Why hike in L.A.? There are as many answers as there are Angelenos who lace up boots and hit trails. Southern California’s mountains and forests can serve as an outdoor gym, a sanctuary from the urban buzz, a spiritual space to heal and reflect, a place to pose and be seen (especially on Instagram), an entry to the natural world of tarantulas and newts, and a place to scale an unthinkably high peak. For the devout, it’s a lifestyle choice that in nonpandemic times brings us closer as a community.
Where to start? There are roughly 1 million acres to explore in the L.A. area. The nation’s largest national park in an urban setting, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, offers 154,000 acres from Hollywood to Point Mugu. Continue east to Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area and Griffith Park, handy urban green spaces that are a freeway off-ramp away, then head east and north to the wilder Angeles National Forest where you can roam 700,000 acres and have your pick of 8,000-foot-plus peaks.
But wait, there’s more. Congress recently passed a bill that if enacted would double the size of the Santa Monica Mountains park. Other plans call for creating new protected river and forest areas in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Still need a nudge? We asked Angelenos why they hike and what trails they like. Here’s what they said inspired them.
Evelynn Escobar, founder of Hike Clerb, a hiking group for women of color
The first time I visited L.A. I was 10 years old. My aunt took us on a mini-hike up to the Griffith Observatory that literally planted the seed for what was to come way later in my life. There’s a photo of me wearing a sparkly bandanna, sparkly sunglasses and a sparkly T-shirt — because let’s be real, this was the early 2000s — and I just look so happy. The view, the observatory captivated me so much. It’s still one of my favorite places and favorite hikes in the city. It was a huge part of my decision to move here, the accessibility and proximity to nature.
Hike Clerb is an intersectional women’s hiking club. We center on Black and brown women. The reason I started it was because once I did end up moving to L.A. and immersed myself in a much more outdoorsy lifestyle, it made me realize how homogenous the outdoors is: It’s just so overwhelmingly white. I knew I wasn’t the only woman of color who cared about these spaces and had an inkling to go out into nature. I really wanted to bring that experience to other women. The feeling of wholeness that I get by being in nature — using it as a healing modality is unlike anything else. ...
I really love hiking in Kenneth Hahn State Park because it’s so close by and because I see so many other Black and brown people. I feel very much in my element, in my space and in my community, on the trails.
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), lifelong hiker
[Being outdoors] has been a great of form of recreation during the pandemic, to be able to get out and get some exercise, fresh air, enjoy nature and get out of the house. It’s been great to go running but also to hike; sometimes I do a little combination of running and hiking. I like to go up to the Stough Canyon Nature Center in Burbank. They have a nice hike that begins there. It’s quite steep until you get to the ridgeline. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the cell towers, and then it’s a really nice run or hike up there.
I also really love hiking in Griffith Park. My wife and I love to do the evening hikes. People say hello but they are usually respectful in the sense of not making it about work. I have had hikes where people want to talk about peace in the Middle East, but for the most part people are friendly and happy to see me out doing something I like to do.
If you’re getting cabin fever, as I think we all are, there’s nothing better than getting out, getting some exercise and getting close to nature. It really clears your mind, clears your head, gives you a new perspective on things. I find hiking more necessary than ever ... and the size of the landscape makes you feel small by comparison.
I’m delighted when I meet with people from Africa and they tell me about their lions, and I can say, ‘I’ve got lions!’ I meet with people in other parts of the country, and they tell me about their bears, and I say, ‘I’ve got bears!’ ... I went on a congressional trip to Zimbabwe. We were discussing wildlife conservation issues and I was proudly showing people my photo of P-22 [in front of the Hollywood Sign], and I said, “Let me show you the lion in my district.” I think they were astonished that this was a wild lion and not some photo shoot.
Best way to complete the trail through the Santa Monica Mountains from Malibu to Pacific Palisades
Tawny Newsome, actor, comedian, musician, podcaster (“Space Force”)
When I was a kid, my dad used to take me fishing. I wouldn’t fish but I like to joke that it was the only place that no one was telling me to make my bed or feed the horses. The outdoors is a place where no one can tell me to do chores — or similarly no one can tell me, “Hey, you have an audition right now. Get across town.”
I like hiking ... because I like being reminded that I’m small and unimportant, even though this business would make me feel otherwise sometimes. What I love about hiking in L.A. is that you can get to things so quickly — you can be an hour from downtown and have some spectacular solitude. What I don’t love about hiking in L.A. is that you can get to things so quickly — and everyone and their mother wants to barge in on your solitude. But I have mixed feelings about that because I very much want more and more people to experience the outdoors.
I started making videos over the summer [encouraging Black people to hike] because I felt very helpless seeing so much strife on the timeline. The best tool for keeping my mental health in check is the outdoors, and culturally, for a lot of different reasons, Black folks are taught to fear the outdoors — or at the very least we aren’t encouraged to understand it and explore it. My preparedness and the time I’ve taken to learn about the places I’m hiking is what connects me, but I’m very aware of the Tongva and the Chumash tribes that came before. In the last year, hiking has brought me peace, quiet, solitude and the reminder that the Earth is bigger and more important and will outlive all of us, so we better take care of it.
Ellen Ahn, executive director of Korean Community Services, Buena Park
I am second-generation Korean. As executive director of Korean Community Services, I live, eat and breathe my community. We are the largest nonprofit social services organization in Orange County serving the Korean community.
My husband and I mostly hike on weekends as a couple because we like the solitude. But we see Koreans who come out in groups. Korea is a mountainous country and hiking is very popular, probably the No. 1 leisure activity. For immigrants, hiking is low-cost and accessible but there is some status stuff too. My husband and I chuckle a lot at the Korean women and men who seem overdressed with really nice hiking gear. Me, I wear a T-shirt and khaki pants ... although I do have a walking stick now and hiking boots.
My favorite hike is Chantry Flat to Sturtevant Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains [currently closed because of the Bobcat fire]. I like to knock things off my list, so I have a personal goal to visit every waterfall in Southern California. [Sturtevant] is the waterfall everyone goes to but I never get tired of it. My husband likes views and oceans and hills; his favorite hike is the hills above Crystal Cove. But I like water and trees. The good thing is when we head up to the San Gabriel Mountains, we’re very near all those Chinese restaurants, so we’re always planning what dumplings we’ll eat when we’re done.
Carlos Berruz, founder of the unofficial Dodgers Blue Hiking Crew
“Griffith Park just offers such an amazing view and different rest points for people, where they can stop and take pictures. ... It’s about creating memories.” Carlos Berruz merged his love of hiking with his love of the Dodgers to create the unofficial Dodgers Blue Hiking Crew. He started by leading about 200 hard-core fans through Griffith Park before 2016’s opening day in Los Angeles. A year later, he led nearly 700 people through the park. In 2020, when the Dodgers clinched their first World Series victory in 32 years, people wanted to know if there would be a celebratory hike despite the pandemic. “No, no, no, no. I’ve always said safety comes first.” Still, fan hikes have served as an introduction to the outdoors for some Los Angeles residents. “You’d be amazed how many people have been born and raised in Los Angeles that have never been to the top of Griffith Park,” says Berruz, a longtime Angeleno who now lives in Sonoma County. The group’s traditional hike loops through the park to the summit of Mt. Hollywood.
Dechel Mckillian, entrepreneur, founder and creative director of Galerie.LA
I started hiking in my 20s. It was not something I grew up doing. My parents were not as familiar with hiking. We did other activities like taking day trips, camping and sports. Maybe it’s because there weren’t as many trails in the inner city as there are now. I’ve definitely enjoyed hiking trips with my dad near his home in Baldwin Hills over the last couple of years. I had a lot of friends that lived in Hollywood. I think Runyon Canyon was the first hiking trail that friends would invite me to do with them. I started getting inspired about being out in nature and taking walks. I’m not big on going to the gym. I feel hiking gives me good exercise; you’re outside and that’s why I love it. I really love Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park. It’s such a good workout. You can hike up the rock and feel like you’re on top of the world.
Greg Pauley, curator of herpetology, L.A. Museum of Natural History, and co-author of “Wild L.A.: Explore the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles”
One of the things I always say about being in the L.A. area: People always think there’s not that much nature, it’s such a big city, I’m not going to see a lot of nature here. But that’s completely not true. ... You can go to the upper elevations in the San Gabriel watershed and see a bighorn sheep and you can turn around and drive down to Long Beach and see a green sea turtle in the Lower San Gabriel River. That’s amazing, right?
Eva Larson, member of the Navajo Nation, archeologist who has worked on sensitive sites in the Santa Monica Mountains
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I work as an archeologist for the National Park Service as a contractor. There will be sites that, after a fire or after a big rainstorm, we’ll check on. When we do that, we sometimes discover that the site is larger or there are more components to it. Everyone probably [hikes] near these sites and they just don’t know about it. We don’t advertise it. Unfortunately, there would be people who would not respect it, there would be people who want to dig up things.
I’ve been a hiker since I was involved with [the Rancho Sierra Vista] Satwiwa Center in the 1990s. Hiking gets me out of my head. If I just need to clear my head, it’s a good way for me to take a run in nature. It’s also a way for me to reconnect in nature knowing that, not my ancestors, but the Chumash, Native American ancestors, roamed the hills here. ... At Satwiwa [a Native American cultural center in Point Mugu State Park], I have participated in a number of events, such as their workshops and storytelling.
Kathrina Fulgueres, administrative assistant
I really got into hiking four years ago. About the same time, I started backpacking as well. I found it really healing to be out in nature. When you’ve gone through some personal challenges and you just want to get away from everyone in the city and find some solitude and process everything that’s in your mind and heart, it’s a good getaway.
Los Angeles has more beautiful and challenging trails than San Diego. I’m from San Diego — sorry, San Diego! I’m building my bucket list of L.A. trails because there’s a lot to choose from. People usually go on beginner hikes ... but I go on higher-elevation trails. I like Sunset Peak [in the Mt. Baldy area]. The first two times I went it was under snow. It’s not that hard, not that much elevation gain, but there’s hardly any people. I don’t geotag that place [on social media] unless people ask me. I don’t want people swarming there.
I love San Gorgonio too. I backpacked and camped at the peak once. The sunset and sunrise at the peak are both amazing. In L.A., there’s so much to explore, so many options of trails.
Julissa James, Arit John, Jeanette Marantos and Mary Forgione contributed to this report.
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