Ah, southern California, a region that boasts some of the most diverse landscapes in the entire country. From rugged deserts to oceanfront vistas to plunging waterfalls to high alpine lakes on arid mountains, the portion of California from the border of Mexico to just north of Los Angeles really does have it all.
With a handful of state parks, national parks, neighborhood gems, and iconic views, hikers flock to SoCal to discover the beauty for themselves. Whether you are road tripping along the Pacific Coast Highway or are a resident looking for a few hours away from the city, this list of best hikes in Southern California presents a wide selection of outdoor adventures to suit anyone’s needs.
10 of the Best Hikes in Southern California
1. San Gabriel Mountains
Containing some of the most biodiverse lands in the entire country, the recently-designated San Gabriel Mountains National Monument comprises 342,177 acres of the Angeles National Forest and just over 4,000 acres of the San Bernadino National Forest. While there are many mind-blowing hiking trails in this vast region, two of our favorites are Cucamonga Peak and The Bridge to Nowhere.
2. Cucamonga Peak
With a considerable elevation gain of 4,314 feet, this challenging 12-mile trek is for experienced hikers only. Complete with alpine forests, summit views of the surrounding peaks, and the bragging rights of climbing Cucamonga. The trailhead is located at the Icehouse Canyon Trail, where you can grab a walk-up permitting before heading up the mother nature of stair steppers.
3. The Bridge to Nowhere
Another incredible feet feat to accomplish in the San Gabriel Mountains is the Bridge to Nowhere. This 10-mile out-and-back adventure begins at the East Fork Trailhead and strolls through the foothills of the mountains along the San Gabriel River. Stop and observe wildlife, enjoy seasonal wildflowers, and wear water shoes to cross the river multiple times.
4. Brush Canyon Trail
One of the most popular hikes in southern California (specifically Los Angeles), the Brush Canyon Trail to the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park is a bucket list SoCal hike you cannot do without. With an elevation gain of 1,050 feet over 6.5 miles, the Brush Canyon Trail is a must to reach the back of the Hollywood sign on Mount Lee. From the top, you will be greeted with views of the Griffth Observational, the Lake Hollywood Reservoir, and the Santa Monica Mountains.
5. Mt. Baldy
Only on a clear day in the city of angels can you see the snow-capped peaks of the Angeles National Forest, home to the highest point in Los Angeles County (Mount Baldy – 10,064 feet). With an elevation gain of almost 4,000 feet for 11 miles, climbing to the top of Baldy is a great hike option for those looking for a full-day hike near the city.
There are multiple options for hiking Mount Baldy (also referred to as Mount San Antonio), including the challenging Devil’s Backbone or Baldy Bowl Trail. As with most hikes near the city, the parking areas hit capacity on most weekends and weekday evenings. To avoid crowds, get there super early!
6. El Moro Canyon Loop Trail
Located at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach, El Moro Canyon Trail is the best hike for ocean views. This one is considered the easy hike on the list as there is little elevation gain, and the total length is 5 miles. From the coast, you will walk through El Moro Canyon up to Moro Ridge for insane panoramic views unlike any other. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes in the shrubbery on the trail, and pay attention to the beautiful seasonal wildflowers of the area!
7. Borrego Palm Canyon Loop
The Borrego Palm Canyon Loop Trail is another more leisurely hike on the list, nestled in the breathtaking Anza Borrego State Park. This 3-mile loop trek begins at a marked trail post near the campground. It features some incredible wildflower scenery as well as bighorn sheep sightings. Although many trees were unfortunately burned in 2020 from wildfires, the area is bouncing back for visitors to enjoy!
8. Solstice Canyon Trail
A favorite for locals in the Malibu area, the Solstice Canyon Trail is one of the best hikes to see the Santa Monica Mountains. This 3.2-mile hiking trail has a rare treasure a lot of trails in SoCal do not — a little bit of shade! If you want to make the hike less challenging, hike counterclockwise (left at the trailhead). To ensure you can see the waterfall, make this journey in springtime!
9. Ryan Mountain Trail
One of the best hiking trips in Joshua Tree National Park, the 3-mile Ryan Mountain Trail has an elevation gain of 1,069 feet with steep switchbacks and some of the best views in Joshua Tree. From the summit, you can catch a one-of-a-kind glimpse of the park as well as see the rare rock formations that Joshua Tree is known for. Due to heat and weather conditions, it is recommended to make this hike between October and May.
10. Mount Woodson Trail
Known by San Diego residents as the Potato Chip Rock Hike, Mount Woodson is a 6.4-mile adventure with a challenging elevation gain of 2,106 feet. As seen on Instagram, those looking to get an iconic Potato Chip Rock photo must take a daring leap. This grueling walk winds hikers through chaparral and granite boulders before you reach the highest point in the area. Those who make it to the top will also be greeted with amazing views of Palomar Mountain, Lake Poway, and the Pacific Ocean on a clear day.
As with most hikes, be sure to check weather conditions, pack enough sunscreen and water, and wear the proper hiking boots or sandals.
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