Red tape and permits: the guides listed should direct you to what you need and if dogs are allowed etc. Most just need the $5 adventure pass from the parks service from any ranger station while a few are free. $30 gets you a year for ALL hikes in SoCal. A few of the peaks require you to fill out a no fee trip report at a ranger station. Basically so they know if there's extra cars at the trailheads someone is stuck up there. Whitney is a whole other deal.
Also if you do bring dogs, know what you're doing. They overheat and burn themselves out faster than you.
So you want to start hiking...
-Cowels mountain: Pay no attention to the people zooming by you who look like this is their morning jog. Bring a headlamp and do it at night. A 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.
-Solstice Canyon: The trail to the ruins of the Tropical Terrace House in Solstice Canyon can be reached via a 3.2 mile round trip path along a creekbed that's almost completely shaded. There is often a stream running alongside the house that will also help cool you off. Family and dog-friendly (on leash).
-Franklin Canyon Reservoir Loop: An easy 1.4 mile stroll around the reservoir, this loop has lots of trees - along with plenty of birds and other wildlife. In addition to being close to many areas of the Westside of Los Angeles, this park is also dog-friendly (on leash) and features several other tails if you're feeling energetic (and a visitor center if you want to retreat indoors). Just make sure you keep an eye out for their notorious stop-sign cameras.
-Palomar Mountain: There's a lot to hike in Palomar Mountain State Park but the Doane Valley Nature Trail really hits the spot in the summer months. Beautiful sylvan scenery, a popular campground, and the gurgling sounds of Pauma Creek all make this loop a welcome retreat in northern San Diego County.
-Big Laguna Trail: Jeffrey pines and Black oaks provide ample shade on this route on the Big Laguna and Pacific Crest Trails. A great hike in any season, if you wake up early enough it's also a spectacular place to catch the sun rising over the Anza-Borrego Desert.
-Mount Woodson (aka Potato Chip Rock): Now you finally get to wait in line for the photo every freaking person in San Diego has on Facebook. Bring plenty of water. Go before the sun gets hot. Massive crowds though. Only worth it to say you did it.
-PCT by Mt Laguna: Breathtakingly gorgeous views of the desert floor from the cool air of 5000ft. Spend the drive here getting run off the road by motorcycle and sport car clubs. First hike without throngs of people so enjoy the solitude.
-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.
-Munit's Cave aka Shaman's Cave:
-Wind Wolves Preserve:
-Wildwood Regional Park: Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks packs a shockingly diverse landscape into its 1,765 acres. There are sweeping grasslands, prominent ridges and peaks like Lizard Rock, the beautiful year-round Paradise Falls and its oak and sycamore-lined riparian canyon, and even some unusual eroded rock formations like Indian Cave. The park is home to seven different plant communities and more than 250 species of plants, 60 species of birds, 37 species of mammals, and 22 species of amphibians and reptiles. Without hyperbole, this is one of the most fascinating regional parks in the L.A. area.
-Cahuenga Peak Trail and Wisdom Tree:
-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.
-Torrey Pines State Reserve: 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
That seemed fun, what else is there?"
You've finally bought those trails shoes and are getting really fucking annoying talking about your new hobby. These require more of a drive.
-Eagle Rock: The only hike to a named rock that doesn't require extreme squinting to see the animal. Detour through Julian on the way back for some motherf*cking apple pie.
-Tahquitz Peak: A nice little primer before you start hitting the major SOCAL peaks. Also a good beginner snow hike in winter.
-Santiago Peak: The OC's highest point. Great views of the ocean.....if there's no smog or clouds.
-Cucamonga Peak: Another in the "beginner guide to hiking mountains" series. Less crowds than Baldy.
-Bridge to Nowhere: Pros: not uphill, you get to hike in a creek. Cons: The canyon is crazy hot in summer.
-Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak: 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.
-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.
-Nike Missile Site: Pros include a cool hike north of Santa Monica to an old Cold War surface to air missile base. Cons include traffic on the 805.
-Mt Baldy: The classic SOCAL must hike. Enjoy such lovely sights as "group of teenagers listening to shitty music on a speaker" or "dude who is wearing jeans and only brought a single 16 oz bottle of water." And last but not least "that 73 year old Asian woman who is moving way faster than everyone else." Be careful not to take the wrong trail down, you'll end up miles from your car. Better to go in late fall to avoid the crowds. Another good beginner winter hike. First of the three big peaks in Southern California.
These are best done in early spring or after a big rainstorm. Otherwise you get to look at dry, uninteresting rocks. Unless your a geologist that doesn't sound fun.
-Cedar Creek Falls: This hike had a reputation for loud, binge drinking idiots but its gotten slightly better since the parks service started policing it. Bring water, go when its cool and remember you have to hike back up on the return.
-Sturtevant Falls: 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.
-Malibu Creek: There are plenty of hikes to choose from in Malibu Creek State Park – from easy strolls to leg-busting full day loops. Go as far as you’d like on this route through the old ranch buildings and movie sets in Malibu Canyon. And take a dip in Malibu Creek itself or wade into the Rock Pool or the reservoir above Century Dam to drop that internal thermometer a few degrees.
-Santa Anita Canyon: The year-round flow of Santa Anita Wash and Winter Creek provide wonderfully cool natural air conditioners near Sturtevant Falls and Hermit Falls. Even if the water is low from dry winters, the canyon directly above Sturtevant Falls is one of the most beautiful, lushly shaded places you’ll find in the San Gabriels. Easy hike. Can get crowded.
-Switzer Falls: The short and simple hike to Switzer Falls is a favorite for Angelenos. The trail is almost completely shaded, has plenty of barbecue pits for family picnics, and can take you right to the base of lovely Switzer Falls with a little effort. Reports have said that the Falls themselves are just a trickle right now due to the drought, but when we have water it’s a great place to cool off (and go swimming if you scramble above the falls!). The devastating Station Fire burned most of the surrounding area but thankfully left most of the vegetation in the canyon intact, so it’s still a great place to find shade. More adventurous hikers can continue down Bear Canyon, although some areas of the trail there are thick with debris.
-Los Peñasquitos Canyon: Although it’s technically inside San Diego, Los Peñasquitos Canyon seems a world away. This year-round creek and thick riparian wilderness is tucked directly within the North County sprawl and is a fantastic place to cool down while still getting exercise. Take an easy hike to idyllic Carson’s Crossing or go slightly further to scramble around a series of two waterfalls
-Lewis Falls: Do some other hike around here too, this one is only a mile long.
-Escondido Canyon Falls:
-Ranchos Palos Verdes Shipwreck Hike:
-Echo Mountain Ruins:
-Big Horn Mine:
-Griffith Park Abandonded Zoo:
The Desert Hikes
Enjoy the fresh desert air and a clean healthy hike. Or do hallucinogens like all the other damn hippies that come out here.
Go in winter. However much water you think you need, add a Liter to that. If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated. That said these (especially Anza Borrego) are hidden gems.*
-Calcimite Mine: The pictures don't do this justice, this is slot canyoning to rival anything in Utah. Some nice offroading if you have a Jeep too. The whole area is a web of canyons so if you trust your sense of direction you can explore a bit...or you get lost and die.
-Kelso Dunes: 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.
-The Rings 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.
-Split Mountain and Wind Caves: see more slot canyons, caves formed by wind alone and fossilized scallops. Cool hike.
-West Butte Borrego Mountain: More awesome views and slot canyons.
anything in Joshua Tree NP: The whole park is beautiful and worth it if you're in the Palm Springs area. I'm not going to list anything here other than put it on your bucket list.
Trails? Where we are going, we won't need trails. (Easy off trail bushwhacking and light scrambling.)
-Mount Baldy via Iron Mountain traverse: I want to emphasize this is a very hard hike that requires you to shuttle cars since you end the hike at a different trail head. This hike is only here for organizational purposes and should be done later.
"You know, I think I should plan a Mt Whitney trip later this year..."
-Badel-Powell: This one probably should go in the intermediate section.
-Throop Peak and Mount Hawkins: This moderate trail in the heart of the high San Gabriels is a wonderful introduction to this part of the mountains. A beautiful trail to Throop Peak winds through thick forests (and some burned ones, too) before delivering fantastic vistas. Adventurous hikers can string together trips to Mount Hawkins, Mount Islip, South Mount Hawkins, or even our next mountain …
-San Bernadino Peak: Another of the hidden gems that no one seems to do unless they're doing "the six pack." They are missing out, this one is worth it.
-San Gorgonio via Fish Creek: Most people do the harder route up vivian creek (don't worry that's later). But this one has you go by a crashed WWII aircraft.
-Backpacking in San Gorgonio: A good primer to sleeping in the woods. This is a 2 day trip.
-San Jacinto via the Tram: John Muir himself called this one of the best views. But you're a wuss and get to take a Swiss engineered tram car most of the way. If you're on a Mt Whitney training workup, enjoy the easy hike. It only gets worse.
The Hard Ones
Blisters, and a bit of self flagellation. They're also pretty much mandatory if you want to get up Whitney in a day so....
-San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek: A glute burning, steep climb. "Its around the same altitude gain as the Whitney trail," is something you can say to console yourself. But try not to remember Whitney is 4 miles longer and has less oxygen.
-Cactus to Clouds: 10400 feet of altitude gain in 23 miles. And you're going uphill for 3/4ths of it. Rated one of the hardest day hikes in the US. Should only be done in winter or veeeery early spring. On the plus side, you're supposed to buy a pass to take the tram down, but they've never asked.
-Mount Whitney: Highest point in the lower 48 and all around breathtaking hike. You should get there a day early, maybe acclimatize at a hike by Mount Langley or to Lone Pine Lake. Or you can do what I did and just drive up from San Diego after work, get to the trail head at 10:30pm, and not sleep at all, and then start hiking at midnight.
Don't do what I did.
-The 9 Peak Challenge: The only one I've not done on the list but it seems cool so I'll put it on the board.