Southern California is an amazing place to live and play but most people have barely explored its beautiful trails, Reserves, and State Parks. The following list includes just a few of the most popular, breathtaking, and interesting hikes in Southern California. If you’ve never hiked but are interested in starting, a State Park or Reserve is the best place to start. I’ve included hikes for any level of adventurer in this post so let’s get started:
Elfin Forest Olivenhain Reserve Loop Trail
A moderately difficult hike near Escondido, this trail features an uphill trek and a lake. It will take you about 4 hours or so to walk this hike. Dogs are welcome on a leash.
Escondido Falls Trail
This hike is located off of Pacific Coast Highway, near Point Dume. The trail is a 3.8 mile trek that takes you to the three tiers of gorgeous Escondido Falls. The “Edward Albert Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfall” hike is marked as an easy trail unless you want to trek to the third tier of the falls. Dogs are welcome on a leash.
Solstice Canyon is a park within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Malibu. This trail is rated moderate but is mostly flat and can be walked. The trail features a small waterfall alongside some interesting ruins. Dogs are also welcome on a leash.
On the other side of Mount Baldy, in the town of Pearblossum, there is a park called Devil’s Punchbowl. The rocks that jut up from underneath the ground can be climbed or just enjoyed for their picturesque beauty, depending on your preference. It makes for a unique place to spend an afternoon with plenty of additional hiking trails. Dogs are also welcome on a leash.
Mount Baldy is suitable for both novice and experienced hikers. You can take the tram to the top and walk 8 miles round trip to the summit or you can take the Ski Hut Trail. The Ski Hut Trail, while only 8 miles, will take you up and over 4000 feet of elevation and is not for the faint of heart. The view from the summit is unmatched and is an absolute must-hike in Southern California.
Mount Wilson Trail
You can hike the beautiful 14 mile loop starting at Chantry Flats which connects to Mt Wilson Summit Trail. If you prefer a shorter trip, you can just hike to Sturtevant Falls and back to make it a casual 3 mile walk. The trail to the falls is an interesting trek – there is a pristine stream that hugs the trail and lots of little cabins along the way. The top of Mt. Wilson has observatories, buildings, and paved roads to explore. Dogs are also welcome on a leash.
The Slot – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Located in Anza-Borrego State Park, the slot hike is a short 0.8 mile trek that leads you through a narrow siltstone canyon that provides one of the most exciting hikes in the park. At some points the canyon gets so small, you have to go sideways to get through. As you continue through the trail, the ceiling continues to rise until you are at about 75 feet below the canyon wall. It is a must-hike for the adventure seeker, but is not an easy trail to find so do your research before you arrive. Dogs are not allowed on the trails here but are allowed at the campgrounds and on paved roadways.
Barker Dam at Joshua Tree
Barker Dam is a relatively easy hike at a 1.5 mile loop. If you plan your trip during the wet season, you’ll be delighted to find a small blue lake at the end of the trail. If you take this hike during the dry season, you can still enjoy the dam but the water will have dried up. There are mounds of boulders you can climb on, a dry creek bed, old history from cattle ranchers and even Indian petroglyphs. Dogs are not allowed on the trails.
Bridge to Nowhere
This hike is not for the faint of heart – not only is it a 10.1 mile trek, it can be very dangerous due to flash floods. There are a number of rock slides that have occurred recently and can not be climbed over. This causes you to have to cross the river multiple times to complete the trip to the bridge. In light of this, it is recommended to postpone this hike if there is even a slight chance that a storm will come through the area. If you plan your trip during the dry season (and when there are no storms in site), you will get to enjoy the gorgeous riverbed, surrounding greenery, and of course, the Bridge to Nowhere.
Mt. San Jacinto via Mountain Station Tram
Located only miles from Palm Springs, Mt. San Jacinto offers a number of trails for all types of hikers. You will start you journey by taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world. The tram will take you up almost 6000 feet in about 8 and a half minutes where you can begin your hike of choice. You can choose to take a relaxing stroll on one of the many loop trails or you can take on the trek to the summit. The views and surrounding landscape are absolutely worth the trip. Dogs are not permitted on the tram or in the San Jacinto State Park.
Cowles Mountain in San Diego is a great way to get a hike in and see some gorgeous views. What makes it so intriguing to hikers? It gives you unparalleled views of downtown San Diego, Coronado and even Tijuana, Mexico on a clear day. It is also the tallest point in San Diego. Dogs are welcome on a leash.
One of the more interesting hikes is only 20 minutes from downtown Los Angeles and takes you to an old abandoned Nazi Camp in Pacific Palisades. This hike has a lot of crumbling old buildings that make for some great photos. There is also a crazy set of stairs that go straight down the side of a mountain. Dogs are also welcome on a leash.
Big Horn Mine
Nestled in the mountains above Wrightwood, there lies an easy hike with quite the site to see at the end – an 80-year-old abandoned mine. The mine is in various levels of disrepair and is a very interesting site to explore. Dogs are welcome on this hike as long as they are on a leash.
El Escorpión Trail – Castle Peak
Located at the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, this challenging hike is nestled in the West Hills district of Los Angeles. This hike starts out as a slow walk and quickly takes you into a chimney cave, out the top and across a ridge line that is overgrown before ending at the top of Castle Peak with a beautiful view of the city below. Dogs are welcome on a leash but the last bit of hike to the summit of Castle Peak is relatively difficult.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
This once in a lifetime hike, located in La Jolla, features breathtaking ocean views, rare Torrey Pines, and unique geology. If you are looking to experience the beautiful and unique world of coastal California hiking, Torrey Pines is an absolute must. With crazy rock formations, spectacular views and miles of trails, it is a hike you do not want to miss. Dogs are not allowed on the trails or in the park.
Before you go on any hike, ensure you do your own research on the parks, trails, difficulty levels, changes in trail conditions, and general information. Bring lots of water, some snacks, and a hiking buddy (never hike alone). I hope you’ve found an amazing hike for your next adventure – Now go outside and enjoy yourself!
Disclaimer: This post is the opinion of the author. Always speak to your doctor before beginning any exercise plan or changes to your lifestyle. The information provided in this post is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to provide medical, legal, or other professional advice. Read and/or use any of the information from this post at your own risk. Some or all of the links displayed on this site may be affiliate links.