The 10 Best Los Angeles Hikes For The Summer
By David Lockeretz
They’re close to L.A., they’re free or inexpensive, dogs are usually welcome and they won’t get kids begging for all the latest swag on the ride home. What are they? The hiking trails of Southern California.
L.A. might not be known for nature, but in a year-round climate, with elevations ranging from sea level to 10,000 feet, the great outdoors of SoCal provides many opportunities for exploration. Whether one wants to see mountain forests, oak-shaded canyons, beaches, waterfalls (yes, waterfalls), historical sites that have been reclaimed by nature, sandstone and volcanic geology or just about anything else, it’s all here. These ten hikes are the tip of the iceberg, picked for their scenic variety, proximity to L.A. and how conducive they are for a summer visitation. To be sure, hikers will want to carry extra water, use sun protection and ideally get off to an early start, but most of these trips have shade, at least some water and can be enjoyable even on hot days.
This is one of the more challenging hikes on the list—and one best saved for cooler summer days (or warm days with an early start). The rewards, however, more than justify the effort. As the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains, Sandstone Peak offers a panoramic view of the ocean, the Channel Islands, the Santa Monica Bay, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, and on clear days, the San Gabriel Mountains and Topa Topa ridge north of Ojai. On the way up, geological landmarks such as Balanced Rock and Split Rock add to the appeal. There’s free parking here and dogs are allowed. More info on how to get there here.
M*A*S*H Site in Malibu Creek State Park
It’s ironic: much of L.A.’s reputation as being “plastic” is due to the influence of the film and TV industries, yet both of the our Malibu spots we discuss here at least in part owe their existence here to SoCal’s diverse natural landscapes. Indeed, at places such as the former M*A*S*H filming site in Malibu Creek State Park, the two go hand-in-hand. See the army vehicles, the wooden sign and other icons of the show. Also, don’t miss the extra 1.5 mile round trip on the Lost Cabin Trail, which visits some of the most peaceful and secluded areas of the park. Pro-tip: there’s free parking from the Cistern Trail Head on Mulholland Highway. More info here.
LOS ANGELES PROPER
Even in L.A. itself, nature can be found. Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, Franklin Canyon is a quieter alternative to Runyon Canyon and Griffith Park, which tend to get crowded. A short but steep climb up a ridge provides a nearly 360-degree view of the area. Other highlights of the park include the reservoir and the Nature Center. Franklin Canyon also offers interpretive hikes and other programs for the public on a weekly basis. There’s free parking and dogs are allowed. It’s located at 2600 Franklin Canyon Dr. in Beverly Hills, and more info can be found here.
On the Palos Verdes Peninsula, this short walk from the Point Vicente Lighthouse provides some of Southern California’s best coastal views. In addition to walking along the bluffs, which showcase the Palos Verdes Peninsula’s characteristic marine geology, visitors can also enjoy tours of the lighthouse and interpretive center. This spot has free parking, is wheelchair accessible, and dogs are allowed. More info here.
Dana Point Sea Caves
History, geology, biology and botany all come together at Dana Point in south O.C., where hikers can explore sea caves, wade through tide pools and climb aboard a replica of the Pilgrim, the ship on which town namesake Richard Henry Dana served and later wrote about his experiences. Remember to check the tides before visiting! There’s free parking and you can find more info here.
Oak Canyon Nature Center
North O.C. can be notoriously hot but this small nature preserve is a perfect place to escape the heat. Located on the confluence of two canyons in the Anaheim Hills, the Nature Center features several miles of trails, sandstone caves, seasonal streams, impressive oak trees and interpretive exhibits. There’s free parking at this spot. Info on how to get there here.
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST
Yes, there are in fact waterfalls in L.A. Located about 10 miles from civilization on the Angeles Crest Highway, Switzer Falls—while prone to crowding during the summer—is a convenient little escape from city life. The hike to reach it travels through pleasant oak and sycamore woodlands, also showcasing the dramatic gorge of Bear Canyon. Lower Switzer Falls and the pool below it are a perfect place to cool off before making the ascent back to the highway. It costs $5 per day and $30 per year for passes, which are required. No dogs are allowed here. Info on how to get there here.
Farther up the Angeles Crest Highway, Mt. Williamson poses tenuously on the north edge of the San Gabriel Mountains. This is probably the hardest hike on the list. Those with a fear of heights or individuals sensitive to high altitudes (6,600-8,200 feet above sea level) might want to skip it, but the scenic rewards, which include nearly aerial views of the high desert a mile below, are plenty. Dogs are allowed at this place, and required passes cost $5 per day or $30 per year. More info here.
Lower Marshall Canyon
Like north O.C., the Inland Empire is infamous for summer heat. Even in these seemingly dry and dusty parts, however, there is nature to be found. Case in point: Marshall Canyon, a park that sits just beyond the suburbs of the San Gabriel Valley, where a seasonal stream flows beneath towering live oaks. Almost the entire “lower” section of the trail is shaded and on cool days, the upper reaches of the park are a perfect spot for a panoramic view of the area. Free parking and dogs are allowed at this hike. Go here to find out how to get there.
The setting might not be quite as scenic as Switzer Falls, but Etiwanda Falls, just north of Rancho Cucamonga, also provides a convenient getaway from city life. The hike to reach the waterfall is steep and exposed, but with an early start it can be a fun trip any time of year. The mountain views on the way up and the city views on the way back are impressive. More info here, and there’s free parking at this spot.
A resident of the L.A. area since 1999, David Lockeretz is the author of Nobody Hikes in L.A., one of the area’s premier resources on hiking and outdoor recreation. When he’s not on the trails or writing about them, he can be found playing music—oldies, jazz, blues, rock, country—you name it. He likes it all and his attention span is very short. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.