It’s hard to believe that another Labor Day is right around the corner. As the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day is a time of celebrating with friends and family. In many cases, the celebration involves food and drink and let’s face it, odds are we’re not talking about celeriac puree. The good news is that there are many great places in L.A., San Diego, Orange County and points in between to work off the beer brats, beer-battered fish and, well, beer, that is likely to be consumed. Here are ten challenging and scenic hikes in the L.A. area, ranked by order of difficulty. No special permits or passes are required for any of them; all of them have free parking. All you have to do is get there, and get there early–on a busy holiday weekend, L.A.’s trails see a lot of action. Last year’s list has also been included if you REALLY need to burn off some calories. Happy hiking & happy Labor Day!
#10) Los Penasquitos Canyon
Los Penasquitos Canyon is a 3,700-acre open space in central San Diego County with a small seasonal waterfall. The 6-mile round trip to the waterfall described here is one of several possible routes in the preserve. If you really over-did the potato salad this Labor Day, there are over 10 miles of trails in the park available for hiking.
#9) Backbone Trail to California Wildlife Center
This quiet section of the Backbone Trail features several ascents and descents, adding up to almost 700 total feet of climbing. Start at Piuma Road and make your way to the California Wildlife Center, passing through pleasant woodlands and surveying the geology of Calabasas Peak. You can continue onto Malibu Creek State Park and beyond if you feel inspired.
#8) Ernest C Debs Park
Like nearby Griffith Park and Elysian Fields Park, Debs is a nice urban outdoor space with a surprisingly challenging network of trails wrapping around the hillside. The 3-mile route mapped here features several steep ascents and descents, taking in views of downtown L.A., the Hollywood Hills, the San Gabriel Mountains and more.
#7) Mt. McCoy
Located on the edge of a residential neighborhood in Simi Valley, Mt. McCoy rises sharply, requiring a nonstop uphill climb of over 600 feet. At the top, you get a nearly aerial perspective on the streets below.
#6) Serrano Homestead Site
Using a little-known entrance to Point Mugu State Park, this hike travels through areas recently burned in the Springs Fire. This 4-mile hike brings you down into the valley, up to a ridge and back again. You can continue on Point Mugu State Park’s extensive network of trails if your caloric intake was particularly high and you want to pay the tab.
#5) Tar Creek
Though it’s a bit of a drive (north of Fillmore) for most L.A. residents, the rugged, remote scenery of Tar Creek is worth making an effort to see. This hike descends 700 feet to the banks of the creek. Adventurous hikers can continue to Sespe Creek, a 10-mile round trip that requires navigational skills and bushwhacking.
#4) Buzzard Peak
At 1,345 feet, Buzzard Peak is the tallest of the San Jose Hills. The short but steep climb features nice views of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Puente Hills, the L.A. basin, and if the weather is clear, the San Jacinto and San Bernardino ranges.
#3) Yellow Hill Fire Road
This steep, exposed trail in the western Santa Monica Mountains rewards the effort required (1,300 feet of climbing) with great ocean and mountain views. Just remember the sunblock and hat – there’s NO shade!
#2) Cahuilla Mountain
It may be a bit of a drive – half an hour east of Temecula – but Cahuilla Mountain is a must-do hike for any serious outdoor enthusiast. Rising more than a mile above the desert floor, it’s a challenging hike with a great variety of scenery.
#1) Champion Lodgepole via Castle Rock
This hike presents several challenges – a steep climb and tricky navigation, all at high altitude – but the payoffs are significant. You get to visit three great landmarks: Castle Rock, Bluff Lake and the Champion Lodgepole Pine on the scenic south side of Big Bear. The great scenery is enough to make you wish that every day was Labor Day!