a.m. Saturday — and you’re invited. This is a great way to meet members of the local hiking community (I’m going) and learn about Griffith Park from the ground up. The distance is five miles round-trip with more than 1,000 feet of gain. Register in advance; details will be emailed to participants who sign up. P.S.: There’s a post-hike gathering at the Pub at Golden Road in Atwater Village.

Fog fills the space between mountain ridges. In the foreground are silhouettes of tall trees.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

4. These 6 hikes are the perfect antidote for June gloom. I recently wrote about hikes that help you make the most of cool-morning June gloom. Casey Schreiner of Modern Hiker weighs in with hikes that will take you above the clouds — and offer great views of the fog banks shrouding the city far below. One of my faves: the three-mile hike to Vetter Mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains. “Outdoor writers often describe the marine layer as a ‘phantom sea,’ and there’s no better vantage point for understanding that description than the historic fire lookout on Vetter Mountain,” Schreiner wrote.

Wild things

Bright lights shine on small fish covering a beach at night.
Beachgoers witness the unusual spawning ritual known as a grunion run on Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Grunion have a notorious mating ritual (for those keeping track). The small, silvery female fish spring out of the water and lay their eggs on SoCal beaches. Males quickly follow to fertilize the eggs. It’s a carefully orchestrated aquatic dance to ensure eggs hatch before the next tide sweeps them into the ocean. This all takes place in the wee hours of spring and summer nights around new and full moons. Here are photos of a recent grunion run at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. Most people go to see the spectacle; some go to grab the fish. New rules to protect the grunion made June a “no-take” month, which means you can catch them legally only in March, July and August. Check out the schedule when grunion are expected to dance.

The red flag

A man in a brimmed hat stands outdoors beneath tall pine trees.
Chad Hanson, a research ecologist with the John Muir Project in the Holcomb Valley.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Cut down the forest to save the forest? That’s the controversy behind a plan to massively thin trees in Big Bear Lake, specifically to remove “tens of thousands of Jeffrey pine, white fir, juniper and oak trees across 13,000 acres that are deemed to be overgrown, unhealthy and vulnerable to drought and disease,” according to a Los Angeles Times story. Federal officials say the action is necessary. Some conservationists say removing big trees like Jeffery pines doesn’t lower fire risk. The plan also would create 47 miles of new e-bike trails in the area.

The must read

An illustration adds wings to a photo of an aerial tram that's traveling through mountains.
Mt. San Jacinto State Park is accessible by tram.
(Photo by Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times; illustration by Li Anne Liew / Los Angeles Times)

It’s California State Parks Week, the first such celebration for the state agency that oversees more than 100 parks. The event is a good reminder to explore lesser-known local sites, such as California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside and Tule Elk State Natural Reserve in the off-the-grid town of Buttonwillow. State park week, which started Tuesday, is hosting a Volunteer Day on Saturday. In the L.A. area, volunteers can help with trail maintenance at Leo Carrillo State Park (meet at 8:30 a.m. in the South Beach Parking Lot, 35000 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu) and Topanga State Park (meet at 8:30 a.m. at the Trippet Ranch Parking Lot, 20825 Entrada Road, Topanga). Also, visitors to the Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park (15701 E. Avenue M, Lancaster) may meet a Native American artist (11 a.m.) who will provide demonstrations of Indigenous art.


A smiling man in a ball cap and wearing a backpack stands next to scrubby land and mountains in the background.
Hiking leader Johnny Ku in the Santa Monica Mountains.
(Mary Forgione)

Sometimes it takes a new guide to (re)open your eyes to well-trod trails. I have hiked in the Santa Monica Mountains for decades. Johnny Ku of Calabasas, a leader for the local Sierra Club (I’m a member and leader), stitched together a compelling loop I had never done before. Ku led a group last week who covered 14 miles with about 1,800 feet of gain. Here’s the route, best done on a cool day: Start at Juan Bautista de Anza Park in Calabasas and then follow the Talepop Trail, Liberty Canyon Fire Road, Phantom Trail, Cistern Trail, Century Lake to the “MASH” site (where the popular 1970s TV series was filmed) for lunch. Now you’re in Malibu Creek State Park. Return through Crag High Road, Grassland Trail, Las Virgenes Fire Road.

Hiking Clerb logo
(Hike Clerb)

Hats off to Hike Clerb, the intersectional women’s hiking group in Los Angeles that recently received a $15,000 wellness grant from WeightWatchers. Evelyn Escobar founded the group in 2017 to bring more representation of people of color in the outdoors. Hike Clerb was one of 16 organizations to receive a WW Wellness Impact Award from the weight-loss company.

Closeup of blackened trees. In the background are mountains and blue sky.
Trees killed in the Bobcat fire are seen April 16 along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Angeles National Forest.
(Paul Thornton / Los Angeles Times)

Last Sunday, I hiked to the top of 9,407-foot Mt. Baden-Powell, a tough hike with about 4,000 feet of gain. I was taken aback when I saw two men doing the peak twice in one day — running. That could only mean one thing: It’s almost time for the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run.

The race, canceled in 2021 because of closures related to the Bobcat fire, starts at 5 a.m. Aug. 6. The route usually goes peak to peak through the Angeles National Forest from Wrightwood to Altadena. Because of remaining fire closures in the Chantry Flats area above Sierra Madre, the run will be an out-and-back that starts in Wrightwood, turns around at Shortcut Saddle (50.7 miles) and finishes in Wrightwood (101.4 miles). And those two runners I saw? Yep, that’s what they were training for.

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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