Forget Runyon Canyon: Try These 10 Secret Hikes in LA Instead
From secret waterfalls to old mines and sandstone formations, there are plenty of ways to break a sweat while taking in the city’s greatest sights.
When it comes to hiking in LA, Runyon and Griffith are household names. But if you’re willing to put in a little effort, Los Angeles has a wealth of under-the-radar trails just waiting to be explored—and we’ve unearthed 10 of the best. Scattered across our the Santa Monica mountains, canyons, and forests and as far as Santa Barbara and Ventura County, these awe-inspiring nature excursions will treat you to dramatic sandstone formations, abandoned Nazi compounds, swimming holes, and of course, jaw-dropping views. Keep reading for LA’s most rewarding treks, from easy, family-friendly outings to more challenging ascents for experienced hikers.
Distance: 1.2 miles
This trail, which connects the Mugu Lagoon tidelands with the La Jolla Valley, is the best way to appreciate the beautiful area that the Chumash people once called home. Make sure you’re properly outfitted with good hiking shoes to brave the steep shoulders of Mugu Peak. Keep pushing and you’ll find a scenic reward at the top: sweeping views of the stunning Ventura and Santa Barbara County coastlines, Santa Monica Mountains, and the Channel Islands.
Distance: 3.9 miles
Also known as the Tree of Life or Magic Tree, the Wisdom Tree is one of the only trees to survive wildfires in 2007. Now hikers make pilgrimages to this beautiful lone pine that stands high up on Cahuenga Peak, just west of the Hollywood sign. Once you’ve completed the challenging incline, you’ll find a trunk at the base of this renowned LA landmark. It’s filled with journals that contain hundreds of messages—from positive notes to letters, dreams, and wishes—so be sure to pen your own before leaving.
Distance: 2 miles
A quick out-and-back two-miler in the Santa Monica Mountains, this kid-friendly trek leads to a graffiti-covered cement platform that once served as a fire lookout point. Now it offers up a vibrant backdrop worthy of your Instagram photos—particularly during sunrise when it appears as if you’re floating above a sea of clouds. The best part? No two visits will ever be the same—not if the graffiti artists who display their colorful work here have anything to say about it! Look out for the entrance after the intersection of Saddle Peak and Stunt Roads.
Distance: 2.6 miles
For a Joshua Tree alternative that’s much closer and less trafficked, head to the 932-acre Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park—named after notorious bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who used the rocks as a hideout in 1874. Although the park has several easy-to-moderate hikes throughout—ranging from this mellow 2.6-mile loop to slightly more strenuous trails—build in time to scramble around the park’s impressive geological wonders too. Sculpted by wind and water, the spectacular sandstone formations are tilted at sharp angles, which create an awe-striking desert landscape.
Distance: 0.7 miles
Secret swings abound in Los Angeles (there’s even an Instagram account devoted to them!), but this one at Crystal Lake Trail boasts a view of the only naturally occurring lake in the San Gabriel Mountains. While it was originally named for its crystal-clear waters, today it’s not quite as pellucid—but no worries, you’re here for the swing (hint: it’s off the main road, hidden in the tree line 300 feet from the lake). If you’d prefer a leisurely expedition over a true hike, this trail is for you (plus, you can even camp in the area).
Distance: 4.4 miles
An easy, tree-shaded excursion that leads to a volcanic rock pool? Sign us up. This moderate hike—which has an icy-cold swimming hole and rock climbers scaling the cliff walls (a setting from 1968’s Planet of the Apes)—is picturesque all year round. Surrounded by craggy boulders and shrubbery, this oasis draws bigger crowds midday, so come early if you want more privacy (and don’t forget the sunscreen).
Distance: 2 miles (the entire Backbone Trail is actually 12.2 miles out and back)
One thousand acres of the Santa Monica Mountains make up the Corral Canyon loop, but take the segment of Loop Trail that leads you to Corral Canyon Cave, aka Morrison’s Cave, where Jim Morrison allegedly used to write. Although the entrance to the cave is now closed indefinitely due to graffiti-happy vandals, there’s an unexpected bonus of fewer visitors to this trail. Plus, you can still enjoy the zen rock spiral at the base of the cave formation left as a tribute to "The End" and Morrison.
Distance: 3.3 miles
Want some privacy on your urban hike? Sycamore Canyon in Whittier is still basically undiscovered, so you won't be crowded by tons of dog-walkers/yogis/dog-walking yogis. The trail’s mostly a cinch, save for a few uphill ascents that make you feel like you’re actually getting in a workout. With the occasional wildlife spotting and a stream that runs here all year long, it’s the perfect adventure for the whole family.
Distance: 3.4 miles
Perhaps the most-discussed of all these hikes, the Murphy Ranch Trail takes you through an abandoned Nazi compound nestled in the middle of the mountains. The dummies that thought Germany would win and take over America built a little sanctuary here, which is fairly awesome. Your inner Indiana Jones will geek out over engine parts, crumbled huts, and even an overturned '40s VW Bus nestled into the woods. A word of warning in case you plan on bringing a four-legged friend (or a four-year-old): This hike involves climbing up a pretty punishing set of stairs.
Distance: 3 miles
We’ve been fans of this place off the Pacific Coast Highway for years—thanks to its lovely waterfall and sweeping vistas—but what makes this loop hike truly unforgettable are the ruins of an abandoned mansion. Destroyed in a forest fire, the original foundation of Roberts Ranch House—along with an old bathtub, a bomb shelter, and ironically, several fireplaces—remains mostly intact and incredibly fun to survey.