Best Hikes In Southern California – 7 Trails You Shouldn’t Miss

Updated: March 19, 2023

Southern California, aka SoCal, is home to some of the most unique and breath-taking hikes. Whether you are looking for a serious challenge or something a little easier, there is definitely a hike available to satisfy your needs.

Don’t forget to check out some of the best hikes to the Hollywood Sign and also see our best hikes in America for more hiking inspiration!

Best Hikes SoCal

1. Mount Baldy

Mount Baldy (officially called Mount San Antonio) is one of the best and most challenging day hikes in Southern California. At 10,064ft, it is challenging in length, height and terrain.

Mount Baldy
Photo by Luis Escalante

It is a 10-mile hike with a 3900ft elevation gain that’s an absolute must-do if you’re looking for an incredible high elevation hike. The trail will go from the Baldy Bowl Trail to Devils Backbone to Manker Flats Trailhead.

This is a daunting hike that offers thrills and stunning views. You can hike all-year round, however, in winter you will need special snow gear (see our multi-day gear packing list for more details) and basic mountaineering skills.

This is a very popular trail, so it is recommended that you go during the week to avoid the crowds. The hike is pet-friendly, and you will need a National Parks Adventure Pass. The trail is beautiful and interesting. Definitely worth it.

2. The Bridge to Nowhere

The Bridge to Nowhere hike, located in the San Gabriel Mountains, is one of the most popular hikes in Southern California.

Bridge to Nowhere
Photo by Raymond Serna

You will hike 5 miles to the famous bridge that was seemingly built in the middle of nowhere. On your way you will need to cross the ice-cold Gabriel River multiple times, which you will be excited about as this hike can be very hot and gruelling. Unfortunately, there is little to no shade along the whole duration of the 10-mile hike.

The lack of shade and the heat is what makes this hike so strenuous. Don’t forget to pack lunch and water to keep you going. Luckily, after you reach the bridge, you will be rewarded with plenty of pools and mini waterfalls to cool down in, which is a welcomed relief from the heat.

If you are a thrill seeker, the bridge is also a popular spot for bungee jumping. You will need a National Forest Adventure Pass in order to do this popular hike.

3. Malibu Creek State Park

Malibu Creek State Park is a great option for both families and more serious hikers as you can make the hike whatever you want it to be. There are plenty of trails to choose from ranging in difficulty.

Malibu Creek State Park
Photo by 45SURF Hero’s Odyssey Mythology Photography

Malibu Creek State Park is a great destination to escape the busy city whether you are looking to take a gentle stroll or a more strenuous full-day loop. If you plan on hiking one of the longer trails, make sure you bring plenty of water and sunblock.

The 25-mile long creek is a great way to cool down from the hot weather. Parking is $10, and you also have the option to camp in the park.

4. Mt. San Jacinto

Mt. San Jacinto is the second tallest peak in Southern California and one of the most prominent peaks in the whole of the United States.

Mt. San Jacinto
Photo by Lucky

The 11.5-mile hike is a must-do for all outdoor enthusiasts. There are several routes to the summit, but the Mountain Station route is the shortest route with the least amount of elevation gain.

The hike offers exquisite scenery such as pine forests and lush meadows. From the peak you will have gorgeous and unobstructed views of Southern California.

If climbing up the entire mountain is too strenuous for you, there is the option to take the Palm Springs Tram up 8000ft before you hike from the drop-off point to the summit 6-miles away.

This is a difficult hike at high elevation, bring lots of water.

5. The Switzer Falls

The Switzer Falls hike, in the San Gabriel Mountains, is possibly the best known waterfall hike in Los Angeles County. This hike is short and simple and excellent for families.

Switzer Falls
Photo by Steve Berardi

The trail to the 50ft waterfall follows a completely shaded babbling creek down a wooded canyon and is 4.5-miles long there and back and should only take you around 2 hours and 15 minutes.

You will however need a National Forest Adventure Pass to access the trail. The trail is pet friendly and is an incredible way to escape the city and enjoy nature without physically exerting yourself.

You are also able to go swimming in the falls, given that there is enough water. Water can be sparse due to the drought.

6. Solstice Canyon Trail

Nestled within the rugged beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area lies a hidden gem for hikers and nature lovers alike: the Solstice Canyon Trail. A mystical pathway that spans approximately 3 miles round trip, this moderate trail is a feast for the senses, offering panoramic views of the majestic Pacific Ocean and the rolling mountains that envelop it.

But that’s not all the trail has to offer. As you embark on your journey, you’ll discover the enchanting ruins of the Keller House, a 19th-century stone house that was tragically consumed by fire in 1982. As you explore the crumbling walls and remnants of the past, you’ll feel transported back in time, marveling at the stories of those who once called this place home.

As you venture deeper into the trail, you’ll be greeted by the soothing sounds of trickling streams and the gentle cascade of a picturesque waterfall. The trail is well-maintained, ensuring a safe and enjoyable hike for hikers of all skill levels.

In short, the Solstice Canyon Trail is a wondrous escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a sanctuary where you can connect with nature and bask in the splendor of Southern California’s wilderness.

7. Main Trail in Malibu Creek State Park

A breathtaking adventure awaits you on the Main Trail in Malibu Creek State Park. This scenic pathway winds its way through the heart of the park, showcasing the awe-inspiring beauty of Southern California’s wilderness.

As you set out on your hike, you’ll be surrounded by a mesmerizing landscape that features towering oak trees, vibrant wildflowers, and rugged mountains that seem to stretch on forever. The trail itself is a delight to explore, offering a relatively flat terrain that’s accessible to hikers of all levels.

But that’s just the beginning of the journey. One of the trail’s crown jewels is the stunning Rock Pool, a serene swimming hole nestled in a picturesque canyon. The crystal-clear waters beckon you to take a dip and immerse yourself in the tranquility of this idyllic oasis.

As you continue your hike, you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the remnants of the MAS*H TV show set, which was filmed in the park in the 1970s. This intriguing attraction offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of film and television.

The Main Trail in Malibu Creek State Park is a paradise for nature lovers, a haven for those seeking respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Want more epic hikes in and around the States? Check out these:

About the author 

Mark Whitman

Mark has trekked extensively in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. He founded Mountain IQ in 2014 with the sole aim to be the best online information portal to some of the most popular mountain destinations around the world. When not writing for Mountain IQ, Mark is out exploring the outdoors with his wife!

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