Advertisement

Hiking alone in L.A.? Here’s what to know and where to go

A day hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail near Wrightwood.
(Los Angeles Times illustration; photo by Laura Randall)
Share

Editor’s note: The Wild is all about featuring a variety of exciting voices from SoCal’s outdoors scene. Currently, that voice belongs to Laura Randall, a veteran journalist who has written extensively about hiking and the outdoors. She is the author of “60 Hikes/60 Miles: Los Angeles,” now in its third edition, and “Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California.” She has lived all over Los Angeles County and has never failed to find good hiking trails nearby.

When people hear I write hiking guides, their first question is often “What’s your favorite hike?”

The second most frequent question — one that I find much easier to answer — is “Are you comfortable hiking by yourself?”

My response is always yes, and on most days, I actually prefer it.

Solo hiking allows me to go at my own pace, to stop (or soldier on) when it suits me and to choose hikes without worrying about someone else’s time constraints or comfort level. A few hours on the trail clears my mind in a way that even the greatest of conversations with a companion can’t do. I usually return from these solo hikes refreshed and in a better place to engage with colleagues, family and friends.

I’m not alone in this perspective. While group hikes are a popular way to hit the trails in Los Angeles, especially for newcomers, there are many folks who prefer to go it alone. For Los Angeles resident Delilah Dees, solo hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains is a way to decompress from the stresses of her job as a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit. “I call it my therapy,” she said via email.

A hiker takes a break along Lake View Trail in Peters Canyon.
(Laura Randall)
Advertisement

Coby King, an avid hiker and peakbagger (or summit chaser), estimates he does about 70% of his hikes alone. It allows him the freedom to set his own pace and to stop and take photos or admire a view or plant without holding up a companion.

“I’m a little older and a little slower,” he told me. “I really want to go at my own pace.”

All that said, even the simplest of solo day hikes can come with a few risks. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, whose territory includes Mt. Baldy in the Angeles National Forest, estimates that it spent more than $3 million in the last five years on rescue operations. Mt. Baldy alone has recorded more than 100 rescue expeditions since 2020 and at least 11 deaths.

It gives pause to even the most experienced hikers.

A woman in shorts and a tank top stands with her arms upraised on a mountain.
Delilah Dees, on Mt. Baldy , says safety is her No. 1 priority when hiking solo.
( Delilah Dees)

“Hiking rewards the prepared,” said Megan Spatz, communications coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Angeles chapter. When Spatz slipped while hiking alone up a hill in a state park in Minnesota last year, she stayed calm and drew on her wilderness training to assess the situation.

“I was able to assess that it was a serious injury, but not life threatening,” she recalled. She had extra clothing and a first-aid kit with a brace and figured she could use that to stabilize her foot and crawl out. But first she decided to scream for help. After about 10 minutes, some hikers heard her and were able to help her hop out and summon medical care for what turned out to be a broken ankle.

Advertisement

Let’s hope that no one reading this ever ends up in a situation like that. But to ensure that you’re prepared for alone time in the wilderness, here are a few other tips to keep in mind before you hit the trails:

  • Tell others where you are going. Whether it’s texting a friend or circling a map for a roommate or spouse, don’t head out until someone knows where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • Pack thoughtfully. Even for minor day hikes, King carries a full pack that “people often laugh at.” It always includes a first-aid kit, extra water and a satellite communication device, he said. My own day pack contains a whistle, a flashlight, extra batteries and a couple of emergency blankets that I recycled from my kids’ old school earthquake kits.
  • Choose trails that are populated, easy to follow and have good cell reception. Temescal Ridge Trail in Pacific Palisades and Beaudry Motorway Loop in Glendale both meet these criteria. Spatz recommends the main loop trail in Ernest E. Debs Park in Highland Park. In Orange County, Peters Canyon provides a semi-wilderness experience with trails that never stray far from roads or residential developments.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings. Dees recalls hearing heavy footsteps while hiking back down from Cucamonga Peak “on a beautiful spring morning.” Sensing it might be a predatory animal, she pulled out her pocket knife and texted a message via her smart watch. “My heart was beating fast, but I had no choice but to keep walking,” she said. The noise turned out to be a father and his two young sons who were coming up the mountain but weren’t visible to her until she turned a corner. She laughed about it later. “It was still a fantastic hike.”
A wiggly line break

3 things to do

The grounds of Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes are open to the public once a month.
(Laura Randall)

1. Visit a 1926 lighthouse in Palos Verdes
The much-photographed Point Vicente Lighthouse is a familiar landmark to most Angelenos, but its clifftop grounds on the Palos Verdes Peninsula are typically off limits to the public. This Saturday, and every second Saturday of the month, the gates open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for free tours. Visitors are not allowed inside the lighthouse, but Coast Guard officials will be on hand to explain its history and lead tours of the grounds and small museum. Be sure to stop by the adjacent Point Vicente Interpretive Center, where the lighthouse’s 1,200-pound Fresnel lens is on display, along with all kinds of information about the Pacific gray whale. For more information, visit rpvca.gov.

2. Listen to live poetry in the Getty’s central garden
Singer, songwriter and poet Jessa Calderon will perform Wednesday afternoon in Robert Irwin’s Central Garden at the Getty. It’s part of the Getty’s May series of live outdoor readings by local artists and poets, presented with the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Guests can stake out a bench, spread out a blanket or wander the landscaped pathways during the reading.The event from 2 to 3 p.m. is free, and you can sign up at www.getty.edu.

3. Take a bike ride highlighting Pasadena’s Black history
As part of Pasadena Bike Month, the president of the Pasadena branch of the NAACP, Allen Edson, will lead a bike tour Saturday highlighting nonwhite neighborhoods that were displaced by construction of the 210 Freeway in the 1960s and 1970s. The mostly flat five- to six-mile ride will begin at 9 a.m. and include historic Black churches and other landmarks, as well as stories about prominent community members and the history of displacement and gentrification in Pasadena. You can find more info and RSVP at www.godayone.org.

A wiggly line break
Advertisement

The must-read

A stand-up paddle boarder cruises as the setting sun illuminates the top of the San Gabriel Mountains in Huntington Harbour
A person on a stand-up paddle board takes a scenic cruise as the setting sun illuminates the top of recently snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains in Huntington Harbour in Huntington Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A decade after President Obama bestowed national monument status on the San Gabriel Mountains — an act intended to promote a cleaner and safer wilderness — President Biden expanded that status to include an additional 106,000 acres that includes popular hiking areas in Santa Clarita, Altadena and northern Pasadena. As reported in The Times by Alex Wigglesworth, the action was widely praised by local leaders and conservationists who say it will improve underserved communities’ access to open space and better protect sacred Indigenous cultural sites. The expansion also includes a commitment by the federal government to step up funding and staffing. Let’s hope this will help park rangers and volunteers better manage the surge in visitors (and trash and traffic issues) that summer always brings to our beautiful backyard forest.

Happy adventuring,

Signature for Laura Randall

P.S.

During a recent Heal the Bay beach cleanup in the South Bay, I picked up what I thought was a small plastic wrapper on the shoreline. It turned out to be a jellyfish-like sea creature with the awesome name of by-the-wind sailors (scientific name is velella velella). The Times wrote about their arrival in the Bay area in March, and now they are turning up in droves in Southern California as the ocean warms and they reproduce in huge numbers. If you see these fragile beauties washed up on the beaches this weekend, it’s best to admire them from afar but not to touch or disrupt them.

For more insider tips on Southern California’s beaches, trails and parks, check out past editions of The Wild. And to view this newsletter in your browser, click here.

Advertisement
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news