Top Hiking Trails in Southern California

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

By creating this blog, I am 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. Add your favorites in the comments.

The Hollywood Sign

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 up close and to get views of Los Angeles with the sign in front of the city instead of behind it.

Devils Punchbowl

On the other side of Mt Baldy in the town of Pearblossum there is a park called Devil’s Punchbowl that was created by the movement of  the Earth thousands of years ago. The landscape has rocks that jut up from underneath the ground 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. It makes for a unique place to spend an afternoon with plenty of additional hiking trails.

Mt Baldy

There are 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. This trail, while only 8 mile, will take you up and back over 4000 feet of elevation — a true grind. The view from the summit is second to none. A must-hike in Southern California.

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 there is a pristine stream that hugs the trail and lots of little cabins along the way. Seeing the waterfall at the end is an amazing icing on the cake.

The Slot in Anza Borrego

This is one of the stranger hikes in California, which makes it memorable. Located in the often overlooked 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 is one of the easier hikes 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

One of the most popular hikes in Southern California, this hike to the famous bridge will take you 5 miles back and forth 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

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 press on to the third tier if you can. The third tier drops over 100 feet and has a moss-covered exterior that is truly beautiful and almost impossible to fully photograph. Be warned: it requires some risky climbing to get to the third tier so do not attempt it if you think you cannot make it.

San Jacinto from the Tram

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 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 unparalleled 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.

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 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

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

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

This hike proves yet again that Southern California really does have everything! 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.

Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines Reserve-11

If you are looking to experience the beautiful and unique world of coastal California hiking then Torrey Pines is one of the hikes you must do. With crazy rock formations, spectacular views and miles of trails, it is one of those place I go back to often.

Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak

Sandstone Peak 37

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

One of the largest sand dunes in California, the Kelso Dunes are a must-hike for every adventurer.This hike is not easy because 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

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 hillside and go back into the Mojave you will be wowed by the crazy scenery. 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

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 fun.

Echo Mountain Ruins

Echo Mountain 28

While the hike itself is mostly just a long uphill climb, the payoff at the top is pretty awesome. When you get there you will be immersed in history as you explore the ruins of a once great mansion built on the hillside. It also serves as a beautiful vista over the city below.

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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  • 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!

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

    • No problem! Lots of great places to hike in SoCal

  • 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 🙂

  • 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!

    • 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!

    • 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

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

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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 😉

    • 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 🙂

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

  • Dj

    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 🙂


    • 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.

    • 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

  • Cait

    Awesome list! Where is Whitney???

  • Kat

    this is so exciting! I am from Australia and am planning to road trip from LA to Vegas. I have 2 weeks and am more than happy to spend it on the west coast, hiking, exploring and just travelling ‘off the beaten track’. I have been following some of your posts, which are amazing, and was wondering whether you had to pay to hike in the above areas?
    Apparently I may need a National Park permit if I want to go to some over there?

    • A few of the trails may require a $5 dollar parking pass (if you are interested in knowing if a specific one does let me know), but the only one you need to pay to get into is the one in Joshua Tree National Park.

      Also, for recommendations on where to stop on the drive to Vegas, check this out.

  • Lori T.

    We bought plane tickets into San Diego for mid-December. From there we were supposed to travel to Mexico but our plans fell through and we are stuck with the plane tickets. Our finances have become an issue, is there anyway to come off the plane and go backpacking and hiking? Any recommendations on great places to camp that is accessible by public transportation? We loved your blog on the hike near the Nazi camp.

    • Lori Thanks for the comment and I am glad you like the post! I am not to sure of a lot of great camping spots that are accessible by public transportation. You might want to check out and as both of them are very knowledgeable in LA hiking / camping spots.

      • Lori T.

        Thank you for the information! We are looking forward to seeing California.

  • Erin E. Danielson Manukay

    Hi Josh, I really enjoyed this post. I had a few questions about the hikes. I was wondering, in your opinion, if all or any of the hikes in this post could be done by children and their novice hiking parents?

    • The Devils Punchbowl, Sturtevant Falls and Baker Dam are all relatively easy trails for a whole family. You might consider trying one of those first

      • Erin E. Danielson Manukay

        Thank you for your suggestions, I really appreciate it and I look forward to planning our first hike 🙂

  • Renae

    Have you ever hiked Placerita Canyon near Santa Clarita Valley? The top of Los Pinetos trail is breathtaking. Thanks for the list of other great hikes.

    • No I haven’t, thanks for the tip! I will be sure to add it to my list!

  • Erica Kuramoto

    My favorite place is called Canyon Park in Monrovia. It’s a 10 minute drive up the mountain. Then a tranquil and easy hike leads to a waterfall.

    • I love that spot, it is a great and easy way to escape the city!

  • Kaitlin Nguyen

    My bf and I want to do a camping trip during spring break and set up a tent somewhere where are good places to camp that’s not to far from Southern California. I would like to camp somewhere where there are a lot of fun trails and maybe find a waterfall hike

  • Chhun

    San Gorgonio and that whole area is stunning as well. There are a lot of peaks 10,000 feet and up to conquer. And a lot of the trails have great views, like starting out from Angelus Oaks, as you head toward the San Bernardino Peaks, the views open up and you can see Big Bear Lake. Great area for a longer, challenging day hike or a multi day trip. Great list! Will have to check out the few I haven’t hit yet!

    • Thanks for the comment and I agree, San Gorgonio is a great place to hike!

  • Will J.

    Not southern California, but a must is Big Sur. So many great places to hike and the drive along highway 1 is so beautiful. I’ve been to a little more than half of these place but none of them compared to the beauty of Big Sur. I camped out there for three days and explored a lot of it, but not enough. However, the places that I have hiked on this list are also great!

    • I agree, Big Sur is one of my favorite places in all of California, it is pretty hard for anything to compare to it!

  • Des

    Thanks for all the great hiking listings! Im definitely going to be trying a few of these this spring break!! 😀

    • No problem, have fun and let me know which was your favorite!

  • Suzanne

    I visit Southern California frequently from Las Vegas, do you have any recommendations for hiking with toddlers in a child carrier? Or ones to stay away from?

  • Katie

    Your blog is awesome! Definitely some amazing off-the-beaten-path gems in this beautiful state! Thanks for putting the time into putting this together! Keep it up!

    • Thanks for the comment and have fun exploring!

  • A great list! I’m working my way around Northern California but I will have to take a look and hit a few of these next time I head down south to visit the family. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the comment and have fun in Northern California!

  • Thanks for the comment, sounds fun!

  • Sanam

    Hi there! I live in Orange County and am looking for a moderate hike to go on for my anniversary this weekend. I am thinking something between 5-10 miles and challenging. The last hike I did in Socal was the Iron Mountain Trail in Poway and it was wonderful. I don’t mind driving up to three hours to get to a nice spot. Do you have any suggestions?
    Side note: My boyfriend and I are starting to get into hiking and I absolutely love this blog! Thank you for sharing all of this information!

    • Mt Baldy from the ski lift is a really fun hike with amazing views if you haven’t done it. Assuming they don’t have any snow it could be a fun and challenging hike (emphasis on the challenging, especially if you are not used to the elevation). Bridge to nowhere and Big Horn Mine are also fun as well!

  • Abby

    Hi! I’ve never been to California before, and I think my mom and I are going to plan a trip there over my spring break at the end of March! I’m from Minnesota but go to school in Colorado and she lives in Minnesota, both in good shape and used to hiking and elevation. What is the best hike that has the prettiest and most rewarding views of mountains and water? I love the look of nature and scenery. I’m guessing we would be there for maybe 5 or 6 days and 4 or 5 nights. Any recommendations at all would be awesome!!! Thanks!!!

    • Unfortunately water is not great right now in Southern California with the drought. If you are looking for a good hike with mountains though Mt Baldy is an amazing one that will give you great views, just be sure you are physically prepared for it. Also, I would recommend calling the ranger before you go to see how the snow is up near the top. If you are looking for something totally different then what you are used to then Joshua Tree National Park may be a spot you would like to visit as well just to see the stark desert landscape. Really, you cant go wrong with any of the hikes in this list though.

  • Jason

    Are you sure that’s a photo of Barker Dam? The trees definitely make it look like somewhere else…

    • Yes, this is from the area when you pass the dam and are making the loop to the petroglyphs.

  • Renee

    Don’t forget Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce! Thanks for the list!

    • Thanks for the comment, that is a good one as well!

  • Ahmad Mehaidly

    Beautiful list…

    • Thank you, I appreciate it!

  • Diana Spencer

    Josh, thanks for sharing your hiking experiences! We are considering hiking between Christmas and New Years. Anyone have any recommendations for 8-12 miles day hikes or a 3-4 day backpacking trip? Thank you! Di

  • Kara Maceross

    I have done quite a few of these and they are great! Particularly Sandstone Peak and Sturtevant Falls looping Mt. Wilson in there. One of my favorite ‘local’ hikes is Los Liones Trail in Pacific Palisades. The view of the coast goes for days from the top!

    • Thanks for the tip, I have never done that hike so I will have to add it to the list!

  • wcpreston

    This article the waterfall article were an incredible help to us as relatively new hikers. We did a hiking vacation this week. We did Escondido Falls, Murphy Ranch, Sturtevant Falls, & Big Falls in three days of hiking. Loved every minute of it. Thanks so much.

    • So awesome, sounds like a blast! How was the water flow?