Los Angelinos have been in love with hiking since the late 1800’s. With the never-ending list of trails growing each year since the hiking boom at the turn of the 20th century, finding the best hiking trails in Los Angeles can be daunting.
But not to worry, I’m here to help! I grew up in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest where I spent the majority of my weekends hiking, biking, and snowboarding. I’m here to share with you what I think are the five best hikes in LA plus a secret bonus that most people have never even heard about!
Before we continue I’d like to ask one favor from you. Please keep these gems clean. Whatever you pack in, pack it out. If we don’t take care of our mountains, no one will. Thank you in advance!
Okay, get your boots ready because after reading about these hikes you won’t be able to resist checking them out!
Big Horn Mine Est 1895
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 587 ft
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As a result of the 1800’s Gold Rush, the Angeles National Forest is home to over 300 mines. Most of them have been long forgotten, but a few, including the Big Horn have re-emerged as an adventurous hiking destination.
The Big Horn Mine was founded by Charles Tom Vincent in 1895 while he was out hunting for Big Horn Sheep. Both the structures at the mine and his cabin are still standing! The cabin is located about halfway to the mine.
Because the hike begins at a high elevation, giant pine trees crowd the trail. Also, the dirt here is very red, something you rarely see in the Angeles Forest.
The Big Horn Mine is the biggest mine I’ve explored. After going through the portal and walking in about 50 feet, the size of the adit significantly increases and splits off in various directions.
Always keep track of where you are in the mine because it’s very easy to lose your sense of direction.
I suggest turning off all your lights for a bit as you stand in place. Notice how dark it gets and how the only sound is that of droplets falling from the ceiling. It’s truly a unique experience.
Keep a close eye on the path a few steps ahead as there are huge shafts scattered throughout the place. I used my flashlight to light up the inside of one of the shafts, but it was so deep that we couldn’t see the ground.
There is a lake inside the mine. However, only a small portion is visible because the rest quickly disappears into a shaft. Scuba diving anyone?
If you’re looking for a one of a kind adventure, I highly suggest the Big Horn Mine. You won’t regret it!
In case you’re wondering, yes there’s still gold in our mountains. It’s legal to pan for gold, you just can’t use any type of machinery or a pickaxe.
75 Foot San Antonio Falls
Distance: 1.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 285 feet
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A short hike via a cement road near Mount Baldy will quickly lead you to a huge waterfall. What makes this short hike very unique is, ready for it, snow!
That’s right, if you visit right after a good snowfall, you’ll be surprised to find San Antonio Falls completely covered in snow, even though it’s such a relatively low elevation compared to places like San Antonio Peak or Big Bear.
Another cool feature about this waterfall that most people don’t know about is the fact that you can access the top tier, one of which has a small swimming hole perfect for cooling off in hot weather.
After you visit the falls, don’t forget to pass by the Baldy Village to grab something to eat. The beautiful mountain town will make you feel like you’ve left California when in reality, you haven’t even left LA!
Vanalden Caves in The Santa Monica Mnts.
Distance: 2.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 515 feet
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Caves in LA? You read that right. Tarzana, a beautiful town nestled in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, harbors a mysterious 14ft sandstone cave.
The hike begins (and mostly consists) of a dirt road boasting amazing views of the Angeles and San Bernardino Mountains to the north and the ocean to the southeast.
As soon as you descend onto the canyon floor, the trail is surrounded by abundant vegetation. Follow the creek to the south and you’ll come to a dead end where the cave is located.
Although the cave isn’t very deep, the huge 14 ft entrance makes it look like a giant’s home.
I specifically remember the temperature being warmer inside the cave than outside, which got me wondering how many Tongva natives must have taken shelter inside. If the cave could tell me its stories, what a joy that would be.
A nearby trail ascends into the hillside and ends at the top of the cave where you can peek inside through the holes on the ceiling.
Aside from the Bronson and Cave of Munits, the Vanalden Caves is one of the few cave hikes in LA, so be sure to check it out!
Swing Above The Clouds at Mount Lowe Peak
Distance: 3.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 295 feet
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Mount Lowe Peak, is (in my opinion), named after one of the greatest Californian innovators and entrepreneurs, Professor Thaddeus Lowe, and offers beautiful views ranging from the valley below to Catalina Island.
To the west you have the famous Mount Wilson Peak, home of the famous 100 inch Hooker telescope while San Gabriel Peak towers over you to the north. It’s an amazing place for a sunset.
The peak is known to boast a swing set on an old iron frame. Although they get continuously taken down, new ones are installed. This is how I verify a swing is currently there:
- On instagram, type in Mount Lowe and tap the “places” option
- Tap on Mount Lowe and then tap on the “recent” option
- If most people in the recent tab show the swing, that means it’s still there.
If the swing is not there, you can always take your own hammock and enjoy the sunset as you swing yourself to serenity.
Keep in mind Mount Lowe gets snow. If there has been recent snowfall, you may need to take microspikes or crampons. We use these right here.
Shoemaker Canyon Road: Nuclear Escape Tunnels
Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1404 feet
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During the cold war, Los Angelinos were worried about a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union, and rightfully so.
To prepare for such a doomsday, the city began drilling two tunnels through the mountains with the intention of creating a faster route to Vegas. Unfortunately, the project was too costly and therefore abandoned.
However, like many abandoned structures in the mountains, these tunnels located near the popular Bridge to Nowhere, have become iconic hikes.
Shoemaker Canyon Road is a dirt road which begins in the East Fork of Azusa Canyon right above the famous prospecting river, San Gabriel. The breathtaking view from the road consists of Mount Baldy, the San Gabriel River, and Heaton Flats (where the secret Heaton mine is located).
Random corrals located to the side of the road were once used as bee farms for harvesting honey. There’s also multiple water drainages under the road which you can explore and get a closer look of the San Gabriel River.
The second tunnel marks the end of the journey for most. However, the road transitions into a single track and continues upward onto Rattlesnake Peak, for those seeking a more challenging destination.
In my opinion, the East Fork has some of the most concentrated and rich history of the Angeles National Forest. Abandoned projects, mines, and hidden gems are located here. Shoemaker Canyon Road is undoubtedly, a special part of this history.
Fall Creek Falls Bonus
Distance: 4.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 941 feet
Read Full Post: To access this post (and all the hidden gems) you must create an account. We do this to reduce the number of people visiting the secret spots.
I promised you a secret hike, and I intend to deliver. Few people have seen this place because whoever uploaded it on All Trails gave it both the wrong name and incorrect location, so be sure to check it out before it blows up!
Wear long sleeve pants and shirt for this hike as there is quite a bit of poison oak in the canyon. I got a tick in my right ear during on my last visit, so bug repellent would also be a good idea!
A massive 200 foot 4 tiered waterfall secretly calls Big Tujunga it’s home. The beginning of the hike consists of a dirt road with amazing views of surrounding mountain ranges and a small 10 foot waterfall off the side of the road (depending on the creek’s water level).
About halfway through the hike, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the entire waterfall (all four tiers). It’s almost unbelievable that something like this exists so close to LA.
Toward the end of the hike, the road quickly descends onto the canyon floor where the overgrown trail will lead you to the base of the falls. Even the bottom tier is a good 40 feet high. Follow the direction of the water in the creek. You can’t miss the falls.
If you pay close attention to the area, you can see remnants of the California ranching and agriculture era that occurred here during the 1800’s. Iron pipes which were used to tap water from the creeks lay rusted throughout these canyons.
You’ll more than likely have the waterfall to yourself, so enjoy it. Stay in the present, notice the sound of running water, the birds chirping, the warm sun hitting your skin. Life is an adventure, don’t let it pass you by!
There you have it. These hikes are, in my opinion, some of the most interesting trails in LA. There’s literally hundreds to choose from, so narrowing it down to only 5 isn’t very feasible. But, I think that, at the very least, I have provided you with a good starting point. Get out there and explore!
How to Prepare For LA Hikes
Just because the city is so close doesn’t mean the mountains are a safe walk in the park.
The Angeles Forest is known for being very dry and hot, with its precipitous cliffs creating tough terrain to navigate. In other words, it can be a very unforgiving place and many people have tragically lost their lives.
However, if you’re well prepared, there is very little to worry about. I’ll tell you exactly what you need to take on all of these hikes so you can have a blast.
I like to use the All Trails App to see where I’m at in real time on the GPS. I highly suggest it as it’s free to use. You can download it:
If I’m going on a hike that’s lesser known or very long, I like to take a hardcopy of a map. You never know when you may need it and it could save your life!
I love the Tom Harrison maps, which you can find here. I’ve been using them my whole life, but any hardcopy map will do.
If possible, take shoes specifically for hiking as they have much more traction than the average shoe. Preferably, take hiking BOOTS. Boots have ankle support which prevent you from rolling your ankle.
Running shoes have no ankle support and very little traction, so I always tell people not to use them for hiking. I once saw a woman slip and break her finger in Azusa Canyon. Play it safe.
If you have a short hike planned (under 4 miles) you can get away with lower budget hiking boots from Big 5. However, once you start hiking longer trails I strongly suggest investing in high quality boots. They provide more comfort, resulting in a more pleasant hike.
I use the Men’s Merrel Moab 2 Vent because they’re super lightweight and allow for extra ventilation in our hot Southern CA conditions, but any pair of hiking boots will be fine.
When it comes to water, better safe than sorry is always the goal. The general rule of thumb is to take 1 liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking.
So, if you’re hiking for 4 hours, you’d pack 2 liters of water.
Also, I would avoid metallic hydro flasks on long hikes. Trust me, after 4 hours of hiking, the weight will make a difference. Take a plastic hydro flask instead.
Hiking hats have mesh that allow them to breathe easily, but any thin hat with a brim will do. If your skin is sensitive to sunlight, take sunscreen.
Dad hats are the most common types of hats I see out on the trails for both men and women.
You don’t need any type of fancy clothes for hiking. Simply keep in mind the material of the clothes you decide to wear.
For example, cotton is one of the worst materials to use for hiking because it absorbs your sweat and can make you hotter in hot weather and colder in cold weather.
Instead, dive into your closet and look for clothes made out of the following materials:
- Merino Wool
These materials will keep you much more comfortable throughout your hike.
I use Columbia cargo pants specifically for hiking, which you can find here. They’re extremely light, ventilate well, and do not absorb my sweat. However, any shorts or pants made out of the aforementioned materials will be more than enough. The same goes for shirts.