I’ve compiled a list of our favorite urban adventures and scenic, but easy hikes in the mountains and forests surrounding Los Angeles. Whether you’re seeking a challenging climb or a leisurely stroll with ocean views, we’ve got you covered. These self-led hikes are considered LA classics, offering spectacular views and interesting discoveries that the whole family can enjoy. Get ready for some unforgettable outdoor experiences!
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1. Griffith Park -Los Angeles
Griffith Park in LA is truly a gem with a wide range of attractions. You can find a merry-go-round, an observatory, and even an old train park there. But what makes it even more special are the numerous hiking trails it offers, suitable for kids of all ages.
For an easy and shaded hike, you can try the Ferndell Nature Trail. It’s a short trail where you’ll pass by a beautiful brook lined with ferns and succulent plants. You’ll also come across stone retaining walls and footbridges along the way. Don’t forget to stop by The Trails Cafe for a bite before or after your hike. The best part is that this trail is stroller-friendly.
If you’re up for a more challenging hike, the Charlie Turner Trail is a popular choice. Start at the observatory and make your way up Mt. Hollywood. On a clear day, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the San Fernando Valley, Glendale, the west side, and even a closer look at the Hollywood Sign. The round-trip distance is less than three miles, with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. Once you’ve completed your hike, grab some lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s Cafe at the End of the Universe inside the observatory.
Another easy hike in Griffith Park is the Fern Canyon Trail. Park at the first Merry-Go-Round parking lot and go beyond the T-bar gate. The trail goes uphill and passes by the Old Zoo. The length of the trail varies depending on which route you choose. When you reach the top of the 400-foot elevation trail, you’ll enjoy beautiful views of Glendale and Pasadena.
Keep in mind that Griffith Park trails can get crowded on weekends due to their popularity.
2. Franklin Canyon Park — Beverly Hills
One fantastic hiking spot is the 605-acre Franklin Canyon Park, offering five miles of trails to explore. The trails in the park range from easy to moderately strenuous, catering to different fitness levels. One popular trail is the approximately two-mile Hastain Trail, which rewards hikers with ocean views on clear days. You can access the trailhead by entering the park from either Beverly Hills or the Valley and heading south on Lake Drive. There are two trailheads with parking available on the left side.
Another delightful option is to hike around Franklin Canyon Lake. For a relaxed experience, take a leisurely stroll around Heavenly Pond, where you’ll encounter ducks and sometimes noisy bullfrogs. To get your bearings, you can refer to a trail map or visit the Nature Center before setting out.
3. Ernest E. Debs Regional Park — Montecito Hills
Located midway between Downtown LA and Pasadena, Ernest E. Debs Regional Park is an underrated gem among LA’s parks. Situated atop the Montecito Hills, the park offers breathtaking views of the cityscape to the north and west. What sets this park apart is its spaciousness and relative lack of crowds compared to more famous green spaces like Griffith Park and Kenneth Hahn. As a result, you’ll feel like you’ve discovered a tranquil oasis right in the heart of the city.
Debs Lake is a serene spot where you can unwind and enjoy some peace and quiet. The park features a network of hiking trails that lead in various directions, allowing you to explore the surroundings at your own pace.
4. Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area — Culver City
Kenneth Hahn Park is a versatile destination that offers more than just hiking trails. It provides a range of activities and attractions to enjoy, making it perfect for families and those seeking a multi-activity experience. In addition to the trails, the park features playgrounds, a duck pond, playing fields, a Japanese garden, and large open green spaces. There’s even a disc golf course for enthusiasts of the sport.
What makes Kenneth Hahn Park particularly suitable for families with young kids is the nature of its trails. They are more like walking paths, making them easily accessible for children. You can choose to walk for as short or as long as you’d like, and once you’re done, there are picnic areas and open spaces where you can relax, enjoy a meal, and let the little ones run around and play.
5. Eaton Canyon Natural Area — Pasadena
To start the trail, head between the pond and the public parking area. The Junior Nature Trail is a short and child-friendly option, spanning about a quarter of a mile. It’s an easy hike, suitable for little ones, whether they are in a stroller or on foot. As you walk, keep a lookout for lizards, birds, rabbits, and native plants, making it a great opportunity to introduce children to local wildlife.
If you’re up for a more challenging hike, the climb to Henninger Flats is an option, but be prepared for a tougher trek. Along the way, you’ll come across a waterfall and cross over the Mt. Wilson Toll Bridge. On a clear day, when you reach the top, you might even catch a glimpse of Catalina Island. You can find nature trail maps on the nature center’s website for reference.
It’s important to note that the water level in the creek crossings can vary, so it’s advisable to check the conditions before attempting the trail, especially when hiking with small children. The creek crossings can be slippery, so it’s recommended to wear waterproof shoes with good traction.
6. Elysian Park — Echo Park
Elysian Park, located on the city’s Eastside, is another hidden gem worth exploring. The park offers ample grassy lawns and BBQ pits, making it a great place to unwind and enjoy a picnic after exploring the Elysian Park Trail. While the kids have fun playing around, you can grill some lunch.
7. Solstice Canyon Loop — Malibu
If you’re planning a visit to Solstice Canyon, it’s advisable to arrive early to secure a good parking spot, as it tends to get crowded. This popular hike is a favorite among Southern California residents for its scenic beauty. The initial part of the trail follows a fire road alongside a small stream. It’s mostly flat and easy, making it suitable for younger children and even strollers.
After hiking for approximately a mile, you’ll come across the fascinating ruins of the Roberts Ranch House. Children will enjoy exploring the historic site and learning about its history. You have the option to either return from the waterfall or continue along the Rising Sun Trails, which offer breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Mountains.
Keep in mind that the Rising Sun Trail involves steep elevation and narrow paths, making it unsuitable for strollers and not recommended for children under five. The trail has some areas with steep drop-offs, so extra caution is required.
8. Temescal Gateway Park — Pacific Palisades
Temescal Gateway Park is conveniently accessible and offers a lot of attractions. It’s a straightforward and enjoyable destination to visit. One of the popular trails in the park is the four-mile Temescal Canyon Loop, which provides scenic ocean views, a seasonal waterfall, and opportunities for rock climbing. If you prefer, you can park in the first lot upon entering the park, which is closest to Sunset Blvd., and create your own path along the creek. During your exploration, you can take a break and enjoy lunch or a snack at a large tree equipped with a platform for seating.
9. Crystal Cove State Park — Laguna Beach
If you’re a hiking enthusiast, you’ll be delighted to know that Crystal Cove State Park boasts an impressive 17 miles of hiking trails spread across 2,400 acres of beautiful native wilderness. The park offers a range of trails, catering to different difficulty levels, from mild to strenuous. As you explore the trails, you’ll be treated to stunning ocean views, captivating riparian woodlands, and the majestic scenery of Morro Creek.
A visit to Crystal Cove wouldn’t be complete without spending some time at the tide pools. Depending on the tides, you can start or end your day by exploring the fascinating marine life in these pools. Don’t forget to admire the charming historic cottages that dot the coastline, adding to the park’s unique atmosphere. You can have a nice meal at the Beachcomber Cafe. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the cafe offers a delightful dining experience. To make things even more convenient, the cafe provides a shuttle service from the Los Trancos parking lot, ensuring easy access for visitors.
10. Escondido Canyon Trail — Malibu
The Edward Albert Escondido Canyon Trail is a fantastic option for families seeking an enjoyable outdoor adventure. This trail encompasses a gentle 3.8-mile loop, guiding hikers through picturesque scenery including climbing trees, vibrant wildflowers, and babbling creeks. The highlight of the trail is the Escondido Falls, a magnificent waterfall that is particularly impressive after a good rainfall. In fact, it’s the tallest waterfall in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The beginning of the trail involves a paved road passing by upscale homes in Malibu for about 0.75 miles. However, once you join the dirt road marked “Edward Albert Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfall,” the trail becomes more rustic and immersive. Keep in mind that after heavy rain, the waterfall will be even more awe-inspiring, but it also means that the creek crossings may be around knee-high.
To reach the trailhead, you can take PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to Winding Way in Malibu. Look for Winding Way, a minor street located 4.5 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road or 1.4 miles east of Kanan Dume Road on the north side of PCH. Follow Winding Way and you’ll find a parking lot for the trail on the left at the bottom of the street. If the parking lot is full, there is overflow parking available along PCH, but make sure to read the parking signs carefully to avoid any issues.
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