Hiking the Los Angeles Coast

A U-M alum shares the best trails to hike the coast of Los Angeles.
By Adrian Arvizo, ’15

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Read time: 6 minutes
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The Southern California coast is well known for its great weather, and the mountainous terrain on LA’s coastline makes it the ideal location for year-round hiking. There’s no need to wake up before the sun rises to go hiking. Even on the warmest summer days, it rarely reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit where the Santa Monica Mountains reach the coast in the city of Pacific Palisades.

Safety Information

Keep in mind that even 75 F can feel quite warm when you’re hiking uphill and there’s no cloud cover. It’s important to cover all exposed skin with plenty of sunscreen. Wearing a hat and sunglasses can also help. Carrying water or a sports drink is a good idea if you plan to hike more than a couple of miles. Also, pay attention to signs at the trailheads because some trails may have poison oak and other elements to be aware of. Although rarely seen on the trails, rattlesnakes inhabit the Santa Monica Mountain region, so keep an eye on the trail in front of you.

Recommended Gear

Sunscreen
Hat
Sunglasses
Insulated water bottle

Best Trails

Temescal Canyon Trail

Trailhead and Parking

The main trailhead is in Temescal Gateway Park. The park entrance is at Sunset Boulevard and Temescal Canyon Road near downtown Pacific Palisades. The parking fee inside the park is $12 for the day. Alternatively, you can park on Sunset just east of Temescal Canyon for free, or on Temescal Canyon just south of Sunset for free. Parking in these free locations will add about half a mile to your hike.

Facilities

Two restroom facilities are available inside the park. One is at the parking lot on the left just past the park entrance. The main restroom is at the end of Temescal Canyon Road, beside the general store at the end of the paid parking area. Both bathrooms are equipped with soap and water.

Hike Overview

The route is a loop with two trailheads and starts at 400 feet of elevation. One trailhead is on the left, less than a hundred yards past the general store. The second is at the end of the paved road (Temescal Canyon), about a quarter mile past the store. The trail is nice in either direction.

If you start at the second trailhead, it is one mile to Temescal Canyon Falls. The waterfall is at 842 feet of elevation and is typically just a trickle unless it recently rained heavily. From there, it is half a mile to the Temescal Ridge Trail intersection. Keep left. A minute later there will be another intersection (Bienveneda Trail) with a viewpoint (Viewpoint at Temescal Ridge Trail on Google Maps). Keep left here for the standard route. Continue on the route for another quarter mile and you’ll arrive at the “Top of the Trail” viewpoint. Another three-quarters of a mile after that is another viewpoint (Viewpoint at Temescal Ridge Trail on Google Maps).

Viewpoint At Temescal Ridge
The Viewpoint at Temescal Ridge Trail

Continue for half a mile and you will end up at the trailhead by the main restroom. The total loop is just over three miles.

If you want to add an extra mile to the route, turn right at the first intersection (Temescal Ridge Trail) and head north a half-mile to Skull Rock, which is at an elevation of 1,452 feet.

Skull Rock
Skull Rock

Detailed Map

Will Rogers Inspiration Loop to the Lone Oak

Trailhead and Parking

This trail is in Will Rogers State Historic Park. The park entrance is at the end of Will Rogers State Park Road, which is off of Sunset Boulevard just one mile east of downtown Pacific Palisades. The parking fee inside the park is $12 for the day. A small amount of free street parking is available about a quarter-mile before the park entrance. You may also be able to find some free parking in the neighborhoods on the left just past this area.

Will Rogers Ranch House
Will Rogers Ranch House inside Will Rogers State Historic Park

Facilities

Restrooms with soap and water are available inside the park across from the polo field.

Hike Overview

The trailhead is just past the first parking lot inside the park and before the restrooms, at an elevation of 444 feet. Start heading up the trail and, after a minute or two, take a left at the first intersection. Continue for about three-quarters of a mile and the access to the very popular Inspiration Point viewing area will be on the right, at an elevation of 742 feet.

Inspiration Point
View from Inspiration Point

After taking in the view, head back to the main trail and continue for another mile to The Bridge. At an elevation of 1,100 feet, the view is even better than Inspiration Point.

The Bridge
View from just above The Bridge. Downtown LA is on the left and The Bridge is on the right.

At this point, you can head back down the same path for a three-and-a-half-mile round trip hike or you can continue to The Lone Oak, which is another 1.4 miles up the trail, at the intersection with the Backbone Trail. Take a left onto Backbone Trail and continue 0.37 miles to the first left, which will put you on High Point Trail. Head south on this trail for three-quarters of a mile and you’ll arrive at Goat Peak, which is at an elevation of 1,729 feet.

Goat Peak
View from Goat Peak

The trail becomes very steep downhill from this point and should only be attempted by experienced hikers. It is one-and-a-quarter miles south to the intersection with Rivas Canyon Trail and the elevation drops 1,000 feet over this distance. Turn left onto Rivas Canyon Trail and it will be another 1.7 miles until you’re back at the trailhead inside Will Rogers State Historic Park. The complete loop is seven-and-a-quarter miles. Some may find it easier to hike this loop in the opposite direction, with the steep section uphill rather than downhill.

Detailed Map

Los Leones Canyon Trail

Trailhead and Parking

The trailhead is at the end of Los Liones Drive, which is accessed from Sunset Boulevard just a quarter-mile from the Pacific Coast Highway. The trailhead starts at the gate with the overhead sign labeled “Los Leones Canyon.” There are three free parking lots near the trailhead and plenty of free street parking on Los Liones.

Facilities

Two restroom facilities with water (but not soap) are available near the parking lots. One is less than a tenth of a mile from the trailhead. The other is a quarter-mile from the trailhead.

Hike Overview

Once you go through the Los Leones Canyon gate (located at an elevation of 277 feet), continue straight on the trail for 1.1 miles and you’ll arrive at Paseo Miramar Viewpoint. At an elevation of 910 feet, you will have an exceptional view of Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, and the Pacific Ocean.

Continue on the trail up the hill for another two miles and you will see an intersection with a restroom. Stay left at the intersection and continue for half a mile to reach Parker Mesa Overlook, an elevation of 1,483 feet.

Parker Mesa Overlook
Parker Mesa Overlook

Once you’ve taken in the view, head back down the trail for a total seven-mile hike.

If you’re an experienced hiker and looking for a challenge, instead of doubling back, you can head down the southeast corner of Parker Mesa Overlook and continue on a very steep section of trail that leads back to the trailhead. This final leg is two miles, which results in a five-mile loop. Some may find it easier to do the loop in reverse, going uphill on the steep portion rather than downhill.

Detailed Map

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