Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.
What’s not to love about Los Angeles? Sure, the traffic is rough (steer clear of the 101 at all times of day), but the city offers something for everyone. There’s great food, a beautiful patchwork of neighborhoods, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, tacky TMZ celebrity tours, and some of the most stunning wilderness in Southern California this side of the Sierras.
Before we jump into it, though, it’s important to talk about hiking safety. Many people assume that because they’re close to a major metropolitan city, they’re free and clear of any risk when it comes to hiking - and those people are dead wrong. Be safe and remember that not all hiking trails have cell phone reception. Any time you go hiking, even if it’s just for a day hike, you should always bring a partner and carry the 10 hiking essentials with you in case of emergency.
The 10 Essentials For Every Hiker’s Backpack
- Water - at least 0.5 liter of water per hour of moderate activity in temperate weather. Hot weather or more strenuous hikes may require a full liter of water per hour or more.
- A topographic map and compass - remember that you won’t always have cell service. Know how to read a map and how to use a compass, and familiarize yourself with the terrain where you’ll be hiking before you leave home.
- Flashlight or headlamp - try to avoid being out after dark, and always carry a flashlight or headlamp (along with extra batteries) just in case.
- Food - grab snacks that will not require refrigeration, like jerky, nuts or trail mix, and protein-rich snack bars.
- Sun protection - bring a hat with a brim, sunglasses that protect against UV rays, and broad spectrum sunscreen. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply at least once every two hours.
- Extra clothes - pack a protective jacket that can stand up to the elements as well as a warm hat that covers the ears. You may also want to bring a dry pair of socks and a dry shirt.
- First aid kit - always carry a first aid kit, even if it’s just a sandwich bag filled with bandages, first aid cream, insect repellent, and any relevant medications you might need (pain reliever, allergy meds, etc).
- Pocket knife or multitool - should you ever find yourself in an emergency, you’ll be glad you’ve got the tools you need to survive. Shelter or a space blanket - if you ever get lost, injured, or you’re forced to spend the night due to weather/trail conditions, you’ll need some way of staying warm and dry while you wait for help.
- Fire source - you shouldn’t need to make a fire on a day hike (especially in wildfire-prone California), but bring waterproof matches or a lighter and only use them if you need to make a fire to survive.
Remember to wear comfy, supportive shoes and athletic or moisture-wicking clothing, as cotton will not keep you warm in the event that you get wet. Now that you’ve got your pack loaded up, you’re ready to hit the trail! Here are a few of our favorite day hikes around LA!
On The West Side (Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area)
Located on the Western edge of Point Mugu State Park, Mugu Peak offers breathtaking coastal views along the Chumash Trail. This hike was historically done by the Chumash tribe that lived in the coastal mountains, carrying boats and fishing gear down the staggeringly steep trail across what’s now the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s almost a vertical mile to the ridge where the landscape levels out before the final push to the summit. The hike is approximately 2.7 miles if you do it as a loop, but you can cut the hike shorter by making a steep B-line to the summit once you reach the ridge. It’s exhausting and not recommended for beginners due to the steep incline and the potential to fall or hurt yourself if you don’t watch your footing. Dogs are not allowed on this trail.
Why we love it: Even though it’s short, this hike really packs a lot in. You’ll enjoy a very real sense of accomplishment, along with jaw-dropping views of the Santa Monica Mountains, the expansive Pacific Ocean, the Channel Islands (if it’s a clear day), and the rocky California coast as far as the eye can see in either direction. The icing on the cake with this hike is that you’re minutes away from stunning beaches where you can catch your breath and watch the sunset after your hike. Just be cautious if you do go to the beach, as the waves and riptide are very dangerous here. Never swim without a lifeguard present, and always follow proper safety guidelines.
Another great destination near the coast, Sandstone Peak can be done as a 3 mile there-and-back hike to the summit, or as a longer 5.6 mile loop along the Mishe Mokwa Trail. For less experienced hikers, we recommend sticking with the shorter Sandstone Peak Trail to the summit and back. To reach the summit, take this trail clockwise - coming from the main parking lot, you’ll follow Sandstone Peak Trail to the Backbone Trail, staying to the left at the trail junction. Return back down the way you came up. This trail is still strenuous and may not be great for beginners. Exercise caution any time you’re near a cliff. Dogs are permitted but must be kept on leash. Watch out for wildlife, including snakes and scorpions.
Why we love it: Sandstone Peak is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains, with great views of other nearby peaks and a stunning view of the ocean on clear days. The landscape is surprisingly green, often blanketed with fog, but the rock formations are made of vibrant sandstone. It’s beautiful - just be sure to bring enough water and a topographic map.
On The East Side (Angeles National Forest)
If you want a more adventurous hike, Echo Mountain may be just what you’re looking for. This trail is a little over 5 miles from trailhead to summit and back, and it’s very strenuous - definitely not for beginners! The elevation gain is spread out over the 2.5 mile ascent with generous switchbacks across the face of the mountain, but it’s still a strenuous workout with steep drop-offs, so stay away from the trail’s edge. From the gate, follow the paved road to the sign for the Sam Merrill Trail. Stick to the trodden trail, as there are a number of small, unmarked footpaths that wander up a side canyon just before the old dam. Watch out for poison oak along the trail, and pay attention to the route when you get to the ridge just before the summit - several trails from that ridge go deeper into the mountains, so make sure you’re only going downhill on your return trip. Dogs are permitted but must remain on leash.
Why we love it: This trail gives you a fisheye view of the front range in the San Gabriel Mountains. At the summit, you’ll walk through the remnants of an old hotel that was built in the late-19th Century and pass relics of railroad gear (from the former tram leading up to the hotel) along the way. On a clear day, you can see the high peaks in Angeles National Forest, the skyline of downtown LA, and the glint of the ocean way across town. It really puts the city into perspective!
Eaton Canyon Falls
An idyllic waterfall hike that’s under 4 miles roundtrip! Start out by the Eaton Canyon Park nature center and follow the trail at the far end of the parking lot. After you cross the stream wash, bear left. Avoid the side canyons off the main path; you’ll follow the banks of a dry river bed for much of the hike, then enter a shaded forest and cross under a concrete bridge up the main canyon. There may be some gentle stream crossings required, but the water is very low for much of the year. At the deep end of the canyon, you’ll start to hear the roar of the 40-foot waterfall. Take off your shoes and let your feet cool off in the pool at the base of the falls, which is knee-deep at the outer edges but gets deeper under the falls and after rainfall. When you’re finished, backtrack the way you came in. Dogs can use this trail but must be kept on leash.
Why we love it: Waterfall hikes are relatively rare in Southern California, but this one is easily accessible for most hikers and not too strenuous. Plenty of people even bring kids on this hike, as the elevation gain is fairly minimal. If it’s a hot day, you’ll dread the sun exposure on the first half of the hike before you enter the woods, but a cool dip in the water will be your reward!