It’s always a good time for a hike in Los Angeles…but winter is the best time of all. That’s when we get the most rain all year, and with those rains the greatest wonders of many hikes reveal themselves.
Dry creek beds become babbling streams, waterfalls gush forth mightily where they once were an afterthought, and dry hillsides explode stunningly—and briefly—with shocks of colored flowers. Even the panoramic views are best right after a healthy rain clears the skies.
So let other cities bundle up inside—winter is our time to see the sights. Just wait a couple days after the rain for the ground to try a bit and the greenery to emerge.
In 1970, this Griffith Park hillside was scorched by wildfire—until Iranian-American Amir Dialameh, a wine merchant with a passionate connection to the hiking trails in our local urban wilderness, replanted the blackened land with a lush assortment of tropical plants, hand-hauled there himself. It’s been lovingly kept up by volunteers in the decade since Dialameh’s passing, offering an oasislike rest stop for longer (and dustier) hikes in the park.
Mineral Wells Road and Griffith Park Drive, Los Angeles
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST
Where Highway 2 turns into the Angeles Crest Scenic Byway—just 20 minutes north of downtown—lies the stunning, winding wilderness of the Angeles National Forest, as beautiful flying by outside your car window as it is traversing its trails or camping by its creeks. There’s hiking for all levels, from the lush creekside stroll and Switzer Falls to the chaparral of Devil’s Canyon and the soaring summit of Mt. Baldy. An adventure pass is required to park in most areas.
BRONSON CAVE TRAIL
Also known as the Batcave for its role as the entrance to Batman’s secret lair in the 1960s TV show, Bronson Cave is easy to explore. The cave itself is actually just a short tunnel, and the hike up to it is an undemanding 2/3-mile round trip, with little elevation change. Not the most secluded spot to keep the Joker at bay, perhaps, but it makes this popular filming spot plenty accessible for Bat-fans young and old.
3200 Canyon Drive, Los Angeles
Hike amid history, beginning at Cobb Estate in Altadena, the site of an early-20th-century lumber magnate’s mansion that was once owned by the Marx Brothers. Head up a hearty 2.5-mile incline on the Lower Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain, where the memory of White City—an exquisite turn-of-the-century mountaintop resort in the Angeles National Forest formerly accessible by an open-air trolley that scaled a 1,400-elevation gain, before all were lost to wildfire—is installed with plaques and ruins. City views abound.
Lake and East Loma Alta Drive, Altadena
EATON CANYON TRAIL
The main draw of the 3.5-mile round-trip Eaton Canyon Trail is Eaton Canyon Falls, a 40-foot waterfall and pool nestled into the San Gabriel Mountains at the top of the hike. Even if you don’t plan to take a dip, the creek bed you traverse for the last stretch can be flowing if it has rained, so take it slow and prepare to get your feet a little wet.
1999 Veranada Avenue, Pasadena
ELYSIAN PARK TRAIL
This alternately dry and lush trail (the century-old irrigation project that supported exotic plants in the area now works only in some places) offers excellent views and a quiet respite on the east side of the city. Catch views of the downtown L.A. skyline through the eucalyptus groves or, further north, the sprawl of the valley. There’s even a picturesque swing on a secluded crest in the trail, but take care—the path getting there, and the swing itself, can be a touch precarious.
1025 Elysian Park Drive, Los Angeles
ERNEST E. DEBS REGIONAL PARK
Ernest E. Debs Regional Park has miles of hiking trails to immerse yourself in nature in northeast Los Angeles. Take a loop around the secluded Debs Lake, or snag a pair of binoculars from the park’s Audubon Center and foster your inner ornithologist as you try to catch a glimpse of the many birds that dot the hiking trails. If you stay right as the sun begins to set, you’ll catch what seem to be all the ravens in the city, which flock here to gossip before nightfall.
4235 Monterey Road, Los Angeles
RUNYON CANYON PARK
Situated just above the hustle and bustle of some of L.A.’s busiest stretches, Runyon provides a quick, easy, and stunningly scenic escape from Hollywood’s urban corridors. Loops of varying difficulty offer something for everyone, and there are even off-leash areas for your fellow canine adventurers. For the best combination of views and convenience, nothing matches Runyon Canyon. It’s the go-to for the fitness set.
2000 North Fuller Avenue, Los Angeles
SOLSTICE CANYON LOOP TRAIL
A shaded, winding trail that leisurely leads to a waterfall and the wildfire-made ruins of former mansions; it will remind you of both California’s native beauty and its dangerous cycles. There’s much to see in this short 3.2-mile loop, but beware of the small parking lot on weekends, which gets crammed.
Corral Canyon Road and Solstice Canyon Road, Malibu
SWITZER FALLS/GABRIELINO TRAIL
This is the waterfall hike in the San Gabriels, where a refreshing, shaded creek bed trail leads to a (if winter rain permits) swimming hole and springtime waterfall of 14 feet. At just about 3.5 miles round trip, this is more of a scenic walk than a rigorous workout. Adventure pass required to park in the day-use area.
701 Angeles Crest Highway, Tujunga