Although less mountainous and more densely populated than the Bay Area, SoCal offers lots of natural beauty. Read on for 10 of the best hikes in southern California.
The most important thing to remember as you’re out enjoying the best hikes in southern California is to be a responsible, eco-friendly hiker. That means:
- Pack out what you pack in. Never leave litter behind, even if you think it will biodegrade. This includes plastic wrappers, orange peels and hygiene products. It’s not a good idea to leave anything behind that could get in the way of wildlife.
- Follow the rules. Pay attention to signage and any park rangers’ instructions. Rules are in place to keep you and the natural environment in good shape.
- Respect the environment. Refrain from taking home keepsakes, respect animal habitats, don’t feed the animals and make sure not to cut through unmarked areas — it leads to sediment erosion.
Tip: Learn to identify the California native plants you might encounter on your visit.
Now, here are the 10 best hikes in southern California.
1. Sam Merrill Trail
The first on our list of best hikes in southern California, Sam Merrill Trail is a 5.4-mile out-and-back hike located in the Angeles National Forest, near Altadena. Though moderately challenging, this hike is popular year-round. Try hiking during the week to avoid bumping into lots of people. Dogs are welcome on a leash!
Get to the trailhead by taking the L Line Metro toward APU/Citrus College Station. Get off at Del Mar and take the 660 bus to Fair Oaks/Wapello. From there, it’s just a 20-minute walk east to the trailhead down E Loma Alta Drive.
2. Best Hikes in Southern California: Ryan Mountain Trail
This three-mile out-and-back trail is located in the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park. The trek leads up to the summit of Ryan Mountain, offering beautiful views of the western half of the park as well as stunning rock formations.
This trail is only accessible by car. The parking lot is located right at the trailhead, along with a toilet if needed.
3. Corral Canyon Loop
Find the Coral Canyon Loop Trail near Malibu, within the Santa Monica Mountains. This 2.5-mile trail is relatively easy and takes just over an hour to complete. Check it out for some beautiful ocean views and panoramic overlooks of LA County — gorgeous views placing it firmly on the list of best hikes in southern California.
The trail starts at Sara Wan Trailhead and is easily accessible by LA public transport. Simply take the 534 bus and get off at PCH/Corral Creek Bridge. The trail starts right there!
4. Charlie Turner Trail
Charlie Turner Trail is a popular, easy hike known for its view of the Hollywood Sign. This three-mile loop takes the average person less than an hour and a half to complete. The out-and-back hike goes up to Mount Hollywood Summit, the highest peak in Griffith Park.
The Charlie Turner Trailhead is only accessible by car. You can park on Observatory Road, or pay for parking at the Griffith Observatory parking lot.
5. Best Hikes in Southern California: Los Liones Canyon Trail
This seven-mile out-and-back trail includes over one and a half thousand feet of elevation gain, providing a great lower body workout. Los Liones Canyon Trail is nestled within Topanga State Park, overlooking Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica. It’s popular for bird-watchers and hikers alike, although dogs are not permitted.
Access the trailhead by taking the E Line Metro to Downtown Santa Monica and then hopping on the 534 bus toward Malibu. Get off at PCH/Sunset and walk 25 minutes to warm up for your trek.
6. Black Mountain Trail
Black Mountain Trail is an out-and-back trail within the San Bernadino National Forest This trek is almost nine miles long and covers almost three thousand feet of elevation. It’s a fairly challenging hike, recommended only for skilled hikers.
Dogs are welcome to join you. The trailhead is accessible by car.
7. Tar Pits and Carpinteria Bluffs Loop
Find the Tar Pits and Carpinteria Bluffs Loop along the cliffs of Carpinteria. This beautiful trail in Southern California offers scenic ocean views, glimpses of the Channel Islands, and a coastal marsh. You’ll likely see lots of seals as well. Dogs are welcome on leashes.
The trailhead is relatively easy to access by public transport. We recommend taking Bus 20 and getting off at Carpinteria & Bailard. It’s less than a 1-minute walk to the Bluffs from there.
8. Solstice Canyon Loop
A moderately difficult outing, the Solstice Canyon Loop lies in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu. Head to the area for some hilly walking, ocean and landscape view unobstructed by much vegetation and enjoy one of the best hikes in SoCal. The average hiker will need about an hour and a half to complete the three miles. Keep in mind there is about 650 ft in elevation gain.
The trailhead is less than a 20-minute walk from the PCH/Corral Canyon stop on the 534 bus.
9. Best Hikes in Southern California: Inspiration Point Trail
Inspiration Point Trail is an out-and-back trail covering parts of Tunnel Trail and Jesusita Trail. One of the best hikes in southern California, it is moderately difficult, covering 3.5 miles and just under 1000 ft in elevation gain. The summit offers panoramic views of the ocean, Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Mountains, and the Channel Islands.
Take a car to the Tunnel Trail trailhead and start there.
10. Annie’s Canyon Trail
A short and easy loop trail, at just 1.5 miles long, Annie’s Canyon Trail is located in the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve near Solana Beach. It’s popular for trail running, hiking and dog-walking.
Access the trailhead easily by taking the 101 La Jolla VA/UTC bus to Highway 101 & Solana Vista Drive. From there, it’s just a 15-minute walk.
After enjoying the best hikes in southern California, check out other things to do and see in the area:
- Where to See Redwoods in California: 7 Jaw-Dropping Sites
- San Francisco Bucket List: 10 Eco-Friendly Ideas
- The 8 Best State Parks in California for Stargazing, Hiking, Camping
- The 11 Most Epic Sequoia National Park Hikes
- 9 of the Best Vegan Restaurants in San Francisco
- Best Thrift Stores in San Francisco for Fashion, Antiques & Home Goods
- Hiking Near Houston: Best Hiking Trails to Check Out
- 5 Scenic Amtrak Routes You Need to Check Out
- Best Hiking on the East Coast: 7 Amazing Trails
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