If you’re a fan of perspective, there’s a fire trail in the Hollywood Hills that’s actually legal to hike on, and from which you can see the expanse of the city from the L.A. basin to the San Fernando Valley. This trail is so well traveled on weekends by tourists and locals walking their dogs that the city has felt compelled to post signs begging people to scoop the poop, as well as warnings that the area is inhabited by mountain lions and rattlesnakes. This turf is home for the wildlife, which gives them proprietary rights. One hot afternoon on the trail, I noticed two small crowds of people separated by a gulf of about 10 feet. I didn’t understand the cause of this bizarre formation until I drew closer and saw a fat 10-foot rattlesnake ambling across the trail, from one side of the brush to the other. The people were giving him right of way, and he wasn’t in any particular hurry. He looked like he enjoyed the attention. It was sort of like a train crossing with invisible guardrails. About 15 seconds after he disappeared into the grasses, the silent, bifurcated sightseers resumed their travels. Perhaps this story is a disincentive for what’s supposed to be an encouragement to see L.A. from different angles, but one should know what one is getting into.
If you follow Deronda Drive all the way from its Ledgewood Drive branch off Beachwood Drive, you’ll find yourself at a concrete plateau with houses on two sides and a gated white stucco wall on the other. The gate, open 24/7, leads you up a narrow concrete walkway to a spectacular vista of downtown, which is the trail head for what is technically the Mulholland Trail, a semipaved roadway that’s closed to all traffic but emergency vehicles.
The road twists and curves to the east, slowly gaining altitude along the southern ridge of Mount Lee. You can see the Hollywood sign looming up to your left, the city below to your right; in between lies an enveloping sagebrush that leaves the impression you’re nowhere near the city at all. At night, you can hear the grasshoppers and smell a sweet aroma coming off the grasses. Just before a rusted steel gate (that’s passable nonetheless) runs a paved road that cuts directly north into the mountain. This is called Mount Lee Drive, though it’s not signed, and it runs at a considerably steeper incline than Mulholland. First it twists up through a series of switchbacks across the southern ridge, until you find yourself looking down on the Griffith Observatory to the east. If you gaze to the south, you’ll observe that you’ve gained such altitude that the original vista from the trail head seems like child’s play. From here the entire basin has opened up, extending beyond Century City and Westwood and Palos Verdes to the ocean, and across Dodger Stadium into East L.A.
As you crest the ridge, you’ll suddenly hear the whir from the Ventura Freeway and find yourself looking down over Forest Lawn and Mount Sinai cemeteries, and north across Burbank and the San Fernando Valley. Now you’re westbound, ascending the northern ridge behind the sign, until you make your final curve, a 360-degree turn that sends you up and up and up, directly over the letters of the sign to the peak, a concrete landing next to a fenced-in transmitter and heliport, where your vista includes the entire region, from the mountains to the sea.
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Beachwood Dr. north, to Ledgewood Dr. west, to Deronda Dr. northeast. From trail head to peak takes 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your pace.