For a calming challenge and the best views in L.A., head to a trail and start running
Maybe you, like me, found trail running on accident. My college had a series of dirt trails running along the perimeter of campus, and I ran them merely because the sidewalks were crowded. It felt a lot better to smack dirt than pavement with my cheap soles, so I kept doing it. Runs of two or three miles became four or five. In that rhythm, I found a joy that city running lacked.
After college, I hit the parks and botanic gardens, but what I really wanted was more wilderness. I found my perfect fit in Eaton Canyon, a 190-acre Pasadena preserve that has it all: a remote feel, both challenging and easy terrain, fragrant plants and a gorgeous view. I can run farther and stay interested for longer when running on a trail like Eaton than I can on pavement in a city.
And, not having to worry about avoiding the city obstructions of phone-gazing pedestrians, construction signs and car exhaust, I’m less distracted and more tapped into my five senses. I smell the pungent sage, take in deep lungfuls of oxygen and relax into enjoying the view — which is usually epic on L.A. trail runs, from Pacific Ocean vistas to sights of the city from high above.
Jogging through inconsistent, natural terrain brings its own challenges — and a resulting hyperawareness. Trail running is not unlike mountain biking in that respect: You make split-second decisions constantly, whether it’s avoiding rocks in the trail or hopping up on them without losing your cadence; swerving away from poison oak or prickly burrs; or choosing whether to traverse a brook on rocks or a log bridge.
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I’m not alone in my love for this (mostly) solitary sport. Trail running has seen a 7.9% jump in participation over the last five years, according to a 2022 Outdoor Foundation trend report. That’s no surprise — it tracks with our COVID-era interest in the outdoors, physical activity and green spaces. And in my opinion, L.A. is absolutely the most exciting city in our country to trail run across, with its dozens of trails and epic views of oceans, canyons and DTLA.
If you’re interested in trying it, you don’t necessarily need trail runners. Hop into your normal jogging shoes to conquer L.A.’s flatter, less rocky trail runs. Once you find your footing, so to speak, head to a running store like Fleet Feet, or to an REI, where you should try on a wide variety of trail runners to find the best ones for your feet. An On Cloudultra feels completely different from a Hoka Speedgoat. At many running stores, you’ll find inclines, treadmills or even fake rocky terrain to practice walking up.
You don’t need a challenging trail for your first few runs. Head to your local park or botanic garden (if it’s allowed) to get started, as they often have dirt trails. Then continue on to Griffith Park, where you have your pick of trail runs: the Old Zoo Loop, or to the Hollywood sign and back. Once you’ve got the easy fire roads under your belt, head to wilder spots like the Lower Arroyo Seco Trail, the Altadena Crest Trail and the Eaton Canyon Trail, or take in the ocean view at Westridge Trail. We’ve got more options here. Make sure to do your research online first, because some trails, like the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail, may be washed out from all the rain.
At some point, you’re going to start thinking about technique, especially if you’re heading uphill or your trails get technical (that’s shorthand for complicated by uneven terrain, obstructions or other challenges).
Best practices? Take your time, and be patient with yourself. Trail running can be exciting, but if you rush things, you could get injured. You may be used to sprinting on city roads, but you’ll want to take smaller steps on trail runs so you’re ready to adjust your gait and avoid obstructions. I definitely don’t try to leap or sprint across brooks or piles of leaves, which could hide rocks or wells of water or holes. I like to look ahead to see what’s coming, so my brain can start processing how I’ll handle it. When running uphill, don’t lean in, because it constricts your breathing (if you find yourself doing that, try walking instead). When running downhill, don’t lean back, because it stresses your knees.
If you want to condition for trail running, add ankle strength and balance exercises to your regimen several times a week. Yoga offers great counterbalance exercises, and since having core strength is vital, throw in some Pilates-type exercises for good measure. Running can be hard on your quads, hamstrings, ankles, calves, feet and back, so make sure to stretch it all out afterward.
Your reward for regular runs and extra conditioning: stellar growth as a trail runner, including the ability to power through longer, harder and steeper trails. Our pinnacular trail-running race is the Mt. Baldy Run-to-the-Top, but honestly, just conquering my local trails makes me feel pretty amazing on the weekends.
3 things to do
1. Party with your hiking fam. On April 2 from 2 to 6 p.m., one of my fave hiking pods and activity groups, “Just Trek,” is celebrating its third anniversary at Party Beer Co. on West Jefferson with fellow outdoor orgs 52 Hike Challenge and Highlander Adventure. It’s a birthday celebration for pod founder Justin “Justroc” Rimon, a passionate hiker who loves talking about the outdoors with a wide array of guests on his show. The event will feature a live taping of the podcast with special surprise hiking speakers, and Shark Faicol and Mendzter from Living Room Sessions will DJ. You’ll need to RSVP for the event, as the venue will fill to capacity, and beers are on you, though admission is free.
2. Go on a queer hike and snack playdate. Love to toss a Frisbee, eat snacks and clean up our beautiful trails? Join Environmental Queers at 10 a.m. on April 1 for hiking, trail cleanup, games and refreshments. This nonprofit creates safe spaces and organizes fun volunteer events for the LGBTQIA+ community. Park on Fern Dell Drive and meet by the bear statue. Bring food, drinks, sunblock, a hat and a trash bag for collecting debris. Follow the group on Instagram for more info, or to reach out for more details.
3. Bask in the rays of desert art and experimental music. The quirky Wonder Valley Experimental Festival happens truly out in the desert, not in some fancy oasis. But that’s part of the appeal of this fest at Palms Restaurant in Twentynine Palms, east of Joshua Tree. The single-location fest takes place in person at the funky, remote watering hole on Saturday from 5 p.m. (If you’re not up for the trek, you can attend virtually on Friday at 8 p.m. Tune in to the YouTube channel to watch.) There’s no news yet on the exact performers, but the year I went, I saw lo-fi art rock and punk alike. While you’re there, check out “Brief and Spectacular,” an art show at local gallery Scranch on Saturday from 2 to 8 p.m. You’ll see performances and sound installations by over 20 artists, including Tobias Fike, Ven Voisey and Maja Skjøth Hegelund. If you’re looking to stay overnight, try a Hipcamp, where you bring your own tent and sleeping bag to someone else’s land (there are also some options with beds).
It’s not a superbloom (yet) this year; it’s a “shroom boom,” or a “super shroom.” All that rain has come bearing gifts, besides a shored-up water supply: more mushrooms than usual, to a remarkable level. That’s because mushrooms go dormant during a long drought but spring into action when the rain returns, Mae Hamilton writes at AFAR.
In our neck of the woods, we can hunt for them in our local parks, but also on a big field trip to the Angeles National Forest, where you may find special (and delicious!) specimens like chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and morels. For the Angeles National Forest, you’ll need your Adventure Pass (day passes are $5, annual passes are $30) — pop it in your car window or on your mirror. Make like a pro forager and pack your knife and knapsack, and before you head out, read up on some common-sense rules in our guide to this miraculous mushroom moment.
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Besides foraging my local park, I’m excited to see if it doesn’t rain this weekend, so I can finally join Fleet Feet Burbank at their 8:30 a.m. Saturday coffee and conversation run (on Wednesdays, they do a pub run that ends at Lincoln Beer Company — save me a Verdugo Sunrise West Coast IPA!). I’m also psyched to hear Michelle Zauner (a.k.a. Japanese Breakfast) in conversation with Joanne Molinaro (a.k.a. the Korean Vegan) on Sunday, courtesy of my fave food bookstore, Now Serving (ICYMI, Zauner’s hit book will soon be a movie). And in my spare moments, I’m researching on my phone, scheming and dreaming up camping trips to Catalina Island and the Channel Islands this spring and summer. How’s your summer plan shaping up?
For more insider tips on Southern California’s beaches, trails and parks, check out past editions of The Wild. And to view this newsletter in your browser, click here.
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