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Top Ten Hiking Trails in Southern California

Through writing my blog, I have had the unique opportunity to be often asked, “What are the top places to hike in Southern California?” While this is a tough question answer, it is pretty easy for me to narrow down my current favorites to a list of ten. That being said, California has a ton to offer the hiker, and even though I have been hiking here for years, I am sure there are others that will be added to this list as I have the time to discover them. So in no particular order here are my ten favorite hikes in Southern California.

The Hollywood Sign

Hollywood Sign Hike by Josh McNair

Nothing says California like a trip up to its quintessential landmark, the Hollywood Sign. This hike will take you through the Hollywood Hills, past the old Batcave from 60′s TV and up behind the Hollywood Sign. You can’t get any closer than 30 feet to the sign but it is really amazing to see a part of history like this close up and to get views of Los Angeles with the sign in front of the city instead of behind it.

Devil’s Punchbowl

Devil's Punchbowl by Josh McNair

On the other side of Mt Baldy, in a little town known as Pearblossom, there is a park that was rocked by the movement of the Earth thousands of years ago called Devil’s Punchbowl. The landscape has rocks that seem to jut up from something pushing them from underneath and provide a rare beauty that looks out-of-place next to the surrounding desert. The rocks can be climbed or just enjoyed, depending on your preference, but it makes for a unique place to spend an afternoon with plenty of additional hiking trails.

Mt. Baldy

Mt. Baldy by Josh McNair

There truly are some great summits in Southern California like San Gorgonio and Cucamonga Peak, but for me it doesn’t get better then Mt. Baldy. For the people only wanting the experience, you can take the tram to the top and walk the 8 miles round trip to the summit; however, for the hardcore you can take the Ski Hut Trail, that while only 8 miles, will take you up and back over 4,000 feet of elevation, a true grind. The view from the summit is second to none as well. A must hike in Southern California.

Sturtevant Falls

Sturtevant Falls by Josh McNair

I love this hike because it is as easy or as hard as you make it. 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 well, as there is a pristine stream that runs along side the trail and lots of little cabins along the way. The waterfall at the end is amazing and really is icing on the cake of a beautiful hike.

The Slot in Anza Borrego

The Slot in Anza Borrego by Josh McNair

This is one of the stranger hikes in California, which makes it one of the more memorable. Located in the often overlooked beauty of 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.

Barker Dam in Joshua Tree

Barker Dam by Josh McNair

Barker Dam is one of the easier 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.

Bridge to Nowhere

Bridge to Nowhere by Josh McNair

One of the most popular hikes in Southern California, this hike to the famous bridge will take you 5 miles back and across multiple river crossings, to reach a bridge that was seemingly built-in the middle of nowhere. This bridge was actually part of a road at one point in time, but now since the road has washed away it is just a bridge all by itself. Oh yea, and you can bungee jump off of it! A great hike for the summer as you are bound to get wet.

Escondido Falls

Escondido Falls by Josh McNair

This hike is located right off Pacific Coast Highway, near the beautiful Point Dume. Escondido Falls Hike is a four mile trek that takes you to the three tiers of Escondido Falls. The first tier is beautiful, but if you can make it to the third you are in for a treat. The third tier drops over 100 feet and has a moss-covered exterior that is truly beautiful and almost impossible to full take a picture of. Be warned it requires some risky climbing to get to the third tier so do not attempt if you think you cannot make it.

San Jacinto from the Tram

San Jacinto by Josh McNair

Located only miles from Palm Springs, San Jacinto tops out at over 10,000 feet like Mt. Baldy. What makes this hike epic is that you get to ride the Palm Springs Tram up 8,000 feet before you hike from the drop off point to the summit 6 miles away. You may think this hike is easy because of the tram but it is still a difficult hike at high elevation so make sure you bring a lot of water. If you are not up to push to the summit there are also a lot of beautiful things to see just walking around the many loop trails that start from the tram drop off.

Cowles Mountain

Cowles Mountain by Josh McNair

Cowles Mountain in San Diego is not a super unique hike compared to other hikes on this list but it is one of the 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 unparrelled 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. All of this makes it a great hikes that fits on the list.

So there you have it, my favorite hikes in Southern California. Now it is your turn. What did I leave off that you think should be on the list? Leave it in the comments.

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of OutdoorHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
  • blazing saddle

    dude thanks for just making my next trip to cali way better.