These three treks for first-timers are a refreshing change from the concrete jungle.
By Gi Gi O'Brien | October 28, 2021
My introduction to the Los Angeles hiking scene covered three standout trails that blend stamina with sightseeing—each worth the effort in its own unique way.
Will Rogers State Historic Park
From Venice through Santa Monica over to the Pacific Palisades, the sky changes from its pastel morning slumber into blue daylight. Coffee tastes better at sunrise when the mood is calm, before the rush can taint it. Moving into the natural environs of the pristine Will Rogers State Historic Park is a true getaway, the verdant greenery instantly delivering a sense of well-being.
The park is the former estate of Will Rogers, an American humourist, cowboy and movie star all rolled into one. He was one of the highest-paid actors in the 1930s and had this 75-hectare ranch to show for it.
Hikers can park away from the trailhead for free and walk in or drive a bit closer and pay the $15 parking fee. As we tackle the terrain, the first few steps of the trail are already on an incline, challenging enough to keep my attention yet tame enough for me to look around. There are a few paths in Will Rogers: the beginner loop to and from Inspiration Point, the moderate 7-kilometre Rivas Canyon Trail and the more difficult 112-kilometre stretch into the Santa Monica Mountains known as the Backbone Trail.
Through dry ground and rock formations, crossing bridges with rusted handrails on the Inspiration Point Trail, we reach a peak that offers incredible views, the sky and land meeting on the cloudless horizon with LA shining in the distance. Before the sun gets too hot to handle, we descend to our reward: brunch in the nearby Palisades Village.
Hollywood Sign, The Canyon Drive Trail
Visitors park on Canyon Drive and easily join the heavily trafficked trek of dog-loving hikers. This 14-kilometre loop attracts a blend of tourists and locals. I’m a dog person, so I love hiking with them around. The incline isn’t oh-my-god-I’m-dying difficult, so I can get in a bit of banter with the other hikers, but we certainly get some exercise, with the first five kilometres at a constant slope. There isn’t much shade and there aren’t many places to rest on this hike, so you ideally want to go at a cooler hour, sunset being my favourite. Seeing LA from behind the Hollywood sign is a classic experience. You won’t be close enough to touch the sign, for safety reasons, but there are a handful of benches to sit on, breathe it all in and take photos.
Runyon Canyon Park
It’s a welcome stroke of luck when we pull into the last parking spot at the base of the Runyon Canyon trails just as someone is leaving. It can be tricky to find a good spot around here, and I’ve found LA parking tickets to be a rite of passage. Having done this hike a few times, I now know what to be prepared for. It’s the obvious things, like wearing a hat and staying hydrated, that I once underestimated, but today I’m ready to tackle the trek harder, opting to take the steep incline at a light jog—a new challenge—determined to put the “run” in Runyon.
This hike has high traffic, especially since being renovated and paved in 2016. From Instagram-worthy shots at the top to timed triumphs at the bottom, it’s a vibrant and popular spot. And if you’re looking for motivation from other hikers, you will get it. There are three levels here and dogs are allowed off-leash in some areas, making it one of the hottest hiking spots around.
When You Go
Hiking is enjoyed year-round in LA, with trail access closing usually around sunset when the coyotes begin their nightly prowl.