A short, 3 mile loop in the Hollywood Hills. Centrally located with easy access from Hollywood and Studio City, this is a slightly easier but nicer alternative to other popular Hollywood hikes like Runyon Canyon. Fryman Canyon has fire road or trail paths, plenty of spur trails to vista points and benches, and access to the Tree Peoples’ Coldwater Canyon pavilion. While it is an urban trail, it doesn’t seem crowded on the trail. And while it’s dog friendly, it doesn’t have the pile-of-poop problem that Runyon has. Definitely worth checking out.
My friend Blair had been trying to get me out to Fryman Canyon for a while, singing its praises as being “Just Like Runyon, Without The Runyon.” So, on a long weekend, I finally took her up on the offer and trekked all the way out to the strange and distant land known as Studio City.
Yes, just a quick drive over the Hollywood Hills and we were at the trailhead just off Laurel Canyon Blvd. – a small and packed-to-the-brim parking lot, full of hikers, joggers, and dogs.
While we did have to wait a few minutes for parking, I was assured that the turnover for the lot isn’t that bad, and you can usually find a spot within a short wait, even if the lot’s full. There is a $3 parking fee (up from $1 a few years ago), and we walked back to the gate to feed the meter and place the printed permit on the windshield. After you’re all official, head toward the parking lot entrance and cross the gate onto the paved road. (NOTE: As of 2015, the parking fee is no longer charged at this lot!)
While this is commonly known as Fryman Canyon, the park is labeled “Wilacre Park” on other maps, and the trail sign declares it the “Betty B. Dearing Mountain Trail.” Whatever you want to call this area, the hike on the paved portion of this trail only last for about 0.3 miles, giving way to a dirt road. But even the paved portion is a nice walk — well shaded and occasionally offering some nice views of the Valley cities.
While this is not a difficult stretch of trail by any means, there is a gradual but noticeable elevation gain. In the first half mile, you’ll gain about 270 feet — after that, the trail hits a sort of straightaway, slowly trudging up an easy gain. You will also begin to notice a few side-trails climbing sharply to the south, away from the fire road. While these trails are not marked on any maps of the park, they lead to a rough system of use-trails that generally parallel the fire road. So if the crowds are getting to you, you can take a quick escape along one of these many optional routes.
At 0.6 miles, you’ll pass the first of several memorial benches, placed in scenic areas and shady spots along the trail. If you keep moving, the trail continues to the southwest, then loops around a ridge and turns toward Coldwater Canyon Park. At the 1.3 mile mark, you’ll get a nice view of the the end of the canyon, and the side trails up into Coldwater.
Continue just a few hundred feet more to the junction with Coldwater Canyon Park. This is the very north end of the sprawling park unit, which stretches through Franklin Canyon all the way to Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills. It is also the home base of the tree-planting volunteer group TreePeople. At about 1.4 miles, you’ll reach a junction where the main road descends into the canyon, and a side trail rises up out of it. Take the side trail.
You’ll climb a small incline and pass a built-in exhibit about the various types of rocks that make up the Santa Monica Mountains. Get your learn on, or keep walking.
At about 1.5 miles, you will come to another trail that continues climbing up the ridge.
But before you continue, you can also take a few minutes off and explore the TreePeople’s new Center for Community Forestry, which will be right behind you. There’s a tree nursery, an interesting urban runoff garden, some great landscaping, and an amphitheater which hosts occasional educational programs for students and the public.
When you’re done poking around, head back up that trail, near the rock-exhibit stairs. This leads to a side trail that parallels the main fire road, but – from what I’m told – is usually pretty devoid of hikers. It will also give you some nice vantage points on the rest of the canyon, including some views of the trails you’ve already hiked to get here.
Continue on this trail until about the 1.7 mile mark, where you’ll come upon a secluded picnic area and a bench looking toward the San Gabriel Mountains to the east. If you’re lucky and hike this on a clear day, you may even be able to make out some distant snow-caps (I was barely able to spot a few, myself). But more often than not, you’ll probably just get Universal City, Cahuenga Peak, and Griffith Park.
This is the end of the trail, or so it would seem. If you don’t feel like backtracking on the fire road (and maybe have been itching for a more challenging trail), instead continue walking just past the benches. You’ll see a faint but clear path emerge between the brush, which eventually becomes a very steep use-trail back down to the fire road.
It’s a very short trail, but it’s overgrown, rocky, and the final section is very, very steep. It’s not really anything like what’s on the rest of the fire road, so if you’re not used to that sort of hiking, I’d recommend just doubling back and rejoining the fire road near the Coldwater Canyon marker.
Once you hit the dirt road again, continue heading east. Here, the trail begins to press up against the private landowners in the hills, and the north side of the trail gets fenced off. It’s not the most pleasant thing to look at, but the overall trail condition is still fairly nice.
At 2.1 miles, the trail spills out onto a cul-de-sac at the end of Iredell Lane. A few hundred feet down the road, on the south side of the street, there is a fire road that climbs back up the ridge from the street. This is the entrance to the “Rainforest Trail,” a winding single-track trail that meanders through some of the non-developed areas in the Hollywood Hills. I didn’t know much about it when we were there, otherwise I would have explored more — but the LAist checked out some of the scenery a few years back.
Unless you choose to explore the Rainforest Trail, continue on the road for another 0.2 miles, taking a right at Iredell Street and then a left onto Fryman Road to return to the parking area. Even though this is a residential area, it’s still a pleasant downhill stroll. And most likely, you’ll still be surrounded by hikers from the canyon. Even the Google Street View Van couldn’t escape ’em.
Tags: Betty B Dearing Trail, dogs, Fryman Canyon, Hiking, Laurel Canyon, Santa Monica Mountains, Studio City, West Hollywood, Wilacre Park
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's writing has appeared in Backpacker, Adventure Journal, the REI Blog, Active.com and Sierra Trading Post's Social Hub.
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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Categorised in: City Parks, Dog-friendly, Santa Monica Mountains, Trail Write-Ups, Wilacre Park
This post was written by Casey Schreiner on
February 9, 2009