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Best of L.A.: Hiking

Click here for "Best of L.A.: Recreation and Self-Improvement" individual winners. 

BEST TRAIL THAT INCLUDES WATERFALLS AND ISN‘T ON FIRE

Thanks to the recent mountain inferno, these days you’ll find fewer areas to hike. So while Switzer Falls isn’t likely to be in great shape, Malibu is not on fire (for now), so gear up! About five miles north of Pepperdine, and just south of Point Dume, is a small road called Winding Way. You have to park just off PCH and trek a good mile on pavement through a residential area before you get into the real nature — but it’s worth it. There, the trail weaves back and forth across the creek, eventually leading you to the base of Escondido Falls. The first waterfall is relatively puny (and has been known to have a vile stench), but if you follow the trail to the right, you’ll be led to a second, and much more grand aquatic display. The waterfall is roughly 150 feet tall, with a mossy overhang and a big pool at its base, making it difficult not to be a little awestruck. Some people try to work their way up farther and climb to the top, but it’s very dangerous, highly unstable and littered with both fresh and rusty barbed wire. It’s not recommended, and is a fairly foolish thing to do ... but does offer one heck of a view.

—Noah Galuten

BEST HIKE IN YOUR JUICY COUTURE

The Temescal Canyon Trail is a great little trek and a nice alternative to a hardcore survivalist hike. You are more likely to see hikers dressed in Juicy Couture than REI in this neighborhood hike for the well-heeled denizens of Pacific Palisades. Alas, you may not find the same esprit de corps of the hikers one encounters deep in the San Gabriels or San Bernardinos. But what do you expect? The trail head is just off Sunset Boulevard, not Angeles Crest. Still, this is a very respectable little hike that packs 1,000 feet of elevation gain in its 4-mile loop. And where it crosses a creek at the top of the canyon, there is a nice little waterfall much of the year. Beware: This trail can be a beastly hot and dusty experience on summer afternoons. Most people take this loop clockwise, which packs the elevation gain into the very beginning and puts the ocean at one’s back. Try taking it counterclockwise and treat yourself to views of the Pacific from Malibu to Palos Verdes on the way down. Temescal Canyon Trail, intersection of Temescal Canyon Rd. and Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades.

—Jedd Birkner

BEST WAY TO GO HOLLYWOOD

Many years ago, in 2000, the Hollywood sign was lit up — some say poorly — for the millenium celebrations that were taking place around the world on New Year’s Eve. In Paris, New York, London and other world-class cities, celebrants were dazzled by light shows and fireworks. L.A. only managed to shine a few laser beams at our most-renowned landmark, with the event fizzling in disappointment. Jay Leno, who made a personal appearance at the Hollywood sign that night, cracked jokes about it. Nevertheless, the evening gave this reporter, who was there, some interesting information on how to hike to the sign. All the details won’t be divulged here, but let’s say that you motor up Beachwood Drive past the Beachwood Market and make a left on Ledgewood Drive. You’ll pass Humphrey Bogart’s old house and come to a stop sign. The side road will take you to a big iron gate and a sign that reads: “Restricted Entry: No Hiking Allowed to the Hollywood sign.” Locals have been ignoring the warning for years. The Hollywood Sign Trail provides a great hike on a wide, dirt path that offers tremendous views of downtown, the San Fernando Valley and the ocean (on clear days). You actually end up above the landmark, and get a true feel for just how huge those white letters are. The path is never crowded, it only takes about 40 minutes for the round trip, and you’ll impress anyone you invite who’s feeling like a rule-breaker. After seeing the sign, you can take another path that breaks off and ends at the Griffith Observatory, a round trip of three or four hours. Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood.

—Patrick Range McDonald

BEST HIKE TO KILL YOUR DOG

Pick a really hot day. Go ahead, have a long, languid breakfast at the Alcove with your girlfriend and her mother, thereby ensuring that the sun is well overhead. Take excited and unsuspecting black-haired dog to Griffith Park (his favorite place) even though you know he doesn’t really take to the sun. Do not, repeat, do not bring water, thinking dog will be fine with a little on the way up. Start at Boy Scout Drive, climb to observatory. Ignore creeping signs of exhaustion, already. Drink water, making sure dog laps some up at the fountain. Continue on up past the sign to Berlin (5,759 miles), leaving the trees behind. Ignore signs of searing heat, such as wilting girlfriend and the egg frying on dog’s back. Focus instead on girlfriend’s Italian mother, who is taking to the sun and the hill like Pliny, the Younger to Mt. Vesuvius. If she can do it, you can do it — never mind the dog. Try not to think about Pliny, the Elder (who died in a Vesuvius eruption). Whistling the theme song from “Bridge On the River Kwai,” continue on up the long, shadeless hillside until about halfway up; dog begins to slow down, like a robot whose batteries are running out. Pick up dog, and continue on 100 yards until you look like a robot whose batteries are running out. Ask Latino family for water they brought for their Chihuahua, which is half the size of their water bottle. Don’t admit that you are a cruel, gringo idiot; thank them quickly and look the other way. Find some shade the size of a dollar bill: Squeeze your dog into it and wait for him to recover enough for you to carry him the rest of the way. Consider the possibility of your dying from heart attack while carrying dog, and how stupid that would be. Don’t continue to top of hill with Pliny, the Younger, but stumble on to Dante’s View, and its horse water trough. Dunk dog in the trough, place in shady garden. Dunk him again. Watch dog eventually reanimate, like one of those flattened sponges at Trader Joe’s when immersed into water. Cry at his wagging tail, but don’t let anyone see you, especially girlfriend and her mother, Pliny. Think about explaining dead dog to your children all the way home. Make promises to God, which you will of course not keep. Once home, share beer with dog and fall into deep slumber. Dream of dog swimming lazily in the Mediterranean, Vesuvius erupting in the distance. Dog is doing the backstroke and smiling. Boy Scout Drive at Vermont Avenue in Griffith Park, Los Feliz.

—Tom Christie

BEST EDUCATIONAL HIKE

The Whittier Narrows Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary has 419 acres of wilderness, featuring trails that weave through dense, dry brush alongside the San Gabriel River. With 300 species of birds, bird watching is a favorite pastime. Mountain lions and bobcats have also been seen roaming, and deep inside the sanctuary, the solitude of the desert can be a liberating experience. With all the paw prints pressed into the sand around you, you have the feeling of never quite being alone. Nearby, the Nature Center Museum has collections of archaeology, botany, history, birds, bugs and reptiles. It occasionally hosts free lectures and hayrides. Unfortunately, part of the area is marred by transmission towers and power lines, and signs advertising Mobil and Shell Oil are visible on the horizon. Even so, this is a quiet, relaxing place, completely free of charge. That much, at least, is the way nature’s supposed to be. 1000 N. Durfee Ave., El Monte. (626) 575-2253.

—Todd Krainin

BEST HIKE TO THE OTHER SIDE

The highest point in L.A. County is Mt. Baldy (officially known as Mt. San Antonio). The most serious trail up the summit is the so-called Ski Hut Trail from Manker Flats. You start at approximately 6,000 feet and gain 3,900 vertical feet in the next 4.2 miles. This calculates to a mind-blowing 928 feet of elevation gain per mile. To put this in perspective, when you hike Mt. Whitney (tallest peak in the Lower 48) while you go much farther and higher, your elevation gain is only 563 feet per mile. In other words, this is a kickass hike, and almost all uphill! Summer or winter, sun or snow, this is a strenuous little 8.4-mile day hike. My daughter and I have even come up with some colorful nicknames for some segments like Death Hill, the Hill of Death, Death Creek ... you get the idea. Enjoy!

Baldy Road to Manker Flats: The trail head starts by the Port A Pottys on your left. Don’t forget a wilderness pass to park your car: $5 for a day pass, or $30 for an annual pass; available at the information center in Baldy Village or at Big 5 and REI stores.

—Jedd Birkner