Top Hiking Trails in Southern California

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Update: This post now has more then ten hikes – Enjoy and be sure to comment with your favorite hikes!

Through writing this blog, I have had the unique opportunity to be often asked, “What are the top places to hike in Southern California?” While this is a tough question answer, it is petty easy for me to narrow down my current favorites to a list of ten. That being said, California has a ton to offer the hiker, and even though I have been hiking here for years, I am sure there are others that will be added to this list as I have the time to discover them. So in no particular order here are my ten favorite hikes in Southern California.

The Hollywood Sign

Hollywood Sign Hike

Nothing says California like a trip up to its quintessential landmark, the Hollywood Sign. This hike will take you through the Hollywood Hills, past the old Batcave from 60’s TV and up behind the Hollywood Sign. You can’t get any closer than 30 feet to the sign but it is really amazing to see a part of history like this close up and to get views of Los Angeles with the sign in front of the city instead of behind it.

Devils Punchbowl

Devils punchbowl

On the other side of Mt Baldy, in a little town known as Pearblossum, there is a park that was rocked by the movement of the Earth thousands of years ago called Devils Punchbowl. The landscape has rocks that seem to jut up from something pushing them from underneath and provide a rare beauty that looks out-of-place next to the surrounding desert. The rocks can be climbed or just enjoyed, depending on your preference, but it makes for a unique place to spend an afternoon with plenty of additional hiking trails.

Mt Baldy

Mt Baldy

There truly are some great summits in Southern California like San Gorgonio and Cucamonga Peak, but for me it doesn’t get better then Mt Baldy. For the people only wanting the experience, you can take the tram to the top and walk the 8 miles round trip to the summit; however, for the hardcore you can take the Ski Hut Trail, that while only 8 miles, will take you up and back over 4000 feet of elevation, a true grind. The view from the summit is second to none as well. A must hike in Southern California.

Sturtevant Falls

Sturtevant Falls

I love this hike because it is as easy or as hard as you make it. You can hike it attached to the Mt Wilson Summit Trail and make it a 15 mile loop or you can just hike to Sturtevant falls and back to make it a casual three mile walk. The trail to the falls is one of the more beautiful in the LA area as well, as there is a pristine stream that runs along side the trail and lots of little cabins along the way. The waterfall at the end is amazing and really is icing on the cake of a beautiful hike.

The Slot in Anza Borrego

The Slot Anza Borrego

This is one of the stranger hikes in California, which makes it one of the more memorable. Located in the often overlooked beauty of Anza Borrego State Park, the slot hike brings you down into a slot canyon and lets you walk along it for about a mile. At some points the canyon get so small you have to go sideways to get through, as the ceiling continues to rise until you are at about 75 feet below the canyon wall. At the end there is even a small arch connecting the two sides (as seen in the above photo). It is a must do for the adventure seeker, but is only accessible via a hard to find dirt road.

Barker Dam in Joshua Tree

Barker Dam

Barker Dam is one of the easier on the list, it is about a mile and a half loop. The beauty of this hike is not to be underestimated though. There are hundreds of rocks you can climb on, a dry creek bed, old history from cattle ranchers and even Indian petroglyphs at the end.  In a National Park that has many attractions this has to be one of my favorites.

Bridge to Nowhere

Bridge to Nowhere

One of the most popular hikes in Southern California, this hike to the famous bridge will take you 5 miles back and across multiple river crossings, to reach a bridge that was seemingly built-in the middle of nowhere. This bridge was actually part of a road at one point in time, but now since the road has washed away it is just a bridge all by itself. Oh yea, and you can bungee jump off of it! A great hike for the summer as you are bound to get wet.

Escondido Falls

Escondido Falls

This hike is located right off Pacific Coast Highway, near the beautiful Point Dume. Escondido Falls Hike is a four mile trek that takes you to the three tiers of Escondido Falls. The first tier is beautiful, but if you can make it to the third you are in for a treat. The third tier drops over 100 feet and has a moss-covered exterior that is truly beautiful and almost impossible to full take a picture of. Be warned it requires some risky climbing to get to the third tier so do not attempt if you think you cannot make it.

San Jacinto from the Tram

San Jacinto

Located only miles from Palm Springs, San Jacinto tops out at over 10,000 feet like Mt Baldy. What makes this hike epic is that you get to ride the Palm Springs Tram up 8,000 feet before you hike from the drop off point to the summit 6 miles away. You may think this hike is easy because of the tram but it is still a difficult hike at high elevation so make sure you bring a lot of water. If you are not up to push to the summit there are also a lot of beautiful things to see just walking around the many loop trails that start from the tram drop off.

Cowles Mountain

Cowles Mountain 1024x682

Cowles Mountain in San Diego is not a super unique hike compared to other hikes on this list but it is one of the local favorites and a great way to get a work out and see some beautiful views. What makes it so intriguing to hikers is that it gives you unparrelled views of downtown San Diego, Coronado and even Tiajuana, Mexico if it is a clear day. It is also the tallest point in San Diego. All of this makes it a great hikes that fits on the list.

Potato Chip Rock

Potato Chip Rock

One of the lesser know hikes in San Diego, this hike goes all the way to the top of Mt Woodson; however, the summit is not why people hike here. The main attraction is this massive rock right below the summit that has a potato chip like curve that you can walk out of even jump on. It is fun to get a picture here and to just sit on the potato chip and check out the beautiful views. Even though it looks small in the picture it is not in real life. Check it out for yourself and read about Potato Chip Rock here.

Murphy Ranch

Murphys Ranch 3 640x426

Does it get crazier then a hike, only 20 minutes from downtown LA that takes you to an old abandoned Nazi Camp in Pacific Palisades? This hike has a lot of urban decay, which is usually not something I like seeing on a hike but for the fact that it has so much crazy history it is unique here. There is also a crazy set of stairs that go straight down the side of a mountain. Read my massive post on Murphy Ranch here.

Big Horn Mine

Big Horn Mine from above 640x426

I love this hike nestled in the mountains above Wrightwood, mostly because it is an easy hike for people who havent hiked much but has such a cool payout at the end with this 80 year old abandoned mine. The mine is in various levels of disregard but it is still a great place to photograph or explore. Read more about Big Horn Mine here.

Cave of Munits

Cave of the Munits 22 640x426

This hike proves yet again that Southern California really does have everything as you hike up through a chimney cave and out the top on this hike. Nestled in the town of Tarzana, what starts out as a slow walk 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. Read about Cave of Munits here.

Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak

Sandstone Peak 37 640x428

This hike, situated along the beautiful coast in Malibu, is both a challenging hike and a amazing example of the SoCal coastal scenery. It has some many fun things to see from the balancing rock to Inspiration Point. I cannot recommend it more, read my full post here.

Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes 17 640x426

One of the largest sand dunes in California, the Kelso Dunes are a must hike for every adventurer. This hike is not easy as the sand can be brutal to stand on, but how often do you get to see the above view and feel that massive sense of accomplishment. There are a lot of hikes in the Mojave National Preserve but this is my favorite. Read more about the Kelso Dunes here.

The Rings Trail

Rings Trail 16 640x426

My favorite trail in the Mojave National Preserve, while not difficult, this short hike is stunning. It starts out slow but once you pass the hill side and go back into the Mojave you will be wowed by the crazy scenery that it entails. Then as you climb your way out with the old rings, I am sure you will enjoy this hike as much as I did.

Ranchos Palos Verdes Shipwreck Hike

Shipwreck Hike 4 640x426

Hiking to the wreck of the Greek Dominator in Ranchos Palos Verdes is a very unique hike. It is coastal, so it is over rocks then entire time, but it ends with a lot of ruins from the shipwreck that you can see right on the beach. Some people do not like it since it is over rocks and slow going but I found the payoff and history to be super unique.

You can also check out my big list of Southern California waterfalls and best California day hikes for additional hiking ideas.

So there you have it, my favorite hikes in Southern California. Now it is your turn. What did I leave off that you think should be on the list? Leave it in the comments.

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  • http://coupleoftravels.com Christina M

    I need to check out some of these outside San Diego – I have done the Palm Springs tramway, but there was snow up there, so we didn’t get to much hiking. I like Cowles, but I think there are better hikes in San Diego. Iron Mountain, Mt. Woodson, and Three Sisters Falls are all pretty neat ones, and probably less crowded on any given day than Cowles!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      Thanks for the comment. I just did Mt Woodsen last weekend and it was great! I am looking forward to doing Three Sisters Falls this summer as well! I will check out Iron Mountain as I haven’t heard about that one!

  • Scott
  • http://weareadventures.blogspot.com Elliot B

    Always looking for new places in Southern California to hike. Thanks for this!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      No problem! Lots of great places to hike in SoCal

  • http://twitter.com/weareadventure Elliot B

    I can’t wait to cross some of these off my list! Thanks for the ideas on places to go :)

  • Brittany Rouille

    We did Escondido Falls last weekend, are doing San Gorgonio this weekend and Mount Whitney next weekend! Murphy Ranch looks incredible and Bridge to Nowhere has been on our list for quite some time now. I am bookmarking this post, thank you :)

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thats an awesome schedule! Let me know what you think of Whitney and check out my photo guide to that hike as well here http://californiathroughmylens.com/mt-whitney-trail-hike-photos Glad the post was worth a bookmark!

      • Brittany Rouille

        SO awesome!! I should have known that you would have already summited this one :D

  • http://www.estherandjacob.com/ esther julee

    i really wanna try mount baldy! we did half dome last month and have been taking a break since.. but i need to start up again!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Mount Baldy is a great hike, I have been up to the top three times and I still enjoy it! If you did Half Dome you should have no problem!

  • Fredro

    Been hiking socal for many years, and have seen alot of the places you talk about. Three places intrigue me that I have not been to. Bridge to nowhere, the slot in anza borrego, and Murphys Ranch. Can you give me any urban hikes that will satisfy my adventurous spirit?
    Keep trekking!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! I have not done to many urban hikes but I do hike Mt Rubidoux a lot right in the heart of Riverside. Let me know if you have suggestions of good ones!

  • metabrewing

    Great write up. It would be awesome if these hikes were plotted on a map so that I could see which ones would be feasible given a certain location.

  • metabrewing

    Great write up. It would be awesome if these hikes were plotted on a map so that I could see which ones would be feasible given a certain location.

  • Adrian Galvan

    first off great write up! so I’ve hiked mt baldy, mt san Jacinto , saddleback mountain, next is san gorgonio and mt whitney … I wanted to know what else is there too add on to the list that is similar?

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      You could consider Telescope Peak as well as it is a very prominent peak near Death Valley, crazy road to drive up to get to the start though.

  • Marloes Becker

    Although I realize it is not a very challenging hike, it is a perfect hike for all ages and perfect for when people come to visit SoCal: Torrey Pines State Park in San Diego. The trail leads all the way to one of the most beautiful beaches, and alongside amazing high cliffs. It’s leisurely more than strenuous, but I definitely think it should be on this list, if only for the ultimate SoCal feeling.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Great recommendation! I have hiked this a couple times, I will look at adding it in.

  • Sandra Stevens

    I did Sandstone Peak today. Thought it was great. But close by is Mount Boney. It’s challenging and in some spots, straight up. But the view from the top is amazing.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the recommendation I will have to check it out!

  • Heather

    Thank you so much for the listings! I did the bridge to nowhere today and plan on doing most of the hikes soon! Deep creek hot springs is a great hike and beautiful too!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem, glad you enjoyed it! I have been to deep creek it is pretty awesome, I need to go again

  • http://www.balboarvpark.com/ Los Angeles RV Parks

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and I am glad you are enjoying the blog!

  • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

    Another great suggestions for sure!

  • Frank Chhay

    Anyone got suggestions on a hike for tomorrow. Something about an hour radius of Long Beach, CA. If there can be some water that would be great for this heat.

  • katie

    Devils Punch Bowl: The Ramona entrance side of this trial is closed.

  • http://www.balboarvpark.com/ Jin Pak

    I have tried hikin over Joshua Tress in Balboa RV Parks while Camping Southern California. I also wanna try the above discussed hiking trails. Started planning for my next vacations at these sites in mah mind ;)

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Glad I could help with the planning, have fun!

  • Maria

    You should add Three Sisters Falls in Julina, CA :) it is an INTENSE hike downhill that leads to an enormous waterfall..! Best time to go is during the fall, spring and winter. It tends to be dry during the summer :)

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the recommendation, I have been wanting to do it but need to wait until California gets some rain.

  • Dj

    Josh,
    Have you done the Mt. Baden Powell hike? It is a beautiful hike to the summit. I was surprised not to see in on your blog… Just curious :)

    Dj

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Ya I have, it is a great hike. I need to get the post up on my site soon, thanks for the reminder!

  • Trevor

    I’m 18 and I absolutely love hiking. I’ve lived in SoCal and have adventured many hikes. I went up Boney as well as Sandstone Peak. My fondest memory would have to be summitting Mt Whitney a few days after turning 14. Have you ever hiked the Chumash Trail in Point Mugu? It’s a beautiful hike with a spectacular 360° view on a clear day. It’s not an overly long hike but I would still consider it to be pretty strenuous for less-experienced hikers or those not in prime shape. You should try it if you haven’t already! By the way, I love your blog and it’s very nice to know that other people appreciate and are into these kinds of thing As an 18-year old guy living in Camarillo and still in high school, it’s difficult finding people my age who are interesting in exploring and adventuring. Thank you for your time and effort into making such a wonderful blog.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and for the kind words about the site, I am glad you like it! I will for sure check out Chumash Trail as it sounds awesome and I have not done it yet. Thanks for the info and for sharing the photo as well, it is beautiful

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