Hiking in Griffith Park

Hiking in Griffith Park

Hiking has been synonomous with Griffith Park since
its founding. Organized Sierra Club hikes in the park
have been held since shortly after World War II. Regular
evening hikes in the park have been part of the club's
schedule since the late 1960s. This 1980s photo shows
Saturday morning hikers on their way back from Mt.
Hollywood to Park Center.

Photo: Bill Eckert Collection

City lights spill endlessly to the south. The Valley's suburban grid sprawls to the northwest. The San Gabriels, stoically dark, loom to the northeast.

Chaparral covers the surrounding hills. Coyotes, deer, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, skunks, owls and hawks roam free. With 53 miles of hiking trails to choose from, so do people.

Life seems healthier and slower-paced in this nearby wilderness. Twigs, not tempers, snap here. It's quite a contrast from a surrounding city that often seems tense, dense, polluted and pooped.

I'd like to introduce you to a part of Griffith Park you may not know. You probably already know Griffith Park as home to the Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Observatory, Greek Theatre, Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, merry-go-round, locomotive and pony rides. But these attractions merely ring the park's rustic heart: several thousand hilly acres of intact native chaparral criss-crossed by hiking trails.

When I think about the trails in Griffith Park, two special places come to mind. I think of a trail I don't hike very often which runs alongside the hills facing the Golden State Freeway. Walking along that trail, the freeway is visible and loud (which is why I rarely hike there). But after paralleling the freeway for a while, the path curls around a little knoll. You walk around this turn in maybe five seconds.

It is an amazing five seconds. Suddenly the freeway is gone. You can't see or hear it. You're now hiking along the rim of a quiet little canyon. You have escaped. Secondly, I think of the view mentioned at the beginning of this article--that from atop Mt. Hollywood. I've tried to photograph this view overlooking the Observatory and the city. Although I've taken some pretty good pictures, I've never come close to doing the view justice.

The panorama--a 360-degree view that allows me to see Pasadena, Glendale, the Valley, Long Beach and Santa Monica from the same spot--is what makes Mt. Hollywood special. It is here where I recognize that Griffith Park's open space, even more than its fine attractions, is what makes it unique among urban parks.

Over the last century, the chaparral in the upper portion of Griffith Park has gone from nearly worthless to virtually priceless. When Col. Griffith J. Griffith donated the park to the city in 1896, locals weren't particularly impressed. Undeveloped chaparral-covered hills were hardly scarce in turn-of-the-century Los Angeles. In fact, during the park's early years, trees were often cut up and carted off as fire wood.

Times have changed. Undeveloped chaparral-covered hills are scarce in today's Los Angeles. In Col. Griffith's time, the park's value was tied to its development. Today, the upper park is a valuable public resource because of its non-development.

I hike alone on Saturday mornings and with the Sierra Club two nights a week. Although the trails are busiest during the summer, I enjoy hiking the most in the winter when the air is crisp, the views are endless and the trails are virtually empty.

A lot of people, many of them retirees, hike on weekday mornings starting from the Charlie Turner Trailhead at the far end of the Observatory parking lot. They usually go to Mt. Hollywood and Dante's View, a public garden on the east slope of Mt. Hollywood. The Sierra Club sponsors hikes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. The hikes leave from the upper Merry-Go-Round parking lot at 7 p.m. and last an average of two hours. There are usually groups geared toward fast, moderate and slow hikers.

The Sierra Club's Angeles Chapter can be reached at (213)387-4287. The Griffith Park Rangers can be reached at (213)665-5188.

A Note on Safety

I recommend that beginning hikers go with a group or at least another person. It is possible to get lost or turn an ankle or have some other mishap, especially when you are new and inexperienced.

Personal security is also an issue, but not nearly so much as people who don't hike in the park think it is. I've hiked about 7,500 miles in Griffith Park, over a third of it alone, and have had no problems. Nor have I heard of any of my hiking friends--one of whom has hiked regularly in the park for more than 20 years--having any problem on the trails. But part of being safe is being prudent. I recommend hiking in the morning over hiking in the afternoon and I generally don't hike alone at night.

Griffith Park's 53 miles
of hiking trails offer a
spectacular combination
of open space, city views
and time to unwind.
This is part of the Mt.
Hollywood Trail, a 1.4
mile route from the
Observatory parking lot
to the top of Mt.
Hollywood. It may be
the busiest trail in the

Photo: Mike Eberts

Writer's note: This article, one of an occasional series, is part of the Griffith Park History Project, an attempt to chronicle the park's long and remarkable life.

What memories do you have of Griffith Park? Suggestions? Questions? Criticisms?

Please call me at Glendale College 240-1000, Ext. 5352 (I have voice mail, so you can leave a message at any time.)

Write to me, Mike Eberts, Griffith Park History Project, Glendale Community College, 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale, CA 91208.

E-mail me at MEberts@glendale.cc.ca.us

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