16 Best Hikes in Southern California

16 Best Hikes in Southern California

One of the best parts of living in Southern California is access to incredible hikes. From Orange County to Pasadena, Hollywood to San Diego, there's truly a hike for everyone!

We're big fans of hiking here at People's Choice Beef Jerky. In fact, there's a good chance you'll find one of us on the trails each weekend with the best hiking food, beef jerky of course.

We've pulled together a list of our favorite hikes. So if you're a first time hiker or a weekend warrior, we guarantee you’ll find your new go-to hike. Keep reading to learn about our favorite Southern California hikes!

Hollywood Sign Hike - Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA

Trailhead: Brush Canyon Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 6.5 Miles

The Brush Canyon Trail will give you a true behind-the-scenes look at one of Southern California's most famous landmarks: The Hollywood Sign. 

Known as the Hollywood hike trail, this moderate 6.5 mile out and back hike begins at the north end of Canyon Drive in Griffith Park. There is plenty of parking in the free lots located along the end of Canyon Drive near the trailhead. This is a dog-friendly hike frequented by locals and tourists alike. It’s an excellent way to workout while taking in iconic views of the city. Be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen as the hike is mostly open and unshaded. 

An important note: although the hike does lead to the historic Hollywood Sign, you’ll have to enjoy the landmark from a short distance and through protective fences. Don’t worry, though, there’s no shortage of beautiful views. The trail leads to a beautiful peak on Mount Lee, just behind the sign, which provides a fantastic view of the city of angels!

BONUS: Hike to the Batcave

The Bronson Caves are man-made caves located just around the corner from the Brush Canyon trailhead. All you film and TV buffs might recognize these iconic caves. They have been the site of several famous shows including the 60's "Batman" TV series and movies such as "Army of Darkness" and "The Scorpion King." If you hike through the cave on a clear day, you will end up with unobstructed views of the Hollywood Sign and its surroundings. 

Potato Chip Rock Hike - Lake Poway Park, Poway, CA

Trailhead: Mount Woodson Trail

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 7.6 Miles

Potato Chip Rock is one of those challenging hikes that non-hikers embark on just to get a pic for the ‘gram. 

The iconic rock formation is situated off Lake Poway, about 30 minutes north of San Diego. It is labeled a difficult hike due to the length and incline of the scenic route. If you have a few hours to spare and are up for the lengthier trek, you will be rewarded with a beautiful view and an epic picture for the books (or ‘gram). 

The 7.6-mile hike begins at Lake Poway Park, where there is plenty of parking and access to restrooms and picnic tables. Parking is typically free on weekdays but be ready to pay a fee on weekends and holidays. The gates to the park open up bright and early at 6am. We recommend you get there shortly after the park opens as the trail crowds up quickly. 

The trail is completely open and shadeless. Another reason to start your trek at the crack of dawn. Plus, it will be one of the most memorable sunrises you will ever get the opportunity to view!

We recommend bringing at least one liter of water per person, lots of sunscreen, and some friends to take pictures of you on the rock. Let’s be real. Selfies don’t do Potato Chip Rock justice. Who wants to hike alone, anyway?

Top of the World Hike - Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Laguna Beach, CA

Trailhead: Canyon Acres Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.4 Miles

You’ll be on top of the world after this short but treacherous hike. Or at least you’ll feel that way as you take in the panoramic views ranging from Catalina Island to the San Bernardino Mountains!

Although the Canyon Acres trail is a mere 2.4-mile hike, it is incredibly steep.

Is it worth it? We think so! 

Parking for the trailhead is located just at the end of Canyon Acres Drive, a residential area in Laguna Beach. Street parking is generally open and easy to find. Be sure to double-check street signs as you don't want to end your hike with a ticket (or an extended hike to the tow yard).

Since the hike is steep, you’ll want proper hiking or fitness attire. The hike is open and shadeless, so we recommend bringing water, sunscreen, and a hat.

BONUS: Once you arrive at the top of the world, there are more hiking trails to follow if you have some extra fuel in your tank! 

The two most notable hikes here are the Car Wreck Trail and Dripping Cave Trail. 

Car Wreck Trail features an old, rusted-out, 1946 Dodge coupe buried partly in the ground just to the side of the trail. This area was a common hippy hangout back in the ‘60s and local historians believe the car may have been swept away by a flash flood and buried as a time capsule of sorts. The truth is nobody really knows!

Another fun path is the Dripping Cave Trail. Named for the rainwater dripping into the cave rock’s upper lip, the Dripping Cave is a beautiful rock formation that has a slightly sordid history. Back in the 1800s, Juan Flores and his outlaw gang used the cave as a hideout which gives the cave it’s other name, Robber’s Cave!

Runyon Canyon Hike - Runyon Canyon Park, Los Angeles, CA

Trailhead: Runyon Canyon Trail

Difficulty: Moderate 

Distance: 2.7 

Runyon Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in all of Los Angeles. Enjoyed by serious hikers, fitness junkies, and LA “influencers” alike, this trail is a rite of passage for hiking in Los Angeles.  

This heavily trafficked loop offers some fantastic views of the city along the way. This trail is perfect if you are looking to get outdoors, exercise, and people watch. It is known to be an "industry trail" since it is so close to Hollywood and easily accessible, so be on the lookout for your favorite movie stars as you hike! 

If you are a hiker that enjoys empty trails and a little peace and quiet, then we recommend checking out some other hikes on the list. This is definitely a hike to “see and be seen.”

The trail is wide, which makes for easy social distancing even if it is a crowded day. Runyon Canyon Park is known to be a dog-friendly park, so bring your pups if you got em! There are a few notable stops along the way where you can take in incredible views of the city: be sure to stop at Inspiration Point, Clouds Rest, and The Overlook at the top of Runyon Canyon. 

Bridge To Nowhere Hike - San Gabriel Mountains, Azusa, CA

Trailhead: East Fork Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 9.7 Miles

The Bridge to Nowhere is one of those hikes that needs to be added to your bucket list. 

Although this hike is quite long, it is incredibly worth it. We promise.

The hike follows the San Gabriel River and passes through Sheep Mountain Wilderness for about 5 miles until you finally hit The Bridge to Nowhere! The trail ends at the end of the bridge, which is suddenly halted by a mountain. It's an incredible view with an interesting backstory. The bridge was meant to go somewhere. It was intended to connect the San Gabriel Valley with Wrightwood, a town to the north separated by the San Gabriel Mountains. As the road was being built along with the bridge in the 1930s, the San Gabriel River experienced catastrophic flooding, which washed away the road and left a bridge….to nowhere. 

There’s intermittent shade along the hike, but prepare for lots of sun. Feel free to cool off in the natural pools along the way. There is a deeper swimming hole at the end of the hike to relax before you make the hike out.

Since this is a longer hike (approximately 6 hours), we do recommend hiking with proper shoes or boots. Depending on the water level, you will be traversing through water, so prepare to get a little wet. We also recommend bringing at least one liter of water per person and hiking snacks to refuel. 

One last thing. For all you adrenaline junkies, there’s a special treat at the end of this hike. The Bridge to Nowhere offers bungee jumping! Make sure to sign-up well in advance with Bungee America.

Griffith Park Hike - Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA

Trailhead: Mount Hollywood Trail

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.4 Miles

The Mount Hollywood Trail offers a unique side-angle view of the Hollywood Sign!

The trail begins at the Griffith Observatory Parking lot in Griffith Park. The parking lot fills up quickly on the weekends, so be sure to arrive early! This family-friendly hike is an easy 2.4 miles and takes you up to the second-highest peak in the park, where you are greeted by incredible views of the city and the Hollywood Sign. 

Be aware that the trail is unshaded and gets extremely hot and crowded during the summer months. Bring plenty of water on your trek, and be sure to wear proper protective gear. Leave your sandals at home as this is rattlesnake country. 

As you journey out on this hike, be on the lookout for the Captain's Roost rest stop and Dante's View. 

The Captain's Roost rest stop is perched on an edge that boasts a beautiful view of the Observatory with the city in the background. On the other hand, Dante's View is a garden started by volunteer Dante Orgolini back in 1964. It's a quaint little garden that's worth checking out!

Be sure to stop by the Griffith Observatory after your hike to enjoy the beautiful grounds, great views, and space programs at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium! 

Crystal Cove Hike - Crystal Cove State Park, Laguna Beach, CA

Trailhead: Crystal Cove Perimeter Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 9.4 Miles

This lengthy hike features rewarding views of the Pacific Ocean along the trail, and since it's just across the street, a dip in the ocean afterward makes for the perfect cool-down treat! When it comes to Laguna Beach hikes, this is a great option.

This hike begins and ends by the El Moro Ranger Station in Laguna Beach off of Pacific Coast Highway. If you have a State Park Pass, you can use it here. Otherwise, there is a parking fee, so we recommend bringing some extra cash! 

The hike takes around 4 hours and is wide open with no shade protection. If you are planning on hiking the loop in its entirety, be sure to bring a hat and extra sunscreen! 

Castle Rock Hike - San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear, CA

Trailhead: Castle Rock Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.6 Miles 

This is one castle in the air that you can easily achieve, and it's totally worth it!

Castle Rock Trail is located between Big Bear Dam and Big Bear Lake Village and is a fairly short hike at a total of just 2.6 miles long. The trail starts off uphill and keeps a steady incline most of the hike. You'll quickly be immersed in the woods surrounded by cedar, fir, and pine trees. Before you know it, you will approach Castle Rock, which you can climb up to gain one of the best views of Big Bear Lake! When it comes to Big Bear hikes, this is definitely one of the best.

If it's a warm day, bring your swim trunks. You're going to want to take a dip in the lake afterward, trust!

Peters Canyon Hike - Peters Canyon Regional Park, Orange County, CA

Trailhead: Peters Canyon Loop Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 5.9 Miles

Peters Canyon Regional Park offers a variety of trails and roads through numerous natural habitats. 

The park itself is 340 acres in addition to the 55 acre Upper Peters Canyon Reservoir, which provides so much space for activities. The park is open from 7am to sunset every day but may be closed for a few days following heavy rain. There is a parking fee of $3, so be sure to bring dollar bills or a credit card to feed the parking machine. 

The trail is one large loop but offers opportunities for you to shorten the trek if you would like. The trails are wide open and shadeless, so we recommend doubling up on sunscreen if you plan to take down the whole loop. Unfortunately, a large portion of the park was damaged by wildfires in 2017, so be careful when you are out there exploring!

Griffith Observatory Hike - Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA

Trailhead: West Observatory Trail 

Difficulty: Easy 

Distance: 2 Miles

West Observatory Trail is an easy 2-mile hike located just below the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park. 

This is the perfect trail for a quick trail run or a family hike with the young guns. It is quick to get crowded but is well worth sharing the trail because you gain some great perspectives of the Observatory and the city. 

The trailhead is located by the Fern Dell Nature Preserve off Western Canyon Road. There will be a junction with two trail choices as you begin, but we recommend you stick with West Observatory trail. The hike will start with some quick elevation gain, but you will be rewarded with views much quicker than the other trail. 

The shade is sparse on this trail, so be sure to rock a hat and sunscreen if you head out on a sunny day. Shortly into the hike, you will turn a corner to see a wide-open view of the beautiful Griffith Observatory, the ultimate end goal of this hike. Along the way, you'll also be able to soak up some incredible views of the Hollywood Sign and the Wisdom Tree perched atop Burbank Peak. We highly recommend heading into the Observatory once you reach the top for some cool air and astronomy lessons! 

If you're recharged after your pit stop, more trailheads await you just past the Observatory parking lot!

Topanga Canyon Hike - Topanga State Park, Los Angeles, CA

Trailhead: Topanga Canyon Loop

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 10.5 Miles

The Topanga Canyon Loop is a lightly trafficked 10.5-mile hike located near Santa Monica. It’s one of the most popular Santa Monica hikes.   

This is ranked a difficult hike due to the longer length and occasional steep terrain. There are other trailheads along the hike that allow you to cut course and shorten the hike if you choose. 

We recommend hiking the loop in its entirety to experience the various attractions in one hike. Some notable stops along the way include Eagle Rock, Parker Mesa Overlook, Skull Rock, and Santa Ynez Falls. Hiking along the loop, you will fluctuate between shaded oak groves and open overlooks of the Pacific Ocean. 

This is a lengthy hike, so we recommend taking a day off to take advantage of the trail and enjoy the entire loop. Be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and gear!

Devil's Punchbowl Hike - San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles, CA

Trailhead: Devil's Punchbowl Loop Trail

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1 Mile

The Devil's Punchbowl is an easy 1-mile hike that showcases some incredible geology and rock formations. 

Layers and slabs of sandstone sit at a tilted angle forming the Devil's Punchbowl. The movement of the faults below worked in tandem with natural erosion to develop this incredible structure. 

The hike begins with an incredible view of the Devil's Punchbowl and a short .3 mile loop. As you come to the end of the loop, you take a trail that immediately begins descending directly into the Punchbowl. The best part of this hike is exploring the sandstone slabs within the wild rock structure. 

There is a visitor center nearby, which you can explore after you explore the Punchbowl. There is also a nearby 7.5-mile hike to the Devil's Chair if you are up for more adventure!

Black Star Canyon Hike - Cleveland National Forest, Silverado, CA

Trailhead: Black Star Canyon Trail

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 6.8 Miles

There is a haunted history and several scary stories associated with this lengthy trail.  

Black Star Canyon is a challenging but worthwhile hike if you're looking for an adventurous day hike. In addition to the spooky stories, the trail features a waterfall at the end of the hike! 

The first half of the hike is relatively easy as you follow along a wide dirt road. The second half is where the trail begins to increase in difficulty. You'll start following Black Star Creek and eventually come to a cluster of small boulders that you will have to scramble to follow the hike. 

The rock formations do become fairly steep at certain sections, but it is all totally doable! Be sure to wear proper gear to protect yourself from any water or sharp rocks that may be present along the trail.

Pasadena Waterfall Hike - Eaton Canyon Natural Area Park, Pasadena, CA

Trailhead: Eaton Canyon Trail

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 3.5 Miles

Eaton Canyon Trail is a painless little hike to a prominent 40-foot waterfall. 

Much like Black Star Canyon, this trail begins with a wide dirt trail, followed by a more adventurous path to a waterfall structure. The trailhead is located in Eaton Canyon Natural Area Park just off Altadena Drive in Northeast Pasadena. 

The fun begins after you cross under the bridge near the halfway point and begin hiking along the creek! You may even be forced to cross through the stream a few times, depending on the water level, so we suggest wearing the proper gear for this....like some sick zip-off cargos. 

This trail can become crowded rather quickly on the weekends, but we still recommend checking it out! 

Hermit Falls Hike - Arcadia Wilderness Park, Monrovia, CA

Trailhead: Hermit Falls Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.5 Miles

This Santa Anita Canyon trail leads to a beautiful 30-foot waterfall where you can take a dip in the water or cliff dive if you're a thrill-seeker (although we do not condone this).

Hermit Falls is an incredibly popular hiking destination, so we recommend arriving as early as possible. The hike starts off easy as you begin to traverse downhill and across several shaded switchbacks. You will cross a few streams, view a couple man-made waterfalls, and pass by homesteads. The trail is surrounded by lush plant life, offering shade along the trek. 

As you near the waterfall, you will notice enormous granite boulders surrounding natural pools of water. If it has been a season with substantial amounts of rain, then the waterfall should be rather impressive, and the pools nice and deep for swimming and jumping. 

BONUS: Hike the Santa Anita Canyon Loop and discover Sturtevant Falls!

In the same general area as Hermit Falls Trail, you will find the Santa Anita Canyon Loop. The loop is a moderately challenging 8.7-mile hike, but we assure you it's worth it if you have the spare time and energy! 

This loop trail will showcase some of the San Gabriel Mountains' most beautiful parts and an enormous 50-foot waterfall known as Sturtevant Falls. Since the loop is incredible and incredibly accessible by LA's standards, expect it to be crowded. We recommend showing up as early as possible and on a weekday, if possible. 

Devil's Backbone Hike - San Gabriel Mountains, Mt. Baldy, CA

Trailhead: Devil's Backbone Trail

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 11 Miles

Devil's Backbone Trail is a heavily trafficked, rugged, 11-mile trail located near Mt. Baldy. 

Don't let this scare you away! 

This hike will leave you feeling accomplished. There is 4,000 feet of elevation during the climb, which brings you to LA's highest point at 10,064 feet. The panoramic view is totally worth the workout. 

This is a popular hike among Angelenos, so we recommend heading out on this hike as early as possible. You will park at Manker Flats, which again becomes crowded quite early in the day, so try to arrive as early as possible to avoid exhaustion before the hike begins. 

There will be snow here in the winter, so we only recommend heading out in the snowy months if you are an advanced hiker who owns the proper gear for this kind of hike. Otherwise, we recommend taking on this hike in the late summer months to avoid snow. Since the peak of Mt. Baldy is so high, the conditions will likely be windy and cold. There is also no shade on this hike, so make sure to bring the proper gear and protection for a safe hike. 

Conclusion

As you can see, there is no shortage of fantastic hikes here in Southern California. This is just a list of our favorites, but there are plenty more if you complete all 16 on this list!

Before you head out on one of these hikes, there are a few things to keep in mind. Southern California is typically hot and sunny – which we love – but still, it is something to keep in mind as you just can’t enjoy a hike if you aren’t properly prepared!

We will lay out a few of our recommended essentials here:

Hiking Shoes/Boots

Slippery slopes and cacti needles can be a problem if you lack proper footwear. Be sure to wear hiking shoes or boots to help grip the rough terrain and dusty trails to avoid unwanted accidents! 

Hiking Clothes

The weather will most likely be hot and sunny on any given day that you choose to hit the trails. So, it is important to wear breathable layers that keep you cool and comfortable! 

Sun Protection

As stated above, you’re likely to find yourself out hiking on a warm sunny day. You’re going to want to pack the proper protective gear to avoid driving home looking like a lobster. Since the sun rays can be harsh, we recommend packing sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat. 

Compass

A compass is a handy tool when you’re out on a deep hike. Cell service is not always reliable, so pack yourself a compass. 

Hydration

Dehydration is a common problem on the dry, desert trails of Southern California. For the shorter hikes on this list, it may be acceptable to carry a 32 oz container of water. For the longer hikes, though, we recommend filling up a hydration pack and carrying it on your back. This will allow you to comfortably carry more water for yourself and pack other essentials from the list. It’s a win-win situation!

Snacks

This right here, this is our wheelhouse! It’s important to bring snacks for fuel on these hikes, especially the longer ones. The right snack should be packed with protein to keep your energy sustained and allow you to finish the hike strong. 

We may be biased, but we think that beef jerky is your best bet! It is packed with protein, easy to eat, and completely portable. We have a variety of options available, ranging from our adventurous Tasting Kitchen Collection to our Old Fashioned Collection. Whether you are chasing flavor with no restrictions or following a strict diet such as the keto diet, we got you covered

Whatever jerky you may choose to bring on your journey, PLEASE remember to pack out all of your trash. We want to keep these trails clean and safe for our furry friends that live in the surrounding areas. 

First Aid Kit

The trails are rough – or at least they can be – so pack a first aid kit in case you do find yourself taking a spill or poking yourself on a cactus. Plus, you never know when you may come across a fellow hiker who needs some help. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Sanitary Necessities

Since we are living in Covid times, it is extremely important to stay on top of sanitation while on the trails. We recommend packing a travel-size hand sanitizer, as well as a facemask. Be cautious while on the trails, and practice social distancing wherever possible!

With all that said, we think you are ready to hit the trails! Go out, have fun, don’t forget your jerky, and be sure to tag us in your hiking adventures!