elevation profile of Cahuenga Peak

google earth profile of Cahuenga peak

A rugged three mile out-and-back in the newest section of Griffith Park. This trail features relentless ascents and tremendous views of Griffith Park, heading to a unique lone tree and geocaching area. The trail then traverses a ridge east toward recently-saved Cahuenga Peak with an even more rugged option to continue to Mount Lee and the Hollywood Sign. One of the most fun and least busy trails in Griffith Park.

Griffith Park is one of my favorite things in L.A. It’s full of history, great hikes, and is way more rugged than most other major city parks in the country. Unfortunately, because it’s so awesome, the well-known trails can get a little too crowded for my tastes. And unless you’re in the mood to go hike up ridgeline use-trails, most of the hikes are on fire roads.

Enter the Aileen Getty Ridge Trail. This route traverses Cahuenga Peak from the upper Beachwood Canyon neighborhood right to the back of the Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee – and it’s surprising for most people to learn that this terrain was only recently preserved as parkland. The entire region was privately held land since the 1940s and in 2008 a developer announced plans to construct five luxury estates on the land.

An effort led by neighborhood groups and the Trust for Public Land raised enough money to buy back the land from the developer in 2010, with big last-minute donations from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Aileen Getty, and Hugh Hefner and now the land is part of Griffith Park.

Park along Lake Hollywood Drive and begin your hike heading east on Wonder View Drive. The pavement ends at a gate and you’ll have a short distance on a dirt road. Look for a high tension power line tower straight ahead. You’ll see the dirt Wonder View Drive continues and a single-track trail splits off to the right. That’s your destination!

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You’ll see a prominent, newly-placed plaque commemorating the land’s protection and listing off some of the donors who chipped in to save it. The trail begins here … and really doesn’t waste any time in starting its climb.

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Cahuenga Peak 018 (9 of 54)

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I’ll admit, I was pretty surprised with just how rugged this trail is. In a lot of ways, it’s very similar to the ridgeline use-trails in other parts of the park – it’s very steep, kind of crumbly, and really fun to hike!

You’ll ascend almost the entire gain of the trail before you even hit the first mile mark – it’s about 743 feet of gain in 0.78 miles. But while you’re huffing and puffing (and sweating if it’s sunny out – this trail is almost entirely shade-less), you’ll have amazing views of Griffith Park. If it’s clear, you’ll also be able to see downtown Los Angeles and the Griffith Park Observatory sneaking out from behind the front range.

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Cahuenga Peak 023 (17 of 54)

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Cahuenga Peak 027 (20 of 54)

On the last part of this stretch, be sure to watch your footing. Parts of the trail here are a bit eroded and there are some steep drops.

As you approach the 0.8 mile mark the trail makes a sharp turn to the east on a ridge – but be sure to look to your west where you’ll see the lone tree overlooking the city. There’s a short spur trail that will take you to the ledge, where you’ll find shade, amazing views, and a fun geocaching box / summit register.

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Cahuenga Peak 032 (25 of 54)

I’ve heard this tree referred to as the Lonely Tree, the Magic Tree, and the Giving Tree (the tree most others call the Giving Tree is in Bronson Canyon) but most often it’s called the Wisdom Tree. According to legend, it’s the only tree that survived the devastating Hollywood Hills Fire in 2007.

This is one of the most interesting and unique places I’ve been to while hiking inside L.A. city limits and it’s definitely worth a visit. When you’re there, be sure to rifle through the geocaching box to see what people have left behind. It’s very L.A. – this is the only summit box I’ve ever seen that was full of business cards for film editors and coupons for local marijuana dispensaries … but there are some great entries in the registers, too.

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Cahuenga Peak 039 (32 of 54)

When you’re done enjoying the scenery or adding contacts to your Linked In account, head east on the ridge trail. You’ll see your two destinations clearly ahead – Cahuenga Peak and Mount Lee.

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Here, you’ll see plenty of evidence of that 2007 fire. The north slope has recovered quite a bit since then but you’ll notice the brush isn’t nearly as dense and there are still lots of charred branches sticking out from the chaparral. Continue on the ridge as it makes its way toward Cahuenga Peak.

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Cahuenga Peak 043 (36 of 54)

At the 1.2 mile mark, the trail reaches a small clearing near the USGS marker for Cahuenga Peak.

There’s not a whole lot to see here and your views are actually better along the trail in either direction. If this is all you want to see today, turn back the way you came – but if you’re up for another extra challenge continue east on the trail toward Mount Lee.

Almost immediately, you’ll be able to see a section of this region that was most definitely NOT touched by a 2007 wildfire.

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The trail between Cahuenga Peak and Mount Lee is surprisingly tough – there are a few portions where you’ll have to do a bit of scrambling to stay on the trail and a few very steep sections – but as long as you just watch your feet and take your time you should be fine. It’s worth the effort, too – this section of trail is really quite beautiful and it might just be the most fun single-track I’ve done in Griffith Park so far. I didn’t pass a single other hiker on this stretch – and was kept company by soaring hawks, butterflies, hummingbirds and a few rabbits, too!

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Cahuenga Peak 052 (45 of 54)

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Just before the 1.4 mile mark, the trail meanders into some thick brush but there’s a very short use-trail to an overlook with some more plaques commemorating two of the biggest donors in the effort to save the trail you just hiked from becoming a Kardashian’s sixth house.

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Cahuenga Peak 056 (49 of 54)

Yeah, does YOUR city have a plaque commemorating a porn impresario? Point, Los Angeles.

Also, if you look closely, you may see a third, smaller monument:

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Scramble down to the paved road and round the bend to summit Mount Lee, see the Hollywood Sign through a chain link fence, and watch the more casual hikers take selfies with the city behind them.

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Cahuenga Peak 061 (53 of 54)

NOTE: While it’s technically possible to hike to the Hollywood Sign, it’s very, very illegal. There are cameras everywhere and usually rangers or police officers are close by enough to catch you. So don’t do it.

When you’re done, return back the way you came – making sure to take your time on some of those steep descents on the way back to the trailhead!

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on February 28, 2013

16 Comments

  • Wendy says:

    Great write up and pictures, Casey! I feel blessed to be able to call this area my home. This great hike is right in my back yard. Couldn’t ask for more. And I totally agree with the entry in the registry, God Bless LA!

  • Travis says:

    trailhead to wisdom tree (burbank peak) is 12 min up, 8 min down, or 20 min round-trip, walking moderate-fast, not running.

  • Gerry Matthews says:

    Hi Casey,
    Did this hike again this morning, I forgot how much of a lung buster it is but a lot of fun. There was a bit of marine layer this morning which affected some of the visibility but also added a nice dynamic to the LA cityscape. This will definitely be in my hiking rotation!
    Thanks for the great blog, I mention it to people all the time trying to make converts.
    Gerry

  • David says:

    Casey – thanks for writing this up. Did the hike with my wife Kathleen and our 7 year old son and had a great time. You’ve inspired us and now we’re going to check out the rest of your best hikes in LA list. I’ve also been enjoying the pix of Utah and have always planned to get to Zion and the other spots you hit.

  • Tyler says:

    I was wondering when you would get around to this one. This was a favorite hike of mine when I lived in Hollywood. It was illegal and required some fence navigation, thats great that it’s part of the park now.

  • Mark C. says:

    I did this hike yesterday. What an awesome hike! This just might be the quintessential LA hike. You can see the Pacific Ocean, Catalina, downtown LA, the valley, Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood sign, the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains and so much more! And a great workout too! Thanks for the tip, Casey!

  • Alysse says:

    Is there another way down from this trail than going back the same way?

    • Alysse, there are a few other ways back but they will add a TON of distance. There is a ridgeline trail that departs on the north side of Cahuenga Peak and will eventually get you to the end of the dirt road portion of Wonder View Drive – but I don’t know what condition it’s in. Alternately, you can descend from Mount Lee into Beachwood Canyon or Bronson Canyon if you’ve got a ride-share.

      • David Shadovitz says:

        Let me describe that trail in reverse. When you reach the water tank and the trailhead marker at the start of the ascent, go instead through the gate and around the back of the mountain. You’ll pass some electric towers. At one of them you’ll notice a gash of a trail heading up. Take it and have faith, and you will catch sight of the tree and then you’ll reach the ridge. It is steep. Bring water. Head to the tree and then down. This loop takes me just under two hours.

  • Kristin Sabo says:

    Just a quick note about the remains of “the fire” you noted.

    Cahuenga Peak burned in February 2007, and not in May during the big fire. Kids playing with fireworks behind the apartments on the north side of Cahuenga (facing Warner Bros) started the Feb fire. Amazingly, the Tree of Life (or whatever name people are using nowadays – it has many) did NOT burn! It’s a very special tree.

    • Kristin – did that fire have a different name? The story I linked to is about the fire started at the Oakwood Apartments and calls it the Hollywood Hills Fire. That was the same year as the Malibu fire in Carbon Canyon and I think another one near Santa Clarita … and some big ones in San Diego, too? Was that the year I had soot in my windowsills all summer?

      • Kristin Sabo says:

        You are correct Casey. :-) I didn’t see the link, and when everyone talks about “The Fire” (2007), they are talking about the one in May. But you are 100% correct. I remembered it a Feb, but it was March. What I remember exactly was that the night before this March fire, I told a higher-up in Rec and Parks that I was very worried about a fire in the park. Next day – bingo. Scared that Admin pretty good. Scared me, too. People were kind of asking where I was when the fire started out of curiosity more than anything. (I was in Sylmar)… but yes, YOU ARE CORRECT and I need to read more carefully. Apologies.

        • No worries, Kristin! I just wanted to make sure the site had the correct info – and you definitely know a TON about that area :)

          I know people who were living in the Oakwood at the time of the fire – I remember seeing it from the other side of the Hills but it must have been insane being that close to it.

      • Dave says:

        Was that that Mt. Lee fire Casey?

    • Vinnie says:

      Hey Kristin (and Casey),

      I have been looking everywhere for this answer and maybe you can help..I loved this trail and the hike but was wondering if you knew what type of tree the “tree of life” is??? Definitely a pine but do you know the species? Also, were there more trees exactly like it on the peak or was there just other vegetation when the fire started? Any information would be greatly appreciated!

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