Runyon Canyon: Hollywood’s Most Popular Hike

Runyon Canyon is a hike in Central Hollywood that often gets a bad rap from the hiking community due to the trendy outfits and “Instagram celebrities” that often use it. Looking past that though it is actually a great hiking spot in the middle of Los Angeles, and it is excellent for people watching as well (I even saw Gerard Butler last time I was there). Here is all the information so you can experience it for yourself.

Details

  • Hikes range from 1 mile to 3 miles but plan on 3 miles if you want to experience the park fully.
  • 500 – 700 feet of elevation depending on what trail you take.
  • Parking: It can be tough to find it, but the best street parking is on Fuller Ave. and make sure to abide by all signs.

Getting There

If you are in Los Angeles and hiking on the weekend then get there early or consider taking an Uber so that you can avoid having to try and find a parking spot. During the week though you can often find a spot if it is not early in the morning or after work. I recommend parking on Fuller Ave if you can find a spot as that is the best place to enter the park.

The Hike

Here is a map of the park trails, I recommend heading up the right side to clouds rest and if you are tired you can head down the paved road (middle path in the above photo) or if you want to push yourself more you can connect with the West Trail.

From the entrance, you will walk through the gate and continue on a paved road for a tenth of a mile.

From here the road becomes dirt and bends to the right to start the uphill to Inspiration Point.

Along the way, you will pass the old tennis court from when this area was a planned development.

Inspiration Point

As you round the bend, you will be at inspiration point, with a nice bench to sit at and enjoy the view.

If you want to continue on from here, it will be a good amount of uphill to the next stop.

The trail is rugged, and there are not any switchbacks to ease the incline, just rough wooden steps.

I liked this cause it feels like you were really on a hike and not just a walk.

When you reach the top of the stairs, you will be walking along a fence to the right.

At the end of the fence, there is an area where people put locks.

Clouds Rest

From here there is one more section of uphill to get to Clouds Rest.

At Clouds Rest there are a few more benches, and the views are pretty epic.

Heading down the backside of the hill, you will connect with the paved road that you can use to get back to where the hike started.

If you want to continue on, then you will want to head up on the paved road instead of down.

From here the road winds around until you eventually see a large power line tower and there is a dirt road that heads off to the left.

Take this and continue uphill till you reach a single track that leads down to the stairs next to the mansion sitting on the hill.

These stairs will help you navigate the uneven trail and pass by the large house.

From here it is more uphill to get to the top of the ridgeline. When you arrive to the top, you will be greeted with the best view in the park.

You have Hollywood and Downtown LA on one side and the Hollywood Sign on the other.

It is also a great spot for sunset, just make sure you have a flashlight for the way down.

After you have taken in the views, you will start the steep trail down. Watch your footing as the loose rock and sand can be tough to navigate (this is why I do the path clockwise, so I don’t have to go up this way).

The trail continues downhill, passes a few more viewpoints then eventually gets back to the paved road that you can follow down to where you entered the park.

I was hesitant about visiting Runyon Canyon because I figured it would be lame but it actually was a great hike that I recommend in the city. If you can find parking, then you should check it out.

Annie’s Canyon Trail in Solana Beach

Annie’s Canyon is a short hike in Solano Beach, San Diego County, with some fun scrambling in a small sandstone canyon. It was off limits for a long time and had become a graffiti-ridden location until some residents took up the cause to make it pleasant again. The trail opened a few years ago, and it still looked much better then I anticipated it looking. Plus, it was a great short hike that older kids would enjoy as well, here is all the information.

Details

  • 1.5 miles round trip, only .25 in the canyon
  • 100 feet of elevation gain

Getting There

From San Diego, you will take the 5 Freeway North and then get off on exit 37 (Lomas Santa Fe Dr). Turn left and then proceed to N Rios Ave where you will turn right. The trailhead is right at the end of the street, and you can park on the street (observe any posted signs).

The Trail

After parking in the small cul-de-sac, you will head to the end and see a trail that goes off to the right.

This trail has numerous signs pointing you to Annie’s Canyon which is about a half mile away.

The trail is beautiful as it goes along the ecological preserve and has some wetlands to look over.

There are multiple benches you can take a break at while on the hike as well, but it is mostly flat in this section.

Eventually, you will reach a split in the trail with one way heading up the viewpoint and the other heading into Annie’s Canyon.

This area forms a small loop so you will end at the top of the viewpoint when you come out of the canyon.

The canyon starts off wide, but after the first bend, it begins to narrow quickly.

The path is pretty easy to follow as there are signs that mark the places you are not supposed to go.

On the trail, you will be squeezing along the rocks and using your hands to help get yourself to the next area. It is not that difficult, but it does take a little time.

On one of the uphill portions, there is a split that takes you to a small cave and shows you what the area looked like before it got cleaned up.

Continuing on you will make it to the metal stairs that will take you the rest of the way out of the canyon.

When you get out and are at the viewpoint, you will have an excellent view back down where you just came up.

The terrain here reminds me a lot of Torrey Pines with the rough eroding stone making up the hillside.

This is also a great view out over the preserve and all the way to the ocean in the distance.

From here you will head down the switchbacks to where you headed onto the Annie’s Canyon trail and can make your way back to where you started the hike.

While this hike doesn’t take very long, it is still an impressive escape in the city and a fun family hike with older kids. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

Hidden Valley Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Hidden Valley is one of Joshua Tree National Park’s most popular hikes. The one-mile loop trail takes you through a valley that is primarily enclosed from the outside world with towering walls of rocks. It was also a popular spot for rustlers to hide their cattle since it is a mainly confined valley. The trail is pretty level, and it is an excellent hike for the whole family. Here is all the information.

Details

  • 1 mile
  • 50 feet of elevation
  • Location:

Getting There

Hidden Valley is located opposite the Hidden Valley Campground and close to the turnoff for Barker Dam. It is well signed, and you can reference the park map to see its exact location.

The trail

From the parking lot, you will head out on the well-marked trail in the northwest part of the parking area.

The trail heads uphill first along a series of stone steps. After less than a tenth of a mile, you will reach the top of this section and be in the Hidden Valley.

It is said that the opening you walk through was blasted by Bill Key’s from Keys Ranch to give his cattle better access to the grasses in the valley.

The hike continues on a clockwise loop, heading slightly downhill on a well-maintained path.

There are many signs along the way that note interesting parts of the trail as well as different plant and animal life.

The trail then passes an extensive collection of rocks on the right and starts to head downhill into the valley.

As you continue downhill you will start to see how big the valley is and the large rocks on each side of you. It was a lot bigger then I anticipated it being. The trail will then curve around, and you will start to go back the way you came.

Don’t miss the giant burrito, which is the name for one of the more massive rocks in this section. Eventually, you will come back to where the trail split in the beginning and then head back down the stairs to where you parked.

Also, note that this is a great spot for sunset, the colors are beautiful here, and the views are impressive. Let me know what you think of this spot in the comments and find more places to explore here.

Arch Rock Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

One of my favorite places in all of Joshua Tree National Park is the White Tank Campground. This collection of 11 campsites are private and awesome, plus they lead to a wonderland of rocks which includes the popular arch rock. This short trail will take you the arch and if you have time you can explore and find the heart rock and other fun spots in the area as well. Here is all the information.

Details

  • 1 mile
  • Flat
  • Location: White Tank Campground

Getting There

To get to White Tank Campground from the Oasis Visitor Center in 29 Palms, head south on Park Blvd. There will be a split in the road and you will want to head left. From there you will pass by Belle Campground and then get to White Tank Campground. If you went to Cholla Cactus Gardens then you went too far. When you enter the campground you will drive down the small main road and will then reach the trailhead sign and a place where 3-4 cars can park for the hike.

The Trail

From the parking area, you will see a sign for the trailhead. Head out on the well-maintained trail as it climbs up a small hill.

You will then get a view of the backcountry area and can look out over the sea of rocks around you.

Continue to follow the trail down and you will see a sign for Arch Rock.

From here you can see the arch and you can start your exploration of the area, including climbing on the rocks surrounding it to get a better view.

One of the best things about camping in the White Tank Campground is that you can come walk out here at night and take star trails photos of the arch as well.

Heart Rock

Many people ask me about where Heart Rock is, and I think it is fun that this spot is more unknown and you have to search to find it.

I won’t give the exact location either, but it is about a quarter mile or so from Arch Rock if you want to look around for it.

As you can see, this is a great hike in the park and one that is easy enough for families to do as well. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

Mastodon Peak in Joshua Tree National Park

Mastodon Peak is a great hike if you are coming from the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. This is the most likely entrance you would use if you are staying in the Coachella Valley and want to visit the park. The hike is 3 miles round trip, and it takes you to the top of a small peak as well as past an old mine. Here is all the information.

Details

  • 3 miles round trip
  • 450 feet of elevation
  • Leaves from Cottonwood Springs parking area.

Getting There

From the 10 Freeway, you will want to get off at Cottonwood Springs Road and head north towards the park entrance. Eventually, you will make it to the Cottonwood Visitors Center. Turn left here and head towards the parking area for Cottonwood Springs, which is where you will start the hike.

The Trail

I chose to make the loop counter-clockwise since the trail is easier to follow in this direction.

The trail leaves from the east side of parking lot and heads down into a small oasis with a few green trees.

From here you will head up on a gradual incline on an easy to follow trail.

The trail does have a lot of sand sections though which are not very fun to walk on.

It builds momentum as you continue the progressive climb with small hills on each side.

After . 7 miles the trail splits from the Cottonwood Springs trail and goes up towards Mastodon Peak.

This split is where you will experience some of the elevation as you climb up the roughly hewn rock steps.

When you get to the top of the small climb, you will be at the base of Mastodon Peak.

It’s a tenth of a mile scramble to the top, but it’s not bad. I recommend walking around the backside and climbing up that way to the top.

The top provides a great 360-degree view out over the park and even across to the Salton Sea if it’s clear.

After hanging out and taking photos head down the way you came, back to the trail, and continue on towards the mine.

Mastodon Mine

After a tenth of a mile, you will see the remains of the mine.

There is not a lot to see here, but you can still look down into the mine shaft which is pretty cool. From here it is a .9 mile hike back to the car.

The end of the trail is uneventful with most of the walking on a sandy washout area. Don’t miss the turn to go back to the parking area and not on to the campground though.

All in all, this is a fun, relatively easy hike in the park. I recommend you check it out if you come in from the south entrance, but I wouldn’t drive down from one of the other entrances just to see it. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Lukens Lake on Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park

Lukens Lake is one of the easiest high altitude lakes to access in the high country of Yosemite. This lake is less than a mile hike each direction, and it is one of the most peaceful and relaxing areas you can access on Tioga Pass Road. Here is all the information on this spot.

Details

  • 1.6 miles round trip
  • 100 feet of elevation
  • Location: Lukens Lake parking area on Tioga Pass

Getting There

Heading east on Tioga Pass Road Lukens Lake is a good 16 miles into the journey but one of the first parking areas you will see. Even though the hike is easy, it is not super popular, so the small parking lot usually has a spot or two left.

The Trail

From the parking lot, you will cross the road to get to the trailhead for Lukens Lake.

The trail starts out flat as it heads into the trees, but from there it starts to go uphill for the next half mile.

Eventually, the trail flattens out again, and you start a short downhill to the lake.

There was some snow when we went, but the trail was easy to cross as long as you took your time.

There was a path through the meadow to the base of the lake. We walked out here and made it our picnic spot for lunch.

We also did a little fly fishing at the lake but didn’t catch anything. After hanging out for 45 minutes, we started the short hike back to the car.

While there are certainly more exciting places to explore along Tioga Pass Road, Lukens Lake is a great whole family stop, especially for those not looking for a long hike. If you have been, let me know what you think in the comments.

Westwood Hills Park: Hiking in Downtown Napa

Westwood Hills Park, at only 5 minutes from downtown Napa, is a great city park for hiking, trail running and dog walking. This trail is about 2 miles round trip, and while it is steep, the path is shaded most of the way. If you are looking to take a break from wine and food in Napa Valley, then check out this park. Here is all the info.

Details

  • 2 miles round trip
  • Many different trails
  • 300 feet of elevation gain
  • Free
  • Dog friendly
  • Location: 3107 Browns Valley Rd, Napa, CA 94581

Getting There

From downtown Napa, you will want to head west on 1st street. Once 1st Street crosses over the freeway, the street will become Browns Valley Road. About a mile down, you will see a small parking lot on the left-hand side. This lot holds about 14 cars and can get busy, but there is street parking as well.

The Trail

The trail leaves from the parking lot on an old dirt road. This is the road you will be following most of the time.

The trail has many spurs though so if you want to explore more, you can take a spur and see what it has for you. Make a note of where you left the main trail though so you don’t get lost but the park itself is not too massive, so you should be able to find your way back to the main road.

The main dirt road continues uphill through large shaded trees and it is a beautiful walk.

I saw multiple deer when I went in the morning and it was awesome to be able to be so close to the city but to feel so far away.

The trail reaches a significant split with one path going down to the right and another up to the left. To get to the viewpoint, you will want to stay left.

This part of the trail is steeper then what you came in on, but it is not too bad, and if you come in the morning it can be a great spot to see the sun shining through the trees.

There are multiple benches on the way up as well if you get tired.

When you reach the last short push, you will crest the small hill and see an amazing view of downtown Napa stretched out in front of you.

There is a bench up here so you can sit and take it all in.

There is also someone’s house sitting up here as well surrounded by a large fence. Not a bad view for the house.

When I went on a weekday morning, I passed at least a dozen people on the trail. On the way back you can take one of the many spurs and explore more or just walk the dirt road back to the parking lot.

This is a great park to explore and get the blood moving when you are in Napa, check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

The Grotto Hike in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains

The Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu are one of those places that can still feel very remote even so close to Los Angeles. I have done many hikes in this area, such as a personal favorite of mine, Sandstone Peak. The Grotto is one of those places that I have wanted to go to for a while, but since it is far from where I live, I didn’t get a chance until recently. This hike is best in the spring when the waterfall inside the Grotto is on full display, but it is still a nice introduction to the Santa Monica Mountains at other times of the year as well. Here is all the information on this short hike (don’t underestimate it though).

Detail

  • 2.6 miles round trip
  • 500 feet of elevation
  • Free parking
  • Location: Circle X Ranch parking area

Getting There

From Pacific Coast Highway, in the north part of Malibu, you will want to turn right on Yerba Buena Road. This small, windy road will take you up into the mountains, and it can be slow going since it is so narrow. Eventually, you will make it to Circle X Ranch where you will turn right. From here you can follow signs that lead you onto the dirt road and down a few turns to the day use parking area.

The Grotto Trail

From the day use parking area you will want to head down the dirt path to the campground get to the actual trailhead.

The trailhead starts by heading downhill, and it will go downhill most of the way so be sure to note that it will be uphill the entire way back.

The trail goes in and out of shaded areas on a well-traveled dirt path.

At about a third of a mile, you will reach an area with no shade that has excellent views of Sandstone Peak behind you.

From here the trail loses the most elevation, and it will be the part that you are cursing on the way up (especially if it is hot).

Eventually, it flattens out, and you come to a small creek. This creek will lead you the last .6 miles to the Grotto.

When we went in the late summer, there was not much water left, so it was a mostly dry creek we were following.

When you get to an extensive collection of rocks in the middle of the stream, you will know you are at the top of the Grotto.

From here you can scramble on on the rocks and stay to the right to remain on the small trail. This part is not easy and will feel like a full body workout on the way back up, so if you are not in the mood for scrambling you can turn around here.

After making your way up and over rocks, you will reach a small path up to the right near the largest rock. After going up, you will then head down to the base of the grotto and to the picture you have undoubtedly seen of this place. Also, note that this scrambling area can become impossible when there is substantial water flow, so do not attempt it.

The Grotto

The Grotto is a big rock with a small circular cave and pool around it.

In the back of the Grotto, there is a seasonal waterfall, but it was pretty much just a drip when we went.

This is a cool spot to sit and have some food before starting the tough climb back out of the canyon. Be sure to note any splits in the trail on the way down so that you can take them on the way back up as the signs are not great.

All in all, this is an excellent hike in Malibu, one that while not long is still a good work out. If you go, let me know what you think and be sure to share some pictures if you have been when the waterfall is flowing.

Unicorn Peak and Elizabeth Lake in Yosemite

Elizabeth Lake is a high altitude lake in the Yosemite high country, Tioga Pass region. This is a beautiful spot for a short hike and a great place to have a picnic and just take in the scenery. It sits at the base of Unicorn Peak as well, which is a challenging hike with not much of a trail. We set off to experience both of them with David from Yosemite Family Adventures last time we were in the park. It is an amazing hike, but not one that should be taken lightly as it is tough and somewhat technical if you want to get to the actual peaks. Here is all the information.

Details

  • 8 miles round trip to the summit, 5 miles to Elizabeth Lake
  • 800 feet to Elizabeth Lake, 2,300 to Unicorn Peak

Getting There

The trail leaves from the campground that is right next to the Tuolumne Meadows General Store. If the campground is open then you can drive all the way to the trailhead, if not then it is an extra 3/4ths of a mile each way. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead but this trail is not half as popular as Cathedral Lakes so it is usually a lot less busy.

The Trail

Leaving from the trailhead, you will being going uphill for most of the first mile. It is pretty gradual, but you are in high elevation so it can take a lot out of you.

Luckily the trail is shaded as you go up, so the sun isn’t beating down on you.

When you are about a half mile from the lake, you will start to hear the creek and can even see it off to your right.

It’s a beautiful spot to pull out for some photos if you are interested.

Continuing on, the trail reaches a split with one way heading east to the surrounding peaks and the other way going directly to the lake. I recommend heading directly to the lake so you can take in the views of Elizabeth Lake and Unicorn Peak in the background.

Elizabeth Lake

From here you can walk along the lake itself if you want to see all the views it has to offer.

My favorite view is at the base of Unicorn Peak on the west side of the lake, where you are looking back towards the trail you came in on. It is a beautiful spot to sit and take a break.

We decided to head on to Unicorn Peak though and if you do this I would caution you to be very careful. It is not an easy hike and there is no real trail so you need to know where you are going.

The good thing is that you can see the destination in front of you pretty much the entire time so as long as you are heading up and towards the peak you are generally good.

This is a very exposed trail though with little to no shade and with lots of slippery rocks depending on the time of year.

It took us a while to weave our way up to the saddle, but each new foot of elevation you gained gave you better views back at Elizabeth Lake behind you.

Eventually, when you reach the saddle, you will be blown away with the views looking out over the backcountry.

Cockcomb Peak is the most daunting, sticking up like a finger on the ridgeline behind you.

Its one of the most beautiful places I have been to in the backcountry of Yosemite.

If you want to summit Unicorn, I would recommend the South Summit only. It is the only one that doesn’t require some technical climbing to get to the top.

It is by no means easy though. You will be doing class 3 – 4 scrambling as you make your way up to the small peak.

It was beautiful when we got to the summit, with views over Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Peak and the peaks mentioned above.

You could also see down on the north peak of Unicorn as well and see how exposed it is from the back section. We stayed up here for a good 30 minutes before starting the trail back down.

Video

Here is a video I made on our time in Yosemite.

All in all, it was an amazing hike and one that I am so glad to have accomplished. That being said it was a total leg burner and not a hike to take lightly. Let me know if you have been in the comments and what you thought.

North Dome Hike & Indian Rock Arch Stargazing

Views of Half Dome are commonplace in Yosemite National Park; however, some views are certainly better than others. Places like Glacier Point have become the go-to spot for Half Dome photography, but if you want something away from the crowds, then I recommend the trek out to North Dome off Tioga Pass Road. This 8-mile round trip hike feels even closer to the iconic rock then Glacier Point and the views from the top are just amazing. Add to that the Indian Rock Arch, one of the only arches like this in Yosemite and you have a great full hike.

Details

  • 8.8 miles
  • 1,000 feet of elevation
  • .6 miles longer to the arch
  • Location: Porcupine Creek Trailhead

Getting There

Parking for the hike is at Porcupine Creek, not Porcupine Flat on Tioga Pass Road. Porcupine Creek is a small trailhead that is only accessible during the summer when the road is open. There is a pit toilet at the small parking lot.

The Trail

Heading out from the parking lot, there is a sign that notes the start of the North Dome trail on a paved road. The trail loses elevation quickly, which makes for some uphill right at the end on the way back.

This trail is not super popular in Yosemite, so it is possible you will be alone on most of it. This leads to an increase in animal life, and I have seen lots of deer on this trail.

The first 2-3 miles is pretty uneventful as you are just walking along the trail in a shaded forest. There are a few small water crossings, but there were paths over them.

At the 2.5 mile mark, you will start heading uphill. This part is one of the most significant elevation gains on the trail, but this is when you begin to see the Yosemite Valley peaking out of the trees.

Once you get to the top of the uphill portion, the trail will flatten out at the split for Indian Rock.

The Indian Rock trail is .3 miles but it is straight up, and it can be a leg burner.

That being said, the arch is pretty magical. I only saw it at night, but I was amazed by it and can’t wait to go back again. If you are with friends, stargazing here is a great option. I wouldn’t do it alone though as it is a long hike back out to the car.

Heading on from the Indian Rock split, you have about a tenth of a mile walk on relatively flat terrain before reaching the subdome.

The subdome gives you amazing views of Half Dome, and this is actually where a lot of people choose to stop. I stopped here myself as we got here just as the sun was setting.

You can continue down to North Dome from here though which is the dome that is directly in front of you and down a decent amount of elevation.

Note that it is downhill there but uphill on the way back. I am sure the views are fantastic though, and I plan to do it next time when I am not chasing the sunset.

Subdome or North Dome are both great spots to watch the sunset but remember that if you wait till the sun goes down, you will have to walk back in the dark so bring a good flashlight and make sure you know where you are going.

All in all, this is a great hike with a great payoff. I recommend it if you are looking for excellent, non-traditional views of Half Dome. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.