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5 Hikes You Gotta Do Your First Year Living in Los Angeles (According to Modern Hiker)

August 31, 2015 by Brian Champlin

There are many trail guides and hiking blogs on the internet, but few more fully realized, detailed, and well-written as the content you’ll find on Modern Hiker.

Started way back in 2006 as a solo project by founder Casey Schreiner, Modern Hiker has been my go-to resource for finding in depth trail information about Los Angeles area hikes for as long as I’ve been researching and planning hikes for the We Like L.A. community.

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You may have heard that Modern Hiker is also currently in the midst raising funds for a redesign of the site aimed to expand their content beyond the western U.S. and drastically improve the search functionality of the hikes they’ve already catalogued.

[UPDATE: Congrats to Modern Hiker for raising over $30,000 for their new site. The campaign has now ended but we can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like!]

I know that for me personally I’ve gotten so much out of reading the site over the past few years that I was happy to throw down $20 of my own hard-earned cash to the cause.

And if you’re an avid reader of Casey’s site already, I strongly encourage you to give their fundraising campaign a look (and maybe donate too!).

Because of the timing of the Indiegogo campaign, I thought it was a great excuse to reach out to Casey and pick his brain on a topic that I believe will be relevant for many readers of We Like L.A.

A large portion of our readership is comprised of folks who have just moved to the city of angels (or are planning to in the near-future), and we wanted to provided a list that would answer the very basic question: If I want to do the best hikes around Los Angeles and I’m new to the area, where should I start?

To that end, Casey and I traded emails, chatted on the phone for awhile, and ultimately settled on the five trails below.

Each trail offer a distinct level of challenge and unique terrain that will give you wide-ranging appreciation for what our nearby geography has to offer, from water falls to historic trees, from the Santa Monica Mountains to the San Gabriels.

And if you’re able to conquer each of these hikes within your first year living in L.A., well, we think you’ll feel pretty accomplished.

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Hope you guys enjoy!

1. Sandstone Peak

Distance: 6.1 miles. Elevation gain: 1656 ft.

Sandstone Peak

Credit: Casey Schreiner / Modern Hiker

Casey’s take:

“Sandstone Peak – For my money, the best hike in Southern California. This wonderful introduction to the Santa Monica Mountains offers something different at all times of the year – and you’ll get to look out over the Channel Islands from the tallest peak in this coastal range.”

More information on Sandstone Peak hike

2. The Wisdom Tree & Cahuenga Peak

Distance: 3 miles (about half that if you only go to the tree and back). Elevation gain: 872 ft.

Just another day working on #welikela… #losangeles #wisdomtree #mydayinla

A photo posted by bchampla (@bchampla) on

Casey’s take:

“A lone and surprisingly prominent pine tree stands atop Burbank Peak, a tenacious survivor of a devastating wildfire. Today hikers share their thoughts sand prayers in an old ammunition box at its base and can continue their trek to nearby Cahuenga Peak and the back of the Hollywood Sign.”

More information on the Wisdom Tree hike

3. Santa Anita Canyon

Distance: 9.1 miles. Elevation gain: 1600 ft.

Santa Anita Canyon

Credit: Casey Schreiner / Modern Hiker

Casey’s take:

“Whether you want an easy, shaded hike to a beautiful waterfall or a longer trek through some of the most gorgeous canyon country in the San Gabriel Mountains, this canyon has something to offer. It also has a ton of history – the oldest U.S. Forest Service structure still in its original spot, the last remaining wilderness resort from L.A.’s “Great Hiking Era,” and one of the last operating pack mule stations in the country.”

More information on Santa Anita Canyon hike

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4. Jones Peak

Distance: 6.4 miles. Elevation gain: 2215 ft.

Jones Peak Bailey Canyon

Credit: Casey Schreiner / Modern Hiker

Casey’s take:

“One of the tougher trails on this list, this no-nonsense ascent of the front range peak above Sierra Madre offers a peaceful native oak grove, a fun scramble to the summit, and on clear days, some of the best views of the L.A. basin you’ll find.”

More information on Jones Peak hike

5. Icehouse Canyon

Distance: 9.4 miles. Elevation gain: 3400 ft. 

Ice House Canyon

Credit: Casey Schreiner / Modern Hiker

Casey’s take:

“If you want a taste of the full range of landscapes available to L.A. hikers, Icehouse Canyon is a great excursion. High in the San Gabriels near Mount Baldy, you’ll pass historic cabins and a babbling creek lined with towering pine trees. Continue into the Cucamonga Wilderness (Permit Required) for some of the area’s tallest peaks and toughest treks once you’ve put some miles on your new boots.”

More information on Icehouse Canyon hike

A Final Thought

One of the topics that Casey and I discussed in relationship to exploring hikes around L.A. was the need for responsibility on the part of those who take on the trails.

The Wisdom Tree (mentioned above) is a great example of a landmark that draws tons of visitors every day/week/month, but it’s also particularly fragile and needs to be protected by those that visit.

Personally, it’s always my stance that popularization of a particular sight or point of interest is fine, as long as with that popularity comes a spirit of appreciation and education about how and why we need to preserve these spots for future generations.

I will let Casey get the final word on it:

“Remember that even though there are a lot of great hikes near Los Angeles – and even sometimes within sight of the city – the landscape here is both rugged and extremely fragile. You need to not only be prepared for the physical demands of these hikes, but you should also learn the principles of Leave No Trace to protect these special places for others. Don’t leave trash, alter trails, or build rock cairns. If you can, take out extra litter with you as you leave and remember – the only things you should be tagging are photos on Instagram!”

Casey Schreiner is the founder and editor in chief of Modern Hiker, the most-read hiking blog in California. A longtime resident of Los Angeles, he is currently writing a book on L.A. area day hikes for Mountaineers Books.

What are your favorites hikes in and around Los Angeles? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!

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