Hikes are underrated stops on trips to L.A., including the Bronson Canyon Trail.
Hikes are underrated stops on trips to L.A., including the Bronson Canyon Trail.
Laura Randall

Head for Hollywood's Hills

By Laura Randall
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 14, 2006

As far as 19th-century fugitive hideouts go, this spot just a dozen miles from downtown Los Angeles must be as good as it gets. The hilltop clearing that was home to Owen Brown, who settled here after surviving the antislavery raid at Harpers Ferry led by his father, John, is surrounded by chaparral-covered mountains to the north and sweeping city views to the south and west. It can be accessed from several trails in the Angeles National Forest, including El Prieto Canyon, a four-mile trek through thick brush, oak forest and year-round waterfalls.

El Prieto Canyon is just one of many hidden-from-view trails that makes one forget all about the freeway snarls and strip malls often associated with the city. Tucked behind freeway exits, at the edge of tract developments and on the sites of former movie and TV show sets, these paths lead to wide-open ocean vistas, rocky promontories and other sights that turn an ordinary walk in the woods into an unforgettable experience.

Here are five hikes of varying levels of difficulty and personality that are guaranteed to add an unexpected dose of serenity to any visit to Los Angeles. Note: Lengths given are the hikes' round-trip measures.

1. Bronson Canyon Trail (Griffith Park)

Length: 1.5 miles

Rating: Difficult

The hike: Just two miles northeast of Hollywood and Vine, this trail leads to chiseled rock caves that have served as a set for everything from outer space serials to episodes of "Star Trek" and "MacGyver." Most famously, Adam West careened the Batmobile out of one of the caves each week on his way to thwart wrongdoers in the 1960s series "Batman." Today, you're more likely to find dog walkers and tai chi practitioners than camera crews hanging out by the caves. Tourists occasionally show up, too, though they tend to favor the nearby and decidedly more congested Mount Hollywood Trail. The caves sit only a quarter of a mile from the trailhead, but this hike can be extended another mile by taking the narrow dirt trail to the right of the biggest cave up to a narrow mountain ridge. It's a rigorous uphill scramble, but the reward is a bird's-eye view of the caves and sweeping panoramas of Griffith Park, including the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign.

Getting there: Exit the Hollywood Freeway (101) at Gower Road and head north to Franklin Avenue. Turn right, then make a left on Bronson and continue until it intersects with Canyon Drive. Follow Canyon about a mile north until the road dead-ends at a small parking lot just before a gate marked Hollywoodland Camp.

2. El Prieto Canyon (El Prieto Trail in Angeles National Forest)

Length: Eight miles

Rating: Moderate

The hike: Before the Brown brothers arrived in Los Angeles in the 1880s, El Prieto Canyon was home to Robert Owen, a former slave who built a fortune by supplying firewood and lumber from the canyon to the U.S. Army. The dirt trail, which zigzags up a narrow canyon, remains one of the most tranquil and undisturbed patches of wilderness in the area. It ends at a paved fire road near a couple of mountain cabins. To get to Owen Brown's grave site (which extends the hike by about a mile), turn right and follow the fire road past a chained gate and around a knoll toward three electricity towers. Last year, a local hiking group sued -- and won -- to gain public access to the grave, which sits on private land. The grave stone disappeared several years ago, but a few potted flowers and a cross made out of police tape marked the clearing on a recent visit.

Getting there: Take I-210 to the Arroyo Boulevard/Windsor Avenue exit. Drive three-quarters of a mile north and turn left into the small parking lot just before the stop sign at Ventura Avenue. Walk past the fire road gate across the street from the parking lot and follow the road north until you see signs for El Prieto Canyon. The trail branches off to the right.

3. Paseo Miramar (Topanga State Park)

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company