A paradise for dogs (and people) just off the 405

A collie mix on a mountaintop with its tongue out
The author’s 6-year-old collie mix, Bear.
(Michael Charboneau)

My dog, a 6-year-old collie mix named Bear (I know, he doesn’t look anything like a bear), has a complicated relationship with leashes. On our twice-daily walks around our West L.A. neighborhood, he’s perfectly happy to be tethered to me or my wife. Take him for a hike and it’s a different story. As soon as we hit the trail, he barks, he whines, he yearns to be free. That’s a problem, as most trails around Los Angeles require dogs on leashes — unless you’re in Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park.

Discovering Westridge-Canyonback a few years ago was a revelation. In this wilderness area, leashes aren’t mandatory. And unlike the fenced-in dirt plots that pass as dog parks around Los Angeles, the park one is both massive — more than 1,500 acres — and genuinely beautiful. It sprawls across multiple ridgelines just west of the 405 Freeway above Brentwood and the Getty Museum. Although it’s close to the city (especially if you live in West L.A. or the Valley), it feels truly remote. It’s part of a 20,000-acre spread of protected land in the Santa Monica Mountains called the “Big Wild.” Within its bounds you’ll find shrub-covered mountain peaks and ridges towering above lush, tree-lined canyons. And on a clear day, you can see all the way to downtown L.A. and Catalina Island. A network of fire roads covers the park, along with a web of single-track trails — all open to hikers, cyclists, equestrians and yes, off-leash dogs (as long as they’re under their owners’ immediate control).

Lately, Westridge-Canyonback has become my favorite place to run because I can cruise along fire roads with Bear, and we both move at about the same pace. In fact, the park is the only place we get to run together — he hates running on a leash with me around our neighborhood. I don’t blame him, as jogging in Westridge-Canyonback is so much better. Instead of plodding along on sidewalks, we scale rocky climbs, pause to appreciate the views (or do some sniffing) and bomb down rolling single track along undulating ridgelines. It’s especially nice this time of year, when everything is green and wildflowers start to bloom. Through it all, Bear happily lopes along beside me.

A mountaintop in Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park
Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park.
(Michael Charboneau)

At the dog park, I can only sit and watch him run around. On a walk, it’s really more of a bathroom break and a battle of the wills to keep Bear from eating every bit of garbage left out on the street. But at Westridge-Canyonback, we both get to have fun and explore the outdoors together.

Want to spoil your dog (and yourself) with some off-leash adventuring? Here are some tips to keep in mind before you head out to Westridge-Canyonback.

Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park.
(Michael Charboneau)
  • Make sure your dog is well-trained and can be recalled on command before you let them off-leash. It’s a big park, and they could easily get lost. This is also wild land with the usual hazards to pets, including roaming coyotes and rattlesnakes hidden in the brush.
  • Always pick up after your pet — dog waste left behind smells terrible and attracts flies, ruining the trail for everyone else.
  • Bring water, both for you and your pup. Most of the park’s trails and fire roads follow exposed ridgelines, and there’s not much shade.
A collie mix at Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park.
(Michael Charboneau)
A wiggly line break

3 things to do

A line of helmeted bicyclists in a protected corridor marked off with poles along a city street.
(CicLAvia Los Angeles)

1. Explore the corridor in Reseda
The nonprofit BikeLA will be hosting a series of guided group bike rides along Reseda Boulevard, between Saticoy Street and Reseda Park, to demonstrate the safety features of a new protected “corridor” built to improve the safety of people walking, biking and driving along the road. All bikers, roller skaters, skateboarders, scooters, strollers and walkers of all ages are welcome, although participants should note that the street will remain open to cars. The free event will run 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. To check out a digital map of businesses along the route, visit

2. Do a tree pose among actual trees in Los Feliz
Local yogi Emily Philips began hosting free one-hour community flow classes in Griffith Park during the pandemic, and nearly four years later she’s still at it. Lately she’s been leading classes at 4 p.m. Wednesdays and 10 a.m. Saturdays. Bring your mat to the Bear Statue at Fern Dell to stretch your body in nature. Donations are welcome but not required. For more information, visit


3. Hike to a silent disco party on a Malibu mountaintop
The outdoor activity group Hiking With Sun is hosting a uniquely California afternoon of wellness activities that will begin with a 2-mile hike, followed by a breathwork session at a lookout point and then a silent disco dance party at sunset led by DJ Beachball (a DJ/meditation guide who dons a Daft Punk-like disguise in the form of a giant beach ball-shaped helmet). You may even get the chance to sip on some nonalcoholic beer from Bravus Brewing Co. Only in L.A., folks! The adventure will take place from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $45 to $50. For more details, visit

A wiggly line break

The must-read

The Carrizo Plain superbloom on April 16, 2017.
(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times)

Spring is around the corner, and that means one thing: wildflowers. Times writer Jeanette Marantos has the scoop on this season’s blooms (it’s part of her weekly Plants newsletter — you can sign up for it here). The best resource for tracking the springtime show is the Theodore Payne Wildflower hotline, which started up last week and will be updated through June. It’s hard to predict how prevalent the flowers will be or if we’ll see a superbloom, but experts are optimistic. Some blossoms have already appeared (look out for ceanothus in the Santa Monica Mountains), but the real show is about a month away, so you have time to plan a flower viewing trip or two. Just remember: Don’t pick the flowers.

Happy adventuring,

Signature for Michael Charboneau


I’ve been stuck inside with a cold the last few days, but I am plotting my return to the trails. One of my favorite resources for bike ride inspo is Gravel Bike California, a comprehensive gravel riding resource (and YouTube channel) from local rider Zachary Rynew. His “Gravel Guides” are a great intro to some of the best off-pavement riding around Los Angeles and beyond.


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.