Hiking is not only an excellent form of exercise; it’s also a peaceful and enlightening way to see all the beauty nature has to offer. Some people choose to backpack across the world to satisfy their craving for adventure and natural beauty, but if you live in Southern California, you don’t even need to leave the state to check out some of nature’s most gorgeous masterpieces!
Check out this list of the best hiking spots in Southern California and add some exciting and historic new trails to your repertoire!
Located at Joshua Tree, the Ryan Mountain Trail is a popular 3-mile hike that offers some excellent scenic views and demands decent physical fitness due to its lack of shade and steep elevation change of 1,069 feet. At the highest point, expect to see rare rock formations, trees, and the ruins of ranches and mines.
This hike is great for those visiting Joshua Tree for the first time since you get a full overview of the landscape. Due to the high summer heats, avoid hiking up Ryan Mountain from June to September. Hike up during the spring for an abundance of wildflowers!
Located near Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is one of the most beautiful looping hikes in Southern California with relatively little incline and a total of 3.2 miles. This semi-shaded trail features a lush canyon and a small waterfall reminiscent of a tropical rain forest!
Aside from the nature views, the ruins of Roberts Ranch House are somewhat visible within the canyon beneath a bed of flora. The house, originally designed by Paul Williams in 1952, was burned down by wildfires in the 80’s.
This historical 10-mile hike down the East Fork of the San Gabriel River follows the path of an unfinished highway that was initially supposed to run straight through the mountains. This hike is definitely on the challenging side due to its 900-foot elevation gain and relatively long length.
Despite its difficulty, the Bridge to Nowhere hike features some of the most beautiful natural sites in Southern California, including river crossings, tunnels, swimming holes, enchanting meadows, and, of course, the bridge itself, which stands 120 feet high in the middle of a canyon. The more daring adventurers can even bungee jump off this daunting bridge!
Definitely the best-known waterfall hike in the Los Angeles area, this 4.5-mile trail offers a babbling creek in a wooded canyon, near-constant shade, some beautiful shrubbery and scenic views, and a 50-foot waterfall just 20 miles from the city. And, if you hike this trail in the spring, you’ll have the opportunity to take a dip in the swimming hole!
This trail, which is ideal for all skill levels, is a 1.7-mile loop located near Twentynine Palms that features gorgeous wildflowers and a giant rock that looks like a skull. The rock was formed by raindrops slowly eroding the granite over time in the shape of two hollowed-out eye sockets.
Skull Rock is a must-see for park visitors, and the trail can be accessed from the entrance to Jumbo Rocks Campground or inside the campground across from the amphitheater.
Although a bit challenging, this trail rewards you with three large waterfalls that cascade into beautifully clear swimming holes! At a total of 4.5 miles and a 1,000-foot elevation gain, the first half of the hike is all downhill until you reach the falls. Watch your step once you reach the water, and enjoy the sun, views, and swimming opportunity because the climb back is going to be hard work.
While you’re enjoying the Three Sisters Falls, you can hike up to the third waterfall and watch the waterfalls peacefully cascading beneath you as an added bonus.
This beautiful beach-side trail is a simple 1.25-mile scenic route along the golden cliffs of Torrey Pines. Located just north of La Jolla, this unique trail offers 2,000 acres of coastal views, desert flora and fauna, as well as the extremely rare Torrey Pine Tree.
Yucca Point Trail has beach access, which makes it one of the most popular hikes in San Diego. Avoid the crowds by arriving early, and park on the street to avoid any parking fees!
Another challenging yet highly rewarding trail, Cowles Mountain is the highest point in all of San Diego at 1,593 feet. Once you reach the top of the trail, you’ll even see Mexico to the south and the ocean to the west.
At a total of 2.9 miles and a 912-foot elevation gain, Cowles Mountain Trail offers a great workout for individuals of all fitness levels as well as the most beautiful views in San Diego!
Located at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach, the El Moro Canyon Loop Trail is a 5-mile hike that offers unparalleled views of 24,000 acres of wilderness and the coast.
This trail is on the moderate side with some steep inclines on the way up to the top that are accompanied by colorful wildflowers, grassy hills, oak trees, willow trees, and the occasional glimpse at the ocean. Watch out for rattlesnakes that like to hide in the shrubbery!
Once you’ve climbed back down, lay out under the sun or enjoy the refreshing waters at Crystal Cove State Beach, where you can also explore some nearby tide pools and coves.
More commonly known to locals as the “Hollywood sign hike,” this popular 6.5-mile trail is located at Griffith Park and takes you up a steady climb behind the Hollywood sign on the peak of Mount Lee.
This moderate trail reaches an elevation of 1,050 feet and offers sprawling views of Los Angeles all around you. At the top of the mountain, you’ll behold the beautifully distant Griffith Observatory, Lake Hollywood Reservoir, Dodger Stadium, the Santa Monica Mountains, and, of course, the back of the Hollywood sign where you’ll snap your next Instagram post!
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