So it’s just about summer in Southern California. The sun is bright, the temperature is high — is there a better time to slather on sunscreen and climb mountains, sweating through your clothes for hours on end?
I’ll admit, when it gets really hot in the City of Angels, I’m more likely to hit up a beach than a trail – but so are the vast majority of Angelenos. If you want to beat the crowds but still stay cool while enjoying the outdoors, here are some tips on Summer hiking in L.A.
1. Bring Lots of Water: When you’re hiking in the summer, you’re spending multiple hours, often in direct sunlight, while physically exerting yourself. Basically, you’re gonna be sweating. A lot. This means along with the usual Ten Essentials, you should come prepared with extra sunscreen to re-apply throughout your hike, a good pair of UV-protecting and polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes, and more water than you’d usually carry in the cooler months.
During most hot-weather hiking, your body loses a half to a full quart of fluids each hour. Hiking uphill in direct sunlight can make your body lose almost 2 quarts of water an hour, so bring enough water to replace most of that. Remember, though, that your body can only absorb about a quart an hour – so sip while you hike, and don’t wait until you get to the summit to guzzle a gallon.
2. And Some Salty Snacks: Drinking a ton of water on an empty stomach isn’t very good for your body, either. Hiking can be a great fitness activity, but don’t let the desire to shave off a few pounds keep you from snacking on a summer hike. In addition to water, your body needs salts and electrolytes to keep working. Again – you don’t need to bring a ballpark soft pretzel with you – a few CLIF bars should be fine. But if you’re not a big trail eater, try taking a bottle of sports drink or replacing the water in your CamelBak with Smart Water or another electrolyte-enhanced water.
3. Leave Early: The hottest parts of the day are usually between 11AM and 2PM. If you’re planning to make any major ascents, try to get them over with before the sun gets too high in the sky. I know getting out of bed early can be tough on the weekends, but it’s worth it.
4. Pick the Right Trail: When it’s going to be hot outside and your feet are still itching to hit the trail, think of these three things: Elevation, Water, and Shade. Ideally, your chosen hike will have one or more of these qualities:
- ELEVATION: When it’s blistering hot in downtown, the High Peaks of the San Gabriels can be 10-15 degrees cooler. In general, every 1000 feet you ascend, you can expect the temperature to drop 3-5 degrees Fahrenheit. The more exposed trails and peaks also usually have nice breezes that will help you feel cooler, too.
If we’re in the middle of our “June Gloom” – that early-summer time when the marine layer keeps it cool and cloudy near the coast, it is possible to break through the clouds to get some blue skies. Usually, the marine layer dissolves at about 3000 feet, which means just about every mountain the Angeles National Forest will get you into sunny-skies territory. Personally, I always enjoy exploring the Mount Baldy area during the summer months.
If you time it right, the summit of Sandstone Peak on the Mishe Mokwa Trail will be just above the cloudline, and the experience is great. Not only will your hike be cool and shaded, but once you scramble to the summit, you’ll be peering out over an endless plateau of clouds, with just a few tiny peaks poking through. My old hiking buddy described it as “being Mayor of Cloud City.”
- WATER: If you’re not in the mood to climb a mountain in the heat, but don’t want to fight crowds at the beach, there are a few trails where you can get your feet – and the rest of your body – wet. The trailhead picnic area and Switzer Falls area of Bear Canyon can get very, very crowded – especially on hot days. But if you trek just a bit further down Bear Canyon, you can find solitude and some great, deep swimming holes. There are even a few old rope swings to jump off of, if you feel like reliving your idyllic, imagined childhood.
Other great places to get wet are the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, Santa Anita Canyon, and – in early summer – Shortcut Canyon. With most of the river hikes in Southern California, water levels will be higher and more impressive in the early part of the summer, as snowmelt fills the riverbanks.
Also, don’t be discouraged if you see crowds near the trailhead – most people who are just coming to cool off won’t venture down the trail. The longer you hike, the more solitude you’ll feel.
- SHADE: At the very least, try to make sure your summer hiking trail has a bit of shade to give you a break from the sun. Trails on the north sides of the San Gabriels and in higher elevations usually have a lot of pines, spruces, and cedars on their slopes, which will keep out the sun and make it feel cooler than it already is. The creek in Icehouse Canyon isn’t really wide enough to swim in, but it does provide plenty of tree cover. Other recommended shady trails include Mount Gleason, Solstice Canyon, and Malibu Creek State Park.
Do you have any favorite summer trails? Share here in the comments, or start a discussion in the forum!
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 is currently writing a book on day hikes in Los Angeles for Mountaineers Books.
This post was written by Casey Schreiner on May 29, 2009