Frequently Asked Questions


So you’ve decided you’re going to give this hiking in Los Angeles thing a try. Congratulations! But before you head off into the wilderness, you probably have a few questions.

Here are some of the questions that I get asked fairly often. If you’ve got a question that’s not on here, please feel free to email me. I’ll do my best to help out!

What do I need to hike?

Thankfully, hiking is a relatively cheap activity to get involved with. While there are some trails you can do in sneakers and shorts, sensible hikers have a list of must-have gear we call The Ten Essentials. I also have a list of a few extra items that aren’t necessarily essential, but do make hikes a bit nicer.

Where can I get good hiking maps?

A good hiking map is one of the Ten Essentials. I personally use and prefer Tom Harrison Maps – they’re detailed and up to date, and can be bought on waterproof paper – but there are other options, like USGS maps and local areas covered under outdoor publishers like Wilderness Press. I wrote some more info and offered some links on this post. You can also find a few more recommended maps listed in my Amazon Shop.

How can I tell if a road is closed?

Nothing’s more frustrating than trying to drive to a trailhead, only to find yourself face-to-face with a roadblock or construction crew. If you’re hiking within Los Angeles County, the LA County Department of Public Works has an excellent, easy-to-read page that clearly shows which roads are closed and whether or not they’re schedule to reopen anytime soon.

*** The Station Fire Burn Area is currently closed to all outdoor recreation until further notice. For a detailed map of the closure area, click here. I will keep this as updated as possible, since other Station Fire-related resources seem to be disappearing from the web.

If you’re headed to any of our local National Forest or Recreation Areas, you should try contacting them directly or checking their closure pages for updates:
Angeles National Forest
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
San Bernardino National Forest
Los Padres National Forest
Cleveland National Forest

Is there anywhere to download free topo maps?

Actually, there is! If you don’t mind spending a bit of time, you can download high resolution topographical maps in PDF format, free from the United States Geological Survey web site. Be sure you read this post beforehand, though, for some free browser plug-ins and apps that will make the process much, much easier.

What are the best trails for beginners?

I’ve assigned difficulties to all of the hikes I’ve written up for this site, so check the list and look the “Easy” ones or scan for green pins on the Modern Trail Map.

I’ve also taken the liberty of picking out a few local trails for greenhorn hikers. They’ll be easy enough on your legs to not completely wipe you out, but most offer scenery that’ll get you hooked on hiking. Check out my post on the Best L.A. Hikes For Beginners.

Where are good hiking trails around L.A.?

Everyone’s got their favorite trails … and I am no exception. I’ve divided the L.A. hiking area into a few distinct geographic regions, and picked my favorite trails from each on a page located here. Some of these are simple strolls through meadows, others are nail-biting cliff-scrambles. There should be a little something for everyone. Over time, I’ll be adding more types of trails to these lists. You can always access them from the BEST HIKES drop down menu.

What are the best times to hike?

Most of the trails I cover here aren’t that heavily populated, but even on the popular treks, you can find yourself some solitude. Generally, the earlier you hit the trailhead, the more of the forest you’ll have to yourself. Leaving early also has the added benefit of giving you cooler temperatures at the time you’re most likely to be going uphill.

Seasonally, I’ll be adding and updating pages regularly. So far:

Best Trails to Hike After It Rains
L.A. Summer Hiking Guide

Where can I meet other people to hike with?

Sometimes you want a trailbuddy to join you on your hike, especially if you’re just starting out. I posted a few sites and organizations that will help you find some like-minded hiking partners, and got some good additional responses from a few readers. I also recommend looking into local hiking groups like the LA Trail Hikers.

Can I take my dog on this trail?

As luck would have it, I now have a drop-down page of good hikes for dogs on the navigation menu!

The LA Times posted an online feature about some great local trails that DO allow dogs. Read Sit. Stay. Hike. here!


  • Dan Williams says:

    I saw your name mentioned in a news article about the recent fatal and non-fatal accidents in the San Gabriels.

    These deaths and injuries are terrible, and one must grieve for the loss of life that occurred in the pursuit of outdoor recreation. With no disrespect to the involved hikers intended, I feel it would be helpful to the hiking community to know exactly what kind of footwear each of these hikers were equipped with and whether they were using trekking poles or ice axes. The Mt. Baldy Fire Captain’s comment, “The ice is solid as a rock,” has always been good news to me, and my microspikes have always locked onto solid glare ice on any reasonable slope up or down without slipping a millimeter. Full mountaineering crampons are designed to deal with unreasonable ice slopes, the more solid the ice, the better. So I don’t get the comment.

    Another comment attributed to the same fire captain that “the ice was so thick that “crampons and ice axes … weren’t preventing people from slipping on the ice” makes absolutely no sense to me. Since when do crampons care how thick the ice is?

    One hopes there is someone in the hiking community — you maybe? — who might have the resources to obtain the facts of these most unfortunate events and produce an objective account that could serve the purpose of educating winter hikers. I believe that such education is badly needed. If my faith in microspikes and trekking poles is misplaced, I would prefer to find out the easy way. I have yet to encounter conditions where this equipment has not worked exceptionally well.

    During my first hike with microspikes on a day in February a few years ago, I was descending a stretch of lower Icehouse Canyon where flows from side streams had produced a 75 foot section of undulating black ice that looked about 3 inches thick. As I sauntered down at a good clip three teen agers hesitating at the bottom of the section got very big eyes watching an old man casually blasting down this nasty looking stuff. When I reached them I showed them my footwear. They seemed quite impressed. They were each wearing Bermuda shorts and lowcut sneakers with no socks. As I continued, they started up the ice. As I recall there is a 50-foot near vertical drop off the side of the slightly off-camber trail at this point. For every hiker I saw that day who appeared properly equipped, I saw 6 or 8 like those boys.

    None of the news accounts provides any information about how or why the individuals who died or were injured slipped or if they were properly equipped for the conditions. Closing the trails is a knee-jerk bureaucratic response. Posting big, ugly, dayglo signs at the trailhead stating what proper equipment would be and instituting a policy of charging $3000 or more per rescue per person and posting this info too might be a step in the right direction. What we’ve got now is chaos.

    I would appreciate it if you would let me know if you might be interested in pursuing my suggestion as well as any useful information you might discover. I would do it myself, but I have no idea where to begin.



  • Rory says:

    Just wondering what gps unit it the best one to get these days.

  • Zoë Lillian says:

    Hi Casey – I LOVE your site, and have been using it avidly for the past two years that I’ve been in LA. I’m heading out to the East Coast (tri-state area) over Thanksgiving, and am hoping to get a post-turkey family hike going. Any recommendations for websites like yours for East Coast hikes?

  • Paul Clark says:

    I’m looking for a good place to teach kids some map & compass skills, maybe somewhere with a “cool destination” that you’d be likely to miss without correctly using these skills. Would be best in Santa Monica mtns. or Angeles Crest areas. Thanks!

  • Em says:

    Hi Modern Hiker! By any chance do you have any tips to prevent my hands from swelling when going on long hikes? Thanks!

    • That happens to a lot of people and it’s normal and harmless. Most of the time it’s just from having your hands down and swinging while you’re walking – try holding on to your pack or just doing some arm raises at rest stops and see if that helps at all!

  • Eva says:

    If I want to do a 3 day long backpacking hike through Angeles National Forest in the winter, how easy is it to find a water source? I will have the resources to treat it.

    Other than that, thank you for all the information you post here. It is very helpful.

    • Eva,

      It’s really tough to predict that. With the drought, many reliable sources have vanished. If it continues there’s no way to predict what will be around a few months from now. But if we get the El Niño that’s been gaining strength, you might have TOO MUCH water on your hands :)

  • Lilian says:


    Are there any kid (stroller) friendly hikes in Southern California?

  • Maria Mosher says:

    I am very limited in walking due to MS. I want to find w/c accessible trails that are beautiful close to where I live in Camarillo? Any ideas?

  • Nisha says:

    I am very very impressed. I have not seen any website that gives such indepth information about hiking. I love your pictures. Just a suggestion: Maybe you could post mileage and elevation at the top, after the name of the hike. Its a good filter for people who are beginner hikers and dont want to hike 9 miles on Day 1.

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Thanks, Nisha!

      That’s an excellent suggestion. On my more recent hikes, I have been putting the “basics” information at the top of the page, so you don’t have to scroll down. Re-formatting the older hikes is on the to-do list … I just have to squeeze some time out of the week to do it! : )

  • Angela says:

    Thank you so much for doing this. Your site has made planning my every-weekend backpacking adventures and day hikes so much easier.
    You are the best!!

  • Gregg says:

    I’ve been out here for a few years and started getting into hiking last August at Mt. Baden-Powell, I’m hooked! I have some basic gear and have been trying to figure out how to use a compass and a topo map and develop a sense of direction that isn’t related to NYC’s grid. I’d like to get a gps at some point since it seems a lot easier to backtrack or follow someone’s path, which gps would you recommend? Also, what are the rules as far as camping is concerned? As I was heading back to the parking lot from Sandstone peak, in the dark, some guys were heading up, are you allowed to camp there?
    Again, thanks for this site, this and local hikes are very helpful!

  • lendall says:

    Modern Hiker is great. It is helping me to expand my hiking repertoire.
    Quick and obvious suggestion: Modern Hiker should have a fan page on Facebook. I discovered Modern Hiker by accident while searching for a trail map online. The Facebook fan page would primarily just direct people to the Modern Hiker site, and maybe give the headlines of recent hikes and posts.

Join the Discussion