California offers splendid trails as sprawling as its legendary roads. Naturally traffic-free, hiking the wild-side of LA and finding peace in nature is my favourite thing about the stretched sunny metropolis. My chosen hikes reward any traffic jam battle with cleaned mind, lungs, an aromatherapy of wildflowers and well-lubricated joints. Finding peace in nature is a healthy maintenance for the body and mind.
How to become invisible in the City of Angels
Hiking is trendy. As nude bodies promenade through Runyon Canyon, poodle-clad barbies in Griffith Park join the bussed in Chinese groups aiming for the Hollywood sign, a true naturalist covers one’s eyes. To be unseen is the underlying desire not just of most privacy seeking Hollywood stars, but also of genuine nature lovers, inner calm seekers and flâneurs. Living in a city with an access to hundreds dusty miles of trails, all within a short drive, is the most precious asset of Los Angeles.
Still, unless you live by one of them, you have to board a vehicle to reach the hills. There is always parking, some free with gratitude to the generous donations, some pricy, since necessity pays off. Forget the Culver Steps, parking there is a hell of luck, plus too touristy. Some local natural workout buffs climb the widely-stretched rocks of steps up, other jog on the hillsides.
I still hike the Griffith Park, but I found some less populated hillsides east from the Greek Theatre (free parking). Above the tennis courts, circle the hills around their back spine with views over the Universal City and the San Gabriel Mountains, and circumnavigate the Mount Hollywood where picture hunters set up their gear. Parts of the trails you can jog, shirt off (not you, lady!). There is not as much living wilderness as at some other LA hikes though.
East, also inland in Pasadena, the San Gabriel Mountains attract hikers to its 40-foot waterfall on weekends, so better stroll around during the week. Park by 1999 Veranada Avenue, Glendale.
More people can puff up safety for solo hikers, but the constant distraction of human chatter, and the Americans share their intimate stories loud, how entertaining! Oh no, gasps the escapist. For space and freedom, move elsewhere.
The safest and best maintained is the Tree People Trail. Ever since my first few hikes with a personal trainer to Robbie Williams, the singer, this central touch with nature has become more populated. Off the scenic Mulholland Drive, splitting the Valley and Beverly Hills, the scenic hike practically stretches the stiff limbs of freelance workers al fresco. Tree People is a charity educating, providing support for visitors and free parking. Electric charging booths inclusive. Wooden chairs shield from the sharp desert sun and comfort your weary legs, perhaps accommodating a good read at hand. Spreading over the Willacre Park towards the Coldwater Canyon east, dotted over with California sycamores, black walnut and coast live oak the loop takes about an hour. My go to hike when I am short of time.
Best hiking season in LA
Spring is the best season to hike around LA. The inland desert greens up approaching the ocean. Waterfalls gush with the spring rain, wildflowers bloom into carpets of sunshine, and the verdant hallmarks of photosynthesis light up the paths with leafy salutes. Some of the local plant specimens are easily searchable on the Santa Monica Mountains app. Give curiosity the fodder it craves if the phone signal happens to reach the corner you hike yourself up to. The mild temperatures and much welcome rainfall (usually in February and March) awaken the hidden mysteries of the desert. Be mindful, eyes wide-open.
After a few incidents, I advise bringing layers and plenty of reserve water as in the coastal desert the climate differs marginally from the cooler oceanside to the inland blaze. Between December and May it is not scorching hot neither too dry as in the fall. Still, wearing long pants, sunscreen and a hat is wise in the ozone-poor Southern California, where added perils throw in prickly desert plants, ticks, snakes and poisonous spiders. Your bare skin lures them, fragrant with perspiration. Apart from the coiling rattlesnakes and hairy tarantulas, it is dusty too. Ideally do not plan fancy lunch right after your hike. A meal before is better as we often do at the Farmshop bordering Brentwood and Santa Monica or the airy Malibu Farm. Coming before noon cuts the waiting line there with precious minutes to add to the day.
For a scant human presence and real mountain lions, I like the Temescal Canyon hiking in LA. So far, I have not had the pleasure of meeting one of the sharp-toothed cats from eye to eye, instead, once a lone crazyman rose my adrenalin to the red high. Topping the looner, I was cursing the lack of water I took along and virtually zero phone signal. I strongly advice don’t hike there alone as I did. Either find a pal or a hiking guide whose CPR and first aid certified skills and a backpack well-stocked with water can literally save your life. I found Bikes and Hikes LA (Info@bikeshikesla.com) responsive and able to accommodate my last minute request. The over two-hours-lasting private hike cost $195 with self-transport. Picking you up it would double. In groups, the hikes are much cheaper. From all options the back approach to the Hollywood sign is the most popular.
My guide Eric, a former radio host, was a great companion, knowledgeable of most plants, and further expanding my knowledge of LA gossip as well as lending an ear to my ramblings about life. As an experienced hiker, I was a piece of cake, still he got a great workout keeping up with my antelope legs.
From the Temescal Canyon you can easily transplant into the Topanga State Park as we did. The vast, spiky phenomenon looks like Taiwanese mountains or the hilly island trails around Hong Kong. The air is dry and due to Californians eco-consciousness, way less polluted than most Asian trails that I absolved. In its vastness, getting lost is not that unusual, as the signage wipes off the further you go. You can start at the Will Rogers State Park, where the paid parking, keeps your vehicle safe. Depending on season you may catch buckwheats flowering, sticky monkey bush in its neon bloom, the brick orange of California poppy, the cherry blossom-like of lemonade berry, the gushing whiteness of Chaparral Yucca next to edibles like sage and lupine.
High above everything, the Pacific fog hijacks you from the car maze of LA, if alone on a meditative stroll, suddenly you feel freedom unlike anywhere in the city. Now, it is you and the nature. Hiking is liberating.
For a similar, yet closer to the ocean and the Pacific Coastal Highway, experience the Malibu hiking trails. Spanning over the stretchy coastal community, there are countless routes, some signposted other unmarked. With a local friend we embarked on shorter, about an hour-long hikes. Spring thrust surprises on each trail. This April millions of monarch butterflies, migrating north, swiped over the coast in hiving gusts of flickering wings. Sadly many get injured and lose a wing or chip some while madly seeking community. We were awestruck by their numbers. One could forage too, with edibles like wild fennel, rapeseed, sunflowers and cereal grains lining the hillsides for a plentiful spring feast. The Cameron Nature Preserve trail has very limited parking along the last houses before the road ends, but rarely full. We only met two musicians and a fit lady marching up.
The Malibu Creek trail further north is more frequented. M.A.S.H. staged there so fans visit specifically for the snaps on the scene. When lucky with rain, jump in the rock pool to freshen up your weary legs. The longer eight-mile loop is a close enough encounter with barred nature. Park at 1925 La Virgenes Rd, Calabassas.
Unlike the sweat in gymnasiums, their artificial air, ears-busting cardio machines accelerating the human rat race, and heavy weighted shrieks of macho males, moving in nature gives you freedom, space and calm, perhaps even inspiration.
Experience California through sustainable, health-conscious and mind-opening activities. Hike LA and you will see it like a local. Feeling happy, replenishing Vitamin D outdoors, the endorphins last longer after an hour or more in the oxygenated La La Land.