As an outdoor blogger living in Southern California, I always get asked about my favorite regional hikes. It can be a difficult question to answer with the number of trails lining our local mountains, deserts, and beaches. Having hiked hundreds of trails over the past few years, I’ve started to dial in on the kinds of hikes that leave a mark months after I’ve left the trail. The first key feature I look for is a hike that reaches a peak or multiple peaks. There is nothing like being able to look around Southern California with a bird’s eye view of the surrounding landscape. My second requirement is that the hike is physically challenging. I really like to push myself and reach for trails with high elevation gains. My third and final requirement is that the hike have beautiful scenery. This is pretty much every trail in Southern California, and one of the many blessings of living here. Below you will find my 10 favorite Southern California hikes, that best embody everything I love most about hiking in the Golden State.
1.) Mt. Baldy Loop via Ski Hut Trail
Mt. Baldy is the most popular and well known mountain in Southern California. Standing tall at 10,064ft, Mt. Baldy claims the title of highest peak in Los Angeles County and can be seen from downtown on most days. There are a few trails that will take you to the summit of Mt. Baldy, but my favorite hike is the Ski Hut Trail to Devil’s Backbone loop. Starting at Manker Flat, this hike ascendes 4000ft in 4 miles via Ski Hut Trail to the summit, and then descends via Devil’s Backbone to return to Manker Flat. The great part about hiking down Devil’s Backbone is that you’ll pass by the Baldy Ski Lift Notch Restaurant where you can grab some well-earned food and refreshments. This hike is best enjoyed from May to October.
- Distance: 11 miles
- Peak Elevation: 10,064 ft.
- Elevation Gain: 3890 ft.
- Bonus Hikes: If you’re looking for a more challenging route, hike to Mt. Baldy’s sumit via Register Ridge or Old Mt. Baldy Trial.
Cucamonga Peak via Icehouse Canyon is my favorite hike in all of Southern California. At 12 miles round-trip with 4000ft of elevation gain, it’s also one of the more difficult. Starting out from Icehouse Canyon parking lot in Mt. Baldy, this trail follows a creek to cover some of the most beautiful ground in the San Gabriel Mountains. The summit is the real prize though, as you get to look down on the Inland Empire and Los Angeles County from 8858ft. This hike is best enjoyed from May to October.
- Distance: 11 miles
- Peak Elevation: 10,064 ft.
- Elevation Gain: 3890 ft.
3.) San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek Trail
Mount San Gorgonio is the highest peak in Southern California at 11,503ft. The shortest trail to the summit is the Vivian Creek Trail, a direct route that gains nearly 6000ft over 17.5 miles round-trip. One of the great things about hiking tall peaks in Southern California is that you’ll quickly gain a geographic awareness of the surrounding area. The summit of San Gorgonio is the perfect place to put your knowledge to the test as you look down on all of Southern California. This hike is best enjoyed from May to October.
- Distance: 17 miles
- Peak Elevation: 11,503 ft.
- Elevation Gain: 5,840 ft.
4.) San Bernardino Peak via Angelus Oaks
Standing next to San Gorgonio Peak is the 10,469ft San Bernardino Peak. This hike gains 4,700ft of elevation with a 16 mile round trip journey from Angelus Oaks. Much like hiking San Gorgonio, hikers of San Bernardino will be treated to some amazing views of Southern California. The added perk of this hike, is that the crowds are usually half of what you’ll find for San G. This hike is best enjoyed from May to October.
- Distance: 16 miles
- Peak Elevation: 10,469 ft.
- Elevation Gain: 4,700 ft.
Mt Baden Powell is a 9406ft peak that can be reached via a 9 mile hike with 3000ft of elevation gain starting at Vincent Gap. Vincent gap is located on HWY 2 a few miles west of Wrightwood. This is a great hike to start acclimatizing for some of the harder hikes on this list. Although Baden Powell sits tall at 9406ft, the trail is mostly smooth and well graded. This trail is also on the PCT until you near the summit of Baden Powell, making it a great option for overnights and backpacking trips. This hike is best enjoyed from May to October.
- Distance: 9 miles
- Peak Elevation: 9,406 ft.
- Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft.
6.) San Jacinto via Skyline Trail “Cactus to Clouds”
San Jacinto Peak hovers over Palm Springs at 10,834 ft, and is one of the most prominent summits in the United States. There are a few beautiful trails that reach San Jacinto, but my favorite is arguably the most difficult hike in the United States. Starting from the Palm Springs Art museum and climbing over 10,000 ft to San Jacinto Peak, is an adventure known as “Cactus to Clouds”. I definitely don’t recommend this trail to anyone lacking peak physical fitness, but it is a gem for those that have the legs for it. This hike is best enjoyed from May to October.
- Distance: 23 miles using the tram (35 miles for C2C2C)
- Peak Elevation: 10,833 ft.
- Elevation Gain: 10,400 ft.
After you’ve taken on some of the mountain hikes I’ve recommended in this list, your body may be aching for some rest and relaxation on the beach. Make sure to give Catalina Island a visit if you’re looking to spend a short weekend away from home. The great thing about Catalina Island is that it can be reached with a short 1 hour boat ride from Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point. Many SoCal residents know about the fun that can be had in Catalina’s main city, Avalon. Very few know about the great hiking opportunities on the island. My favorite is the Trans-Catalina Trail, a trail that starts in Avalon and cuts across the island to Two Harbors before ending at Parsons Landing and/or Starlight Beach. The full trail is just shy of 40 miles, but it’s easy to do sections of it while visiting the island. This hike can be enjoyed year round.
- Distance: 38 miles
- Peak Elevation: 1,742 ft.
- Elevation Gain: 11,500 ft.
Mt Wilson is best known for the telescopes and astronomical observatory at its summit. A Los Angeles icon, many Angelinos are unaware that you can visit the 5712 ft peak of Mt. Wilson via a 14 mile hike. Come prepared, as this is no easy hike. Starting at the Chantry Flat trailhead just north of Arcadia, you’ll climb 4200ft of elevation before reaching the top. This hike can be enjoyed year round.
- Distance: 14 Miles
- Peak Elevation: 5,712 ft.
- Elevation Gain: 4180 ft.
- Bonus Hikes: There are two more difficult options to reach Mt. Wilson. The first is via Sierra Madre, and the second is the insane Bastard Ridge!
Santiago Peak is the highest and most prominent peak in Orange County at 5689ft. The hike to Santiago Peak passes by Holy Jim Falls before taking hikers to a summit covered with microwave and telecom antennas. The summit itself is not much to look at, but the views it provides are pretty spectacular.
- Distance: 16.6 miles
- Peak Elevation: 5689 ft
- Elevation Gain: 4318 ft
10.) Iron Mountain via Heaton Flat
To reach the 8007 ft summit of Iron Mountain, hikers start at the Heaton Flats trail-head, which is the same starting point as the mega-popular “Bridge to Nowhere” hike. Despite the craziness of the trailhead, Iron Mountain is a great hike if you like solitude. This trail is so difficult that you’re not likely to see very many people. This trail starts out with a smooth singletrack that begins gaining elevation instantly. The difference between the trailhead elevation and the Iron Mountain summit elevation is about 5800 ft (2200 to 8000)… but because of the roller coaster nature of the trail, the total elevation gain is 7200 ft!
- Distance: 14 miles
- Peak Elevation: 8007 ft.
- Elevation Gain: 7200 ft.