Day Hikes in Southern California: 6 Great Trails for Your Next SoCal Visit

southern california hikingFrom groomed paths high above the Pacif­ic Ocean to rugged trails used by coy­otes and oth­er wildlife on the desert floor, there are day hikes in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia for every kind of trail seek­er. Here’s a short-list for your next vis­it to SoCal.


1. The Goat Canyon Rail­road Tres­tle, Anza-Bor­rego State Park
Dis­tance: 4–6 miles

This hid­den hik­ing area in the high desert of San Diego will take you over desert­ed rail­road tracks, past half-fished tun­nels, and even­tu­al­ly to one of the tallest wood­en train tres­tles in the world. Whether you start from the top and make your way through pitch-black tun­nels or come up from the bot­tom walk­ing past native fan palms and spindly cac­ti, make sure to bring plen­ty of water and wear a hat. There are a few steep grades, but for the most part, it’s an easy walk. How­ev­er, you do want to stay heat smart and avoid this trail in the summer.


2. Tor­rey Pines State Nat­ur­al Reserve, La Jol­la, San Diego
Dis­tance: Varies

The trails at Tor­rey Pines can be crowd­ed on week­ends, but with so many paths to choose from you can quick­ly leave the tourists behind. The trails are marked and well main­tained, most­ly because you’ll want to stay on the paths—wandering off the trails can be haz­ardous with loose rocks and ero­sion. All trails lead to spec­tac­u­lar views of Tor­rey Pines State Beach and after your hike, you might want to scam­per down and take a swim in the ocean.


3. Caballero Canyon Trail, Tarzana, CA
Dis­tance: 1–2 miles

This mod­er­ate­ly easy hike on the Caballero Canyon Trail will give you views of wild­flow­ers and the Los Ange­les basin. Mean­der­ing trails take you up and over the small hills of this canyon with a few slip­pery slopes along the way. There are patch­es of bright col­ors along the dirt trails, and if you go in the evening, you can catch a spec­tac­u­lar sun­set and still have time to hus­tle to your car before dark.


4. Rose Val­ley Falls, Ojai
Dis­tance: 1–5 miles

This hike through Cal­i­for­nia oak trees to the mag­nif­i­cent 300-foot water­fall has a trail for both begin­ners and the more expe­ri­enced hik­er. Rose Val­ley water­fall is the tallest in the Topatopa Moun­tains, locat­ed in the Los Padres Nation­al For­est. The eas­i­er hike, which is only .08 round trip, has an ele­va­tion of 150 feet, so take your time. Once you get to the stun­ning low­er falls, you will be at the 100-foot tier, and you can stay and get your feet wet or con­tin­ue the adven­ture to the sec­ond tier of falls. Either way, this hike will inspire you to dis­cov­er more of the Ojai backcountry.


5. Eaton Canyon, Los Angeles
Dis­tance: 4 miles

For such a dry part of the state, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia has an abun­dance of run­ning water­falls includ­ing the 40-foot water­fall at the Eaton Canyon Nature Cen­ter in Los Angeles.

This nat­ur­al area locat­ed at the base of the San Gabriel Moun­tains is a 190-acre nature pre­serve with horse trails, a zoo, and creeks scat­tered around the nature reserve. Once you find the well-marked trail, be pre­pared to do a lit­tle boul­der-hop­ping across the creek—depending on the sea­son and rainfall—and con­tin­ue on the trail, which, at times, can be a lit­tle rugged. Once you arrive at the falls, you can cool down in the mist from the water­fall or put your feet in the small pool. The des­ti­na­tion is more crowd­ed in the sum­mer, but you can usu­al­ly find some qui­et time if you go dur­ing the week.


6. Ship­wreck Trail, Los Angeles
Dis­tance: 1–2 Miles

Hik­ing on dirt trails is great, but scam­per­ing over beach rocks and tide pools is a kick, espe­cial­ly when there’s a ship­wreck wait­ing for you at the end of the hike. In the ’60s, the SS Dom­i­na­tor ran aground off Palos Verdes, and after 50 years, it’s now a rust­ed hull. Sea life and the beach are enough to get you down to this shore, but be sure to wear decent shoes and leave the pooch at home. Once you fin­ish tak­ing those self­ies with the sunken ship, go body surf­ing and rest up for the rest of your hike. It’s easy to see why this one ranks as one of the best day hikes in South­ern California.