From 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
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.