A short loop in the southern half of Franklin Canyon Park – a rugged, hidden little canyon just outside of Beverly Hills. This is a decent workout with some really lovely canyon scenery and views of Beverly Hills and Century City – and not too crowded, either!
Franklin Canyon Park had been on my to-hike list for a long time, but it was always overshadowed by longer, more rugged hikes. While I’m glad I was getting out to explore those tougher trails, I was doing this little gem of a park a disservice by overlooking it for so long.
Franklin Canyon began its modern life as a reservoir area from water brought in from the Owens Valley and as a private getaway for oil barons. In 1981, the land was deeded to the National Park Service and is now part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Initially, I wanted to do a full loop hike of the entire park, but unfortunately I found the map situation to be a little lacking. The map shown on the park’s official web site (PDF) is not terrifically detailed and also differs quite a bit from the map posted on an information sign near the Upper Reservoir and Google Maps of the area – not to mention the actual posted trail names on signs inside the park. So – I’m not entirely sure I did what can be considered the ‘classic’ Hastain Loop – but it was still a fun little trail.
The trailhead is very easy to spot – it’s near a large Franklin Canyon Ranch sign, a staircase, information board, and trash can. There’s a small parking area near the trailhead but also plenty of room to park on the opposite side of the street if it’s full.
Lace up your boots, grab your water bottle, and start up the fire road Hastain Trail (which may, depending on what map you’re looking at, ACTUALLY be the Discovery Trail).
This is great coastal mountain landscape typical for the Santa Monica range – it’s nice and quiet and there are patches of shade, though it’s mostly unshaded. An added benefit (or drawback, depending on your point of view) is that you occasionally get glimpses of the palatial estates of Beverly Hills on the horizon while you’re hiking here.
The first part of the trail is pretty easy – you only gain about 80 feet in the first quarter-mile. At that point, you get a small break, but from then on out it’s a steady 550 foot ascent over the next 1.15 miles. Nothing too crazy, but enough to make you feel like you’re getting a decent workout – especially if it’s hot outside.
For some reason, there seem to be a lot of gates on this trail – I’m not sure if that’s a holdover from the park’s previous status as private land or a way to keep people out at night since it’s so close to civilization, but the fences look pretty new so I’m gonna go with the latter. Regardless, you’ll pass the first gate at about the 0.7 mile mark.
In another 0.2 miles, the trail hits a ridge and makes a sharp left hand turn at a junction with a spur trail that heads down to the meadows near the southern reservoir.
Ignore the spur trail and keep ascending on the main trail – making sure to look south toward views of Century City and Beverly Hills and being thankful that people had the foresight to preserve this canyon from further development so you could enjoy the moment.
At about the mile mark, you’ll pass through another gate in a chain link fence and the trail turns northward, passing through a third gate (!) and by some cameras around the 1.2 mile marker.
Here, I believe technically you are outside the boundaries of the Park, and the fire road hits a weird three-way junction. The easternmost spur is a fire road that will take you out of the park and onto nearby Coldwater Canyon Blvd. Taking the center spur will take you up a short incline to the tallest peak on the trail – which has some great views of the area.
When you’re done soaking in the views, backtrack to the intersection and take the westernmost spur. On maps, this fire road continues to Beverly Ridge Terrace, where it also looks like you can rejoin another trail to descend into Franklin Canyon. In reality, this fire road hits a big ol’ fence and dead ends, with a warning sign for hikers not to try crossing into the rich folks’ neighborhood.
Instead, START to go down this road, but look for a short extension of the road that heads nearly due west and hike down that instead. Here, the fire road ends and a single-track / firebreak descent route begins.
This route is a LOT more rugged than the path you took on the way up. It’s got a few steep sections but is definitely passable. However, if you’re not in the mood for this sort of adventurous end, you can just turn around and head back to the trailhead the way you came.
Otherwise, the firebreak descent is about 0.4 miles and is pretty fun – especially if you’re looking for more of a “full-fledged” hiking experience. It’s most steep toward the very end of the trail – but everything is easily passable if you take your time.
After that it’s just another 0.4 miles on the fire road back to the trailhead.
The odd fences on this trail are leftovers from an ongoing legal battle between the park and a nearby developer. As of October 18, 2012, an LA Superior Court Judge has ordered the developer to remove the fences and guarantee hikers’ access to the trails.
His stories for Modern Hiker have brought regional and national attention, and have been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press.
Casey is also an award-winning television writer-producer, and was Series Producer of pivot's TakePart Live and Head Writer of G4's Attack of the Show.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on October 11, 2012