You want exercise. You want to enjoy nature. You want to explore new places. You want more time for yourself. Yet when it actually comes to hiking – an activity that can easily give you all of those things – something always seems to get in the way. You fear getting lost or injured. Costs of travel and gear seem to add up. And does L.A. actually even have nature?
According to a survey from one of L.A.’s leading sites on hiking information, there are many different things keeping people off the trails. The top five are discussed in an article linked below, but there were some additional responses that merit comment. If any of these things have prevented you from getting out into nature, hopefully your mind can be changed.
Fear of injury, wildlife and poison oak
Lately, stories of injured hikers having to be rescued from places such as Pasadena’s Eaton Canyon and San Diego County’s Cedar Creek Falls seem to make headlines almost weekly. While it’s true that “Nature always bats last” and that sometimes hikers who are thoroughly equipped and responsible might be victimized by bad luck or unpredictable circumstances, many hikes require only basic preparation to be a safe and enjoyable experience. Information about most of the L.A. area’s popular hiking trails is readily available online and in print, including recommendations about when to go, what level of difficulty to expect and what gear to bring. Often times, alcohol or other careless behavior plays a role in hikers having to be rescued.
Another regular news item has been “P-22”, also known as the “Hollywood Lion.” This mountain lion has become a fixture at Griffith Park in recent years. He has also made an appearance at a private home and can actually be followed on Twitter (@mountainlionp22). While some may find the adventures of P-22 amusing, some also may find it a deterrent to getting out into nature. However, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, there have been only 15 documented mountain lion attacks on humans in the last 30 years. Bear attacks – despite the occasional appearance of the animal in residential neighborhoods and private homes – are even rarer, with the CDFW reporting only 12 since 1980; the most recent one in Los Angeles County occurred in 2003.
Poison oak and its high-altitude counterpart, poodle dog bush (a plant abundant in the areas of the San Gabriel Mountains burned by the Station Fire; notable for producing bright purple flowers in the spring) can certainly be annoying, even dangerous in extreme cases, but once again preparation and education will usually help hikers minimize contact. Expect poison oak in shaded, moist canyons; Orange County’s Black Star Canyon is notorious for it. Poison oak usually doesn’t grow above 5,000 feet; poodle dog usually grows at 3,300 feet or higher. Some of the cooler, north-facing slopes of the Angeles National Forest are abundant with both, so long pants and shirts are recommended. If you are worried you may have come into contact, applying an ointment to your exposed skin can help cut down the chances of it spreading.
Not having the right equipment
While some longer hikes may require supplies such as hiking poles, a compass, a flashlight, flint and a backpack big enough to carry a gallon of water, many shorter trips can be done with little more than a sturdy pair of sneakers or hiking boots. A few basics such as insect repellent and sunscreen can be found almost anywhere; a sun hat is an easy and inexpensive way to make yourself more comfortable, especially on exposed hikes. Hiking poles and headlamps can be bought online or at any number of sporting good stores. There are several free or cheap applications for smart phones such as compasses, maps and flashlights that can help with basic navigation. Long story short: there are many hikes you can enjoy without breaking the bank on equipment or having to become a hard-core gear geek.
Gas money; worries about taking a low clearance car on some of the dirt roads
These are two of the transportation concerns that hikers brought up in the survey (“Not wanting to battle traffic on the freeway” made the list too; see the link below for comment on that). To be sure, just when it seems as if gas prices in L.A. can’t get any higher, they do. For residents of the Valley, South Bay or downtown L.A., driving to destinations such as the San Bernardino National Forest, Santa Barbara or the Palomar Mountains of San Diego County can be pricey. Still, given the lack of expensive gear required for many hikes and given how many natural areas have little or no entrance fee, hiking can be fairly cost-effective compared to sports such as golf and tennis or gym memberships. You may be surprised at how many trails are closer than you think, requiring less gas. For more ideas on how to enjoy hiking while saving on gas money and transportation costs, check out this article.
While there are some popular hikes such as Orange County’s Holy Jim Falls that require several miles of travel on rough dirt roads, these are a small minority; many trails can be found in residential neighborhoods or directly off a major road such as the Angeles Crest Highway.
The heat and lack of shade in the L.A. area
This is a legitimate concern; many unprepared hikers start out on a pleasantly cool morning only to find themselves overheating in the mid-day sun. However, as with avoiding injury or getting lost, a minimum of planning is usually all that’s required. Try to time your hike to avoid the worst of the mid-day heat, wear sunscreen and a hat and carry extra water; a pint per mile is ideal.
While many areas are exposed and tend to get hot during the summer, L.A. also offers many pleasantly shaded trails through canyons, along the coast and more. See the link below for some ideas for hiking on hot days.
Skepticism that L.A. actually has nature
It’s no secret that Los Angeles has a reputation as being fake and artificial. Ironically, however, the industry that shaped that image more than any other, the movie business, got its start in L.A. because of the area’s diverse geological landscape. There are few places in the world which offer mountains, beaches, deserts, canyons and other habitats, plus a year-round climate. Vasquez Rocks, Malibu Creek State Park and Griffith Park are among the many L.A. natural areas with a pedigree in the movies and television (if you ever watch “A Thousand Ways to Die” reruns, keep an eye out for “deaths” that supposedly took place in Kansas or Indiana where the L.A. skyline is clearly visible).
It isn’t always easy to make time for yourself, but hiking is as great a way to do it as any. Don’t let the negative voices talk you out of it. Get out there and enjoy the trails!