A short, relatively easy trail loop in one of the most accessible areas of Los Angeles’ mountains. This is one of the most popular trails in Los Angeles – and is a great place to play with dogs, spot celebrities, and get some outstanding views of the city. Crowds may leave you wishing for something a little more secluded, but this is a wonderful resource for people who just want to get outside.
Runyon Canyon is a small but extremely popular little patch of parkland in the heart of Hollywood. It has both an easy paved path and a surprisingly rugged trail along the park’s outer border that offers some stretches of intense workouts. The park itself is very popular with dog owners and has several off-leash areas for the canines, so if you’ve got a dog this is a great place for a quick hike … and if you don’t like dogs, you should probably head somewhere else.
This route begins near the park’s southwest entrance, just off Vista Street. Parking can be a chore here, especially on the weekends. Most of the side streets have permit and time restrictions, so getting a spot for your car may be an adventure in and of itself.
When you get a spot, march up the hill on Vista Street. The road dead ends and you’ll see the gate for Runyon right ahead of you. There’s a small water fountain near the start of this trail (and usually a little water dish underneath the fountain for dogs).
From this starting area, you can either continue up the paved path for an easy, slow, gradual ascent – or you can take the dirt path that climbs up the ridge for a little more adventurous route (note – the plants in the photo are gone – it’s just a dirt path now).
This path makes a no-nonsense ascent up a fire break / mountain ridge. In the summer months it will likely be too hazy for decent views, but in the winter or spring you may be able to see all the way out to the Pacific Ocean from here.
This western route has two strenuous ascents – the first one switchbacks up a steep ridge near the park’s western border and levels off at a small plateau before making an even more steep ascent to yet another ridge. Keep an eye out for good views, watch your footing, and you might see some interesting stickers on a small mailbox / summit post.
There is one potentially dicey area of trail just beyond the second tough incline – it’s a very short but very steep decline on a rough, sandy section of trail that’s easy to slip on if you don’t have good traction shoes. For some reason, people seem very hesitant to use their hands on this section of trail – but trust me, it makes the descent MUCH easier. There are a lot of hikers at Runyon who are probably not used to hiking wilderness trails – and may care a bit too much about getting dirt on their outfits. If this descent looks too steep for you, just get on your butt and slide down.
After the steep descent, you’ll hike beneath some power lines and next to a large mansion.
Previously, a fire road went next to the mansion and looped around the northern section of the park, but in 2013 the landowner fenced off the property along the long-abandoned house, and now hikers are diverted along a circuitous wooden staircase.
The signage the landowner put near the northern section of the diversion is pretty laughable – it’s clearly just a JPEG they downloaded from the internet, blew up at a Kinkos, and posted on a DWP post to make it look official. Lawsuits have already been filed to re-open the fire road to hikers, but it will likely be a while before anything is resolved here.
Once you get to the north end of the park near Mullholland Drive, turn around and double back. You can choose to take a dirt / paved road down the center of the park or leave the road for a trail on the park’s eastern end. The ridge on the eastern side of the park is less challenging on the descent than the western ridge – and has a staircase built into some portions of it. There’s a bench on the point just before the descent begins – and it’s a great place for views of the city – especially at sunset.
As you descend the eastern stairs, keep an eye out for remnants of the old Outpost Sign – a 30-foot high red neon sign that once stood on the hill to advertise a housing development, rivaling that of the nearby Hollywoodland development. When it was built in 1927, it was one of the largest neon signs in the world … but its showiness was ultimately its undoing during World War II, when L.A. turned off its lights and blackened windows to make it more difficult for Japanese bombers to find targets in the city.
Today there’s not much left beyond some twisted metal, but the history of the area is fascinating nonetheless.
Continue the hike through the old tennis courts and foundations of the area’s former athletic and residential buildings. After you pass through the gate that marks the end of the park’s off-leash area, take a right hand turn to head back to the Vista entrance.
He has also been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press, as well as in documentaries for Columbia Sportswear and the OTIS College of Art and Design.
Casey was one of eight people chosen by the National Parks Foundation to participate in the 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. His first book "Day Hiking Los Angeles," will be published by Mountaineers Books in 2016.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on August 16, 2007