The Best Los Angeles Area Hiking Trails for Families
We can't literally climb walls. But we've all found ourselves - on long weekends, spring breaks, sick days, you name it - feeling like we might be nearing the ceiling. Whether it's the whining or the post-play mess, the "I'm bored," the fussiness after a missed nap, or all of the above, there are moments when even the best of us loving and dedicated parents want up. Or, more likely, out. We want someone to take a hike.
So go ahead; get out. Head to the trails. Take a hike. We've compiled a list of fantastic hiking destinations for you and your little cherubs. Because we know from experience that climbing a mountain sure beats climbing a wall. (Oh - and if you're pushing someone up that mountain, you may want the stroller-friendly hikes.)
But wait. Before you go, have a look at the following suggestions. We want to make your outing is as seamless as possible:
- Many trails have variable shade. No trees can mean hot sun; remember the sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, snacks, and lots of water.
- Trails are often shared by hikers, mountain bikers, and horses. Remember to watch for bikes and horse droppings.
- Weekends see a rise in visitors at all parks. This may mean competition for parking and more people on the trails.
- Due to recent state budget cuts, some parks have had to scale back staff, trail maintenance, and operating hours; some have even closed. Weather (rain, erosion, fires) can also impact trail availability. We advise you call ahead before you go to make sure your intended destination is ready to welcome you. Browsing this park closure list might also be helpful.
Insiders recommend the Charlie Turner Trail. Park at the Observatory and begin your climb up Mt. Hollywood. On a clear day, you'll be rewarded with views of the San Fernando Valley, Glendale, and the Westside, as well as a closer peek at the Hollywood Sign. The round-trip is less than three miles, with an elevation of roughly 1,000 feet. Eat a snack on picnic tables at the top of the trail. Or grab lunch at Wolfgang Puck's Cafe at the End of the Universe located in the Observatory. Beware of crowds on the weekends (the trail is a popular destination), the sun on a hot day (hydrate and wear sun screen), and horse poop.
Or, hike to the Observatory from another direction. Start the two-mile loop at Ferndell Gardens (scroll down for parking directions), breezing by a shady fern and succulent-lined brook, past stone retaining walls, and over footbridges. Continue along a dusty road through chaparral to the Observatory. Grab some pre- or post-hike grub at The Trails Cafe. The trail is well-traveled on the weekend, so beware of crowds. Morning or late afternoon hiking is best on hot days. Dogs are welcome
For an easier Griffith Park hike, try the Fern Canyon Trail. Park at the the first Merry-Go-Round parking lot and head beyond the t-bar gate. The trail goes uphill and passes the old zoo. You will most likely see people-friendly gophers, squirrels, and woodpeckers along the way, as well as picnic tables for your snack-time use. Trail length varies depending on which way you choose to walk. Enjoy views of Glendale and Pasadena at the top of the full 400-foot elevation trail.
Why is this area such a favorite? The Sooky Goldman Nature Center, duck pond, reservoir, and traditional kish (Tongva hut) might have something to do with it. Add the fact that it's 605 acres big and has five miles of trails to explore, and, well, you get the idea. Trails vary from simple to moderately strenuous. Favorites include the roughly two-mile Hastain Trail (which has been in the news this last year) with elevations that often offer an ocean view on a clear day. The trail head can be reached by entering the park from either Beverly Hills or the Valley, and heading south on Lake Drive. Two trail heads and parking are available on the left side. Or meander around Franklin Canyon Lake (the opening sequence of the Andy Griffith Show was filmed here). Kids of all ages can also enjoy an easy stroll around Heavenly Pond with its ducks and sometimes noisy bullfrogs. This trail map might help orient you, as will an initial visit to the Nature Center (310.858.7272, ext. 131).
Note: Be sure to stop at all stop signs in the park, to avoid unpleasant surprises in the mail a few weeks later!
Easy to get to and bursting with things to see and do, Temescal Gateway Park is a simple and satisfying destination. Popular trails include the four-mile Temescal Canyon Loop complete with ocean views, seasonal waterfall, and rock "climbing." Or park in the first lot as you enter the park (closest to Sunset Blvd.) and chart your own route along the creek. Have lunch or a snack at the big tree with platform for seating.
Considered "the largest wildland within the boundaries of a major city," Topanga Canyon State Park offers acres to explore (14,000 to be exact). Park at Trippet Ranch (map) and start off on several fascinating trails. For the adventurous, try the four- to five-mile (depending on how you go) loop around Eagle Rock (see photos). The trailhead is at the southeast corner of the Trippet Ranch parking lot. Or meander through lush meadows (especially after our rainy season) on the shorter Musch Trail. While there are several ways to access Topanga Canyon trails, Trippet Ranch is a favorite as it provides picnic tables, information, and restrooms (phew).
5. Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area
4100 South La Cienega
Los Angeles, CA 90056
Park Hours: Daily 6am - sunset
Parking: $6 on weekends and holidays, free on weekdays
Dogs on leashes allowed
Another multi-activity destination, Kenneth Hahn not only has trails to explore but also delights with playgrounds, a duck pond, playing fields, and lots of open green space. This is a great hiking or walking spot if you have young kids. Trails are more like walking paths, and you can walk for as little or as much as you like, with a place to picnic and run around once you're done. Trail maps are not available online but can be found in the park office, located in the second parking lot on the right (after passing the entrance kiosk). The office is open daily from 8:30am-5:00pm.
6. Palos Verdes/South Bay Destinations
White Point Nature Preserve
1600 West Paseo del Mar
San Pedro, CA 90731
Preserve open daily from sunrise to sunset
Dogs on leashes allowed
In addition to an education center, the Preserve offers 102 acres of restored land and miles of hiking areas. Have a look at the trail maps and descriptions to find one that suits your family. The education center is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10:00am-4:00pm. (Map)
Those in the Palos Verdes "hiking know" also recommend the Palos Verdes Views trail. This pleasant 1.6 mile romp offers a stunning look at Catalina Island, and sometimes even San Nicholas Island, 70 miles from shore. Park at Del Cerro Park (where Crenshaw Blvd. ends in Palos Verdes) and head to the gate at the very end of Crenshaw. Beyond the gate, follow the fire road. Dogs are allowed on leashes, but beware of tics.
A fun and doable family walk is Dripping Cave. This moderate five-mile loop brings you to a cavernous space where stagecoach robbers actually hid out and stashed their goods years ago; burn marks from their fires are still visible. Park in the main parking area. The trail head is just beyond the picnic area.
Crystal Cove State Park - Orange County
8471 North Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Dogs on leashes are allowed on multi-use trails, but not on backcountry trails or beaches.
(Due to rain and erosion, the back country trails have been temporarily closed. Call ahead to determine when trails reopen.)
Seventeen miles of hiking trails through 2,400 acres of native wilderness? Yes, please! Choose from a variety of mild to strenuous trails and loops that offer ocean views, riparian woodlands, and the splendor of Morro Creek. Start or end the day (depending on the tides) combing the tide pools. Take a peak at the many historic cottages lining the coast. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the Beachcomber Cafe. The cafe offers shuttle service from the Los Trancos parking lot. Parking is $15.
Self-led hikes mean you can go at your own convenience and pace; but if a docent-led group hike also appeals, have a look at these organizations that offer regular walks and hikes for kids...
1. Children's Nature Institute
For more than 25 years this local non-profit has provided walks and classes all around the LA area that encourage kids ages eight and younger to explore the natural world, to wonder, touch, feel, and to ask, 'Why?" Check out the group's calendar for upcoming Family Nature Walks as well as the Tykes on Trails program.
2. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Outings abound throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. Choose from a Porch Talk with a Ranger on a variety of topics (they serve hot chocolate), a Full Moon Hike or A Family Nature Walk (to name just a few). Click on the interactive OUTDOORS Calendar of Events for more information. Or browse their catalog for more ideas that might fit your schedule. Kids 8-13 might also be interested in becoming a Junior Ranger.