10 Best Hikes in Southern California (2023)
Trying to find the best hikes in Southern California? From the scenic Malibu Lake trail to San Gorgonio and Bridge to Nowhere, southern California is full of some of the best hiking trails in the USA. Whatever type of hike you’re chasing, California has more than enough options for you. Many of these are easy hikes that can be done by anyone. A couple of hikes are epic, bucket-list hikes that the average hiker may not want to undertake. If you are going for a hiking trip to southern California, here is the list of our top 10 Southern California hiking trails which offer fair weather and wonderful natural landscapes.
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1. MT. WATERMAN HIKE
A hike to Mount Waterman offers boulders to climb and rugged and remote beauty to enjoy in an absence of major crowds. Mount Waterman Trail provides a scenic route to the top, passing through a sylvan mixed forest of incense cedars and Jeffrey pines as it ascends 1,265 feet over 2.85 miles. Descend the same way for a 5.5-mile out and back hike or return by a dirt road for a 5.5-mile loop.
Waterman Mountain is a large, broad, forested peak that sits on the northern border of the San Gabriel Wilderness. It’s deep in the Angeles Forest and can be accessed from several directions. This is a perfect trail to take new, but adventurous hikers because the scenery is absolutely spectacular, it is a good work out and the rewards are instant. Make sure you have enough drinking water while hiking Mt. Waterman.
Location: Pearblossom, CA
Elevation: 1265 feet.
How to Get There: The trailhead is the Buckhorn Day Use Area, located in the middle of Angeles National Forest on the Angeles Crest Highway.
Distance: 5.5 miles, 3 hours.
2. ESCONDIDO FALLS – Best Hikes in Southern California
Escondido Falls trail is one of the best hiking trails in southern California along the coast of Malibu. If you are a novice to hiking Escondido Falls hiking is perfect for you. This 3.7 miles heavily trafficked trail is relatively easy that leads you to one of the best waterfalls in southern California.
The waterfall has three tiers. The first one can be accessed easily, the remaining two should be attempted with caution. The second waterfall is just 20 feet tall but the third falls is the main highlight in the entire trail.
The 150 feet waterfall cascades over the moss and foliage which is worth visit. Spring is the best time to hike Escondido Falls when you can see wildflowers and strong water flow. Hikers can come here with their dogs but must be kept on-leash.
Location: Malibu, CA
Elevation: 400 feet
How to Get There: Parking for this hike is in the small lot on Winding Road off Pacific Coast Highway. I recommend putting “Visitor Parking for Escondido Canyon and Falls” into your Google Maps, which will take you to the parking lot on the Winding Road and PCH. From here, you can start walking up the road.
Distance: 3.7 miles(round trip), 2 hours.
3. SAN GORGONIO VIA VIVIAN CREEK TRAIL
At 11,500 feet, San Gorgonio is the highest peak in southern California. There are few ways to hike to the top. Among all, the Vivian Creek trail is the quickest and most scenic way to the summit. Keep in mind that Vivian Trail is the steepest way also making it one of the most beautiful hikes in the southern California area.
San Gorgonio is also known as ‘old greyback’ for its grey and rounded peak. The Vivian Creek trail is divided into five sections. The first and third sections are gentle but the second, fourth, and fifth sections get steeper. The trail is hard but the jaw-dropping panoramic view from the top will easily heal your pain.
Tips: You need a good level of fitness to attempt this hike. Permission is needed for an overnight backpacking trip. There are few camping options available in High Creek Camp.
Location: San Bernardino County, CA
Elevation: 5,470 feet.
How to Get There: Vivian Creek is the most popular trailhead for San Gorgonio. Keep your Google maps ready to find the parking area. The upper parking lot usually fills fast during the weekends. I will recommend starting early to get a space in the upper lot. After parking, display your Adventure Pass and set out on the trail.
Distance: 18.5 miles(round trip), 10 hours.
4. SAN BERNARDINO PEAK VIA ANGELUS OAKS
San Bernardino Mountain is one of the best-kept secrets of Southern California. The hike to San Bernardino Peak is a tough hike and you should not take this hike lightly, but it is still a very enjoyable summit. June to November the trail is heavily trafficked and it offers stunning views of Mt. Baldy.
Permits are required to hike this trail and it is free. You can get the permit ahead of time from the Mill Creek Ranger Station. There are three distinct sections to this trail. The first section has gentle steep and the second section offers mesmerizing views to the north towards Big Bear.
The trail is a little hard to hike. I will recommend wearing comfortable hiking shorts.
Hikers are also allowed for an overnight backpacking trip to the Limber Pine Bench Camp. Permits are required for an overnight hike and can be obtained from the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association website.
Location: Angelus Oaks, CA
Elevation: 4,721 feet.
Dog Friendly: Yes
How to Get There: Take Highway 38 which is the road that takes you up to the backside of Big Bear. The key is to look for the fire station in the small town of Angelus Oaks and turn right then an immediate left. That’s where you will see a sign that directs you onto a rough, high clearance dirt road for a half-mile to the trailhead.
Distance: 16.5 miles(round trip), 9 hours.
5. MALIBU LAKE TRAIL
Located in the Santa Monica mountains, this trail leads to a fantastic overlook of the Lake Malibu and the surrounding mountains. However, there are some other trails that lead to this overlook, but this longer route provides the most scenic vista of the Santa Monica mountains. Couples can also hike the Malibu Lake trail while enjoying a romantic getaway in California.
The 4-mile hike goes downhill and then ascends to the top of Lake Malibu Trail with 224 feet of elevation between the high and low points of the hike. A 4.2-mile loop is also an option. The trail is mostly coastal chaparral, although the route up from Deer Leg Trail is densely wooded. Malibu Lake Trail is an easy hike where you can go with your kids. It is also considered as one of the best hikes for dogs in southern California.
Location: Calabasas, CA
Elevation: 224 feet.
Dog Friendly: Yes
How to Get There: Follow this address on Google map: 27800 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills, CA 91301. This will lead you to a dirt pull-off right off the Mulholland Highway. You’ll see a dirt path leading up and away from the road at the southern part of the pull-off. This is the Cistern Trail Trailhead.
Distance: 8 miles(round trip), 3.5 hours.
6. RED ROCK CANYON AT WHITING RANCH
The Red Canyon hike in Whiting Ranch is one of the best hikes in southern California. It is just one of a handful of hikes in this small wilderness area surrounded by suburbia that offers beautiful views of local mountains, Catalina Island, and an amazing red rock canyon.
This popular day hike of southern California is perfect for kids for its gentle climbing trail that makes it way up an oak woodland canyon, eventually ending in a smooth red rock canyon. Whether you are a beginner or experienced hiker, you must keep these day hike essentials while hiking.
This part of southern California is surprisingly filled with green grass lined the sandy creek banks. The entire trail is well marked for the hikers, so you shouldn’t miss it if you’re looking out for the turns. Try to start the hike early in the morning, so that you can watch the sunset and enjoy the magical glowing color of the red canyon.
Location: Lake Forest, CA
Elevation: 1262 feet.
Dog Friendly: No
How to Get There: This journey starts and ends at the Portola Ranch Wahoo’s. Follow this address for Red Rock Canyon trailhead: 26701 Portola Pkwy, Foothill Ranch, CA 92610. There is plenty of parking available on evenings and weekends.
Distance: 10 miles(round trip), 3 hours.
Read Also: 10 Best Places to Live in Southern California
7. MT. BADEN POWELL VIA VINCENT GAP
A hike to Mt. Baden Powell is moderately challenging with a majestic reward. It is a well-maintained trail with plenty of views to keep your eyes happy. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself turning around every 5 minutes and saying, “wow, this is gorgeous..!”. Mount Baden Powell is one of the tallest peaks in the San Gabriel Range.
The trail begins from the west end of the parking lot and begins immediately a relentless ascent up the north ridge to the summit. The trail consists of 4 miles of switchbacks that take you from the trailhead to the summit. You will be actually following a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail is mostly shaded by pines at this elevation and has a moderate but very consistent grade. Don’t expect this trail as crowd-free on summer weekends.
Location: Lake Forest, CA
Elevation: 2900 feet.
Dog Friendly: Yes(on leash)
How to Get There: Vincent Gap is a popular trailhead a few miles outside of Wrightwood on Highway 2. It can be reached from Los Angeles in the west or from the Inland Empire in the east. There is plenty of parking available. Check the road condition before your journey. The roads can be closed in winter because of snow.
Distance: 8 miles(round trip), 4 hours.
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
8. SAN JACINTO PEAK
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Hike to Mt San Jacinto is one of the best hiking trails in southern California for good reasons. At an elevation of 10,824 feet above sea level, Mt. San Jacinto offers magnificent 360-degree views and an alpine environment that surprises first-time visitors.
Once you start your hike, you will be amazed by the surrounding views and lush landscapes. The landscape here is so interesting and unique that it is worth going out of your way to see and do. You must be physically fit before attempting this hike as you have to hike in elevations over 10,000 feet.
You can also do camping close to the summit at Round Valley. It’s a fun little campsite and a good place if you want to spend some time in a serene atmosphere.
Location: Palm Springs, CA
Elevation: 2644 feet.
Dog Friendly: No
How to Get There: The trailhead can be accessed via the Palm Springs Aerial Tram which is about a 2-hour drive from Los Angeles. You have to buy a tram ticket which is $25 per person. This tram is the world’s largest rotating ariels tramway, starting in the Sonoran desert and ending in an alpine zone. There are some gift shops, cafes, and restaurants at the top station.
Distance: 11 miles(round trip), 5-6 hours.
Read Also: 10 Scenic Hikes in Santa Cruz
9. BRIDGE TO NOWHERE
Bridge to Nowhere is one of the best hiking spots in southern California that you have to do at least once in your lifetime. It is a popular hike in the Golden State and it is crowded, especially on weekends. On a hot summer day, the hike is very fun when there are plenty of stream crossings and water holes.
The road is unremarkable, although it offers amazing views of the landscapes throughout the trail. The hike to the Bridge to Nowhere is mostly gradual with some rugged terrain and rock scrambling. The remarkable bridge was built in 1936 but was soon abandoned and left incomplete and now it is just a bridge all by itself. Those who are fond of adventures can do bungee jumping here.
The trail has limited shade and the last two miles are almost entirely under the sun. It is recommended to carry lunch and water filter bottles while hiking Bridge to Nowhere.
Location: La Verne, CA
Elevation: 809 feet.
Dog Friendly: Yes(leashed)
How to Get There: The Bridge to Nowhere hike trailhead is about a 30-minute drive to the north from downtown Azuza, CA. The trail starts at Coyote Flat at the end of East Fork Road (or USFS 8W16). There is a small parking lot at the end of the road and you have to buy a pass to use the parking lot.
Distance: 10 miles(round trip), 5-6 hours.
BOLSA CHICA ECOLOGICAL RESERVE HIKE
It is another short but spectacular hike in southern California with great opportunities for wildlife spotting. While this hike is only 4.5 miles in length, this hike is accessible year-round and offers great views of seabird nesting islands, mudflats, fresh and saltwater marsh, active riparian river banks, and water.
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is one of the last remaining wetland ecosystems in Southern California. There are over 200 species of wildlife in the park. In general, you can see lots of ducks and waterfowl, hawks, shorebirds, herons and egrets, owls, lizards, and many more wild animals. This hike is perfect for families and fits for all skill levels.
Location: Huntington Beach(Dog-friendly beach in California)
Highest Elevation: 30 feet.
Dog Friendly: No
How to Get There: The hike starts at the north parking area of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, which is easier to get to from all directions.
Distance: 4.5 miles(round trip), 2 hours.
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I am bookmarking this for the next time we make a trip to Southern Cali! We love it there but have never actually been hiking 🙂
Thank you so much Adriane. 🙂
I’ve never been on a hike before, but some of these trails sound amazing. Thanks for sharing!
Beautiful! Maybe someday I’ll be able to visit! Love hiking! And this seems like a great hikers playground.
This is awesome! I will definitely refer to this whenever we get that way. Thanks for such an informative post!
Great list! Can’t wait to hike some of these trails next time I’m in California, especially the Bridge to Nowhere trail. I love stream crossings and water holes, so that one sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing these California hikes!
These are absolutely beautiful! I def will be keeping this list in mind next time I make it out to the West Coast.