A heavy writing workload and a really persistent shoulder injury had kept me off the trail for a little while, so when Team WWED invited me along for a short local hike, I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So we decided on a trail that I, as an Angeleno of 6 years and counting, had never done – a hike to the Hollywood Sign.
At the end of Canyon Drive, north of Franklin, there’s a small parking lot near the gated trailhead, as well as a larger spillover lot just a bit further south. Park here and hike north – but before the gate, hang a sharp right onto a dirt road.
This is not on the route to the Hollywood Sign, but this very short side-trip will take you to another Hollywood landmark – the Bronson Caves – perhaps better known as the BATCAVE.
You can (and should) walk through the cave if you’re not claustrophobic. It’s very short, just be sure to stomp around a bit in case any rattlesnakes are taking a nap in there.
These caves are probably most recognizable from the 60’s Batman series, but they’ve also been used in a lot of movies, too. Here’s a YouTube clip I found that shows some of the angles and shots in films like Army of Darkness and The Searchers (which is a really amazing western if you haven’t seen it yet).
On a clear day, it is also possible to see the Hollywood Sign from the other side of the Caves. While we could make it out, the hiking weather on this particular day was “extra hazy.”
Return back down the dirt road and take a left at the pavement, heading toward this locked gate.
You are now on the dirt-path continuation of Canyon Drive. Here, the trail begins its moderate but relentless climb – about 600 feet in a mile. There’s a bit of shade in these early parts of the trail, but it’s few and far between – so if it’s hot or sunny, be prepared to sweat!
Like I mentioned, this is a popular trail. You’ll be sharing it with joggers, dog-walkers, babies in action-strollers, hiking groups, boot camps, and equestrians. Be sure to give the horses ample room if you’re passing.
About 1.1 miles on the Canyon Drive Trail, you will reach a three way junction with the Mullholland Highway – another wide dirt path. Take a left at this junction and hike west. For the next 0.9 miles, the trail is mercifully level, although you’re still exposed to full sun.
You’ll also start to see the Hollywood Sign from some interesting side angles, too (interesting = difficult to see):
If it’s clear, you’ll actually have better views of the Griffith Park Observatory and Mount Hollywood to the east.
1.7 miles after starting on Canyon Drive, the fire road hits another 3-way junction with Beechwood Drive. Keep to the right to stay on the Mullholland Highway and continue another 0.3 miles to another junction – this time with the paved Mount Lee Drive.
If you just want views of the Hollywood Sign, you might be better off taking a left here and descending a bit – but if you want to top Mount Lee and get behind the sign, take a sharp right onto Mount Lee Drive and start steep incline.
From here, it’s about another 0.9 miles to the summit of Mount Lee. The road wraps around the north side of the peak, so you’ll get a few valley views before the road turns back to the south face. If it were less hazy, you’d be able to see the San Gabriels pretty well from this vantage point, too:
As soon as the road rounds a sharp bend to the south face of the peak, you’ll be able to see the Hollywood Sign behind the scenes – and through a fence.
Even though you can’t get really close to the letters, it’s pretty cool to see them from this angle, and realize how big they actually are.
… and just in case you were thinking of it:
Just to the left of the locked gate at the Mount Lee radio towers, there’s a short path that climbs to the actual summit of the mountain, just next to some USGS seismic monitoring equipment. Soak in the views of L.A. and the Hollywood Reservoir from here, then return back the way you came.
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 18, 2010