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9 hikes to be grateful for this Thanksgiving

The waterfall at Escondido Canyon Trail in Malibu is just a trickle until the rains come.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Gratitude. It’s a year-round virtue, but in late November there’s a national holiday you may have heard about dedicated to this very sentiment. What do we have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, nearing the tail end of a year like no other?

That’s a personal tableside question. But for us outdoor types, SoCal’s vast hiking palette of soul-replenishing, stress-relieving, perspective-reclaiming, wide-angle-lens-defying, appreciation-eliciting outdoor spaces is right up there. How do we go about selecting nine favorite hiking trails to hit this Thanksgiving weekend — or any other weekend — in and around L.A.? Simple. By randomly omitting our 991 other favorites.

From easy family walks to local bucket-list treks, here’s where to go to walk off those candied yams and feel grateful to be here. Use a hiking app such as AllTrails (alltrails.com) or Gaia (gaiagps.com) for details on routes and trailheads.

Welcome to our comprehensive gift guide for the 2020 holiday season.

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Remember to wear a mask as you pass others and keep your distance.

Easy hikes

Escondido Canyon Trail and Falls
Where: Malibu
Distance: About 3½ miles round trip
Approximate elevation gain: 250 feet

Escondido Canyon Trail
Hikers enjoy the easy Escondido Canyon Trail in Malibu.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

One of the tallest waterfalls in the Santa Monica Mountains recedes to a faint trickle in the fall. Thankfully, the simple journey to this 200-foot, tiered limestone dripper tucked in a woodsy Malibu canyon is every bit as rewarding as the destination.

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Start on Winding Way where it meets Pacific Coast Highway; it’s a pleasant country road trail that curves past Malibu mansions and their rustic Teslas. This is the only hill climb of the trip and has a sweet Pacific backdrop.

The main act descends into a riparian canyon along the flat Edward Albert trail. The falls eventually appear (now in dribbly faucet fashion) at a rocky cul de sac with lounge-worthy outcrops and a turnstile of weekend families — or next to nobody on a tranquil Tuesday afternoon.

Moro Canyon Loop
Where: Crystal Cove State Park, between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach
Distance: Just under 3 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 500 feet

El Moro Canyon features 2,400 hilly acres of chaparral-covered backcountry waiting to be discovered on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway. Hiding among the 20 miles of trails are some easy walks, including this doable sampler starting from the El Moro Ranger Station.

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Start along a mild uphill grade along the No Dogs Trail (no joke, that’s the name) before a steepish descent along the Poles Trail, named after those oddly situated power poles marking the way. Turn right onto Moro Canyon Trail, cross a bridge and climb back to the parking lot.

Cool down on the short, interpretive Environmental Study Loop, good for all ages, by the park’s lower parking lot. A handy tunnel leads to the beach and up to the nearby Shake Shack for a post-hike treat.

Champion Lodgepole Pine Trail
Where: San Bernardino National Forest, near Big Bear Lake
Distance: One mile round trip
Approximate elevation gain: Less than 200 feet

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A short drive from Big Bear Lake, the world’s tallest lodgepole pine tree (according to local foresters, so you know it’s true) pushes to an impressive 110-foot height, 22-foot circumference and 450-ish years of age. The tree is above Bluff Meadows at the end of an easy one-mile round-trip hike though some of the loveliest old-growth coniferous forest in Southern California.

For an extended hike in this green pocket, continue along the adjoining Siberia Creek Trail (another easy one-miler). These trails are closed through the winter, and probably by Nov. 30, so get here soon or mark this one for spring. Contact the Big Bear Visitors Center for updates on road and trail closures.

Harder routes

Canyon Trail to Los Piñetos Trail
Where: Placerita Canyon Natural Area, near Santa Clarita
Distance: Four to seven miles round trip, depending on how far you go
Approximate elevation gain: 1,600 feet

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A deceivingly expansive trail system is tucked in this 350-acre wildlife sanctuary sequestered in a quiet corner of the Santa Clarita Valley.

The favorite route in the park is along the two-mile aptly named Canyon Trail, a level multiuse path (with horses and bikers) that begins at the park’s Nature Center and winds along Placerita Creek through a shaded verdant canyon to the Walker Ranch Campground.

From here the hilly, far more strenuous Los Piñetos Trail climbs out of these woodlands along a zigzag, chaparral-coated ridge and out of Santa Clarita Canyon (as well as the park itself) into Angeles National Forest and the San Fernando Valley. It’s a two-valleys-in-one hike with gorgeous vistas you can take as far as your quads will allow.

Marshall Canyon Trail
Where: Marshall Canyon Regional Park, La Verne
Distance: 5-10 miles (depending on starting and ending points)
Approximate elevation gain: Up to 1,300 feet

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Day hikers enjoy the multi-use Stephens Ranch Spur Trail
Day hikers enjoy the multi-use Stephens Ranch Spur Trail above Marshall Canyon Park in La Verne.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Start at the dirt parking lot at Marshall Canyon Regional Park on the edge of La Verne or a few miles south at Oak Mesa Park for a flat warm-up urban walk along Marshall Creek. Wend your way into a woodsy oasis along the Marshall Canyon Trail where it’s just you and the locals who know about this place.

Deer at Marshall Canyon Park
Think about a Thanksgiving hike at Marshall Canyon Park in La Verne.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

For a slightly longer hike, the multiuse trail (shared with horses and bikers) joins up with the Cobalt Canyon Trail in adjacent Claremont Hills Wilderness Park for a rewarding sloped loop with sweeping Inland Empire vistas.

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Hacienda Hills Loop
Where: Puente Hills Preserve, Hacienda Heights
Distance: 5-mile loop
Approximate elevation gain: 650 feet

The Puente Hills Preserve may be one of the most underappreciated green-space interruptions of board-flat suburbia on the planet. The parking lot is closed but trails are open. Park on the street and head into the preserve. Ascend into the sunbaked hills above Hacienda Heights on the Coyote Trail, leading to broad city views framed by the San Gabriels to the north.

Looping counter-clockwise, join the lofty Skyline (Schabarum) Trail and aptly named Native Oak Trail, which curves through a canopy of old oaks and sycamores, before switch-backing to the eastward Ahwingna Trail toward your starting point. For information on routes and closures in the area, contact the Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority.

Total workout

Sycamore-Serrano Loop
Where: Point Mugu State Park, Ventura County
Distance: About a 10-mile loop
Approximate elevation gain: 1,250 feet

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It’s a trek just driving to Point Mugu State Park, tucked at the northern terminus of the Santa Monica Mountains in Ventura County. The payoff is vast: 14,000 acres of mountains, meadows, hidden river canyons and rocky bluffs straight out of a John Ford movie set, co-starring more than 60 miles of increasingly empty hiking trails the farther out you go. Pay $12 to park for the day at the lot off Pacific Coast Highway.

This loop starts tamely enough from the park’s campground along the Sycamore Canyon Fire Road, a broad, flat thoroughfare flanked by generous-size sycamore trees. In about a mile, turn right onto Serrano Canyon Trail. This is your foot-traffic-only portal into a lush craggy creek-side fold of scrub oak and guaranteed solitude where the hike quickly hits its stride.

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The counter-clockwise loop veers north and uphill through grassy meadowlands of Sycamore Valley, featuring coastal views to the south, Boney Peak to the northeast and (a couple months from now) a foreground of blooming wildflowers. Looping down via the Old Boney Trail, the hike descends through another rocky cleft before popping out at the Sycamore Canyon Trail farther up. From here it’s a long but leisurely four-mile fire-road tromp back to the campground’s day-use parking lot.

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Maple Springs Trail to the top of Bedford Peak
Where: Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County
Distance: About 7 miles round trip
Approximate elevation gain: 2,000 feet

After a short (but sweet) oak-lined, canyon drive along Silverado Canyon Road from the nearby town of Silverado to the Maple Springs trailhead, the eponymous trail to the top of Bedford Peak (also unofficially called the Silverado Trail) climbs about 1,500 feet in the first couple of miles along a series of exposed switchbacks with very little shade. Bring sunscreen and extra water. That’s your workout.

The final push to the top of this prominent mound levels off along a straighter ridge leading to the panorama your feet have been waiting for: Catalina Island to the southwest. Distant iconic peaks — Baldy, San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, etc. — in other directions.

Tahquitz Peak Loop
Where: San Bernardino National Forest and Mount San Jacinto State Park, Idyllwild
Distance: About 11.5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 2,350 feet

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Tahquitz Peak offers bragging rights and gorgeous crowd-free late-fall mountain hiking that will resemble early winter at this point. The San Jacinto Wilderness Area is closed for overnight camping, but the trails remain open for day hikers.

Pick up a self-issued, day-use hiking permit at the Idyllwild Forest Service ranger station in town and begin the journey at the Humber Park trailhead, your access point to the pine-studded Devil’s Slide Trail as well as the easier Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail.

As hikers switchback along pine-studded Devil’s Slide, they are rewarded with gratifying westward views of Temecula and distant Palomar Mountain with its white-domed observatory. At a junction with the famous Pacific Crest Trail, the route leads to the top of 8,846-foot Tahquitz Peak, marked by a historic fire lookout station and expansive views of the Coachella Valley.

Either head back down the way you came to shave off a few miles or continue the loop along the South Ridge Trail, which connects with the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail and your starting point at the Humber Park lot.


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