"As one went to Europe to see the living past, so one must visit Southern California to observe the future."
Although I have lived and traveled around the globe, I am fortunate enough to call Southern California home. I have camped, backpacked, ran and hiked my way through Southern California and over the years I have learned which trails to avoid (Peters Canyon) and which parts of Southern California are worth returning to time and time again. I have included hyperlinks to each trail for quick and easy access to trail statistics such as mileage, difficulty, route descriptions and elevation gain.
Favorite trail for a snow hike: San Jacinto via Ariel Tramway to Wellman’s Divide
This is my favorite trail to snowshoe hand down and here is why; you do not need to worry about snow on the roads since you drive into Palm Springs and take the Ariel Tramway up to a winter wonderland. I can comfortably drive my 4-door sedan and I do not have to worry about snow chains (they are a major pain in the rear). I usually bring my trail crampons and my snowshoes after a snowstorm since I am never too sure how deep the snowpack will be at certain elevations. Since I know many of you are wondering, “what is the difference between snowshoes and crampons”? Here is the quick and dirty between the two:
Are you traveling over ice or hard-packed snow that your boots can’t penetrate? Is the terrain steep and slippery? Time to put on some crampons to dig into the snow and ice and provide maximum traction underfoot. For moderate terrain, you can get away with a lighter-weight pair of crampons (such as Hillsound Trail Crampons).
Are you dealing with unbroken (or mostly unbroken) snow-covered terrain where your boots are sinking in over the ankle tops? You are now in snowshoe and gaiter country, the snowshoes to reduce the amount you sink, the gaiters to keep snow out of your boots. (I own the Redfeather Hike 25 Women's Snowshoes)
Get there early and take the first tram up so you have fresh snow and no crowds. If you are unsure about the snowpack, there is a live camera on the website where you can check to see how much snow is on the ground! Make sure to fill out a permit at the Ranger station and check in with them to get a summit weather report (if you plan on summiting). I prefer to hike to Wellman’s Divide (about 4 miles from the tram) as the trail is fairly safe, moderate in elevation gain and the views are stunning. The weather can change quickly after Wellman’s Divide in the winter and oftentimes you will be required to carry an ice ax (and know how to use it) if you plan on summiting. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the tram, so Moo has not experienced this hike.
Favorite trail for sunsets and ocean views: Boat Canyon
If you know me, then you know how much I love this trail (I most likely have dragged you along with me). Boat Canyon trail is a 4-mile out and back, moderately rated trail in Laguna Beach with the most stunning ocean views THE ENTIRE TRAIL. No matter where you are on this trail, you can see the ocean! Since I have spent the past 3 years living in Laguna Beach, this trail is very near and dear to my heart. You can usually find me trail running this trail in time to catch the sunset on the way down while listening to Justin Bieber. I also love this trail because you can hike (or trail run) as far as your little legs desire as this trail connects to Bommer Ridge, which goes all the way through Newport Coast and into Irvine! In the spring, be sure to look for the “lawnmowers” aka the cute giant herd of goats that trim the brush to prevent fires. This trail is also good for sunrise hikes (I may or may not have sipped champagne at the top before 7 AM). Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the tram, so Moo has not experienced this hike.
Favorite mountain trail for a sunset: Sitton Peak
This short hike off of Ortega Highway has the most incredible sunset views with layers and layers of mountains. The last ¼ of a mile is pretty brutal but just suck it up because the views are worth it. Bring a headlamp, a noisemaker, and hike in a group because there are lots of wild animals (including mountain lions). I solo hiked this at sunset with Moo, and although she was in my pack; we were being stalked by a mountain lion. To be honest, I would only recommend this hike to watch the sunset at the summit since there is nothing special about this trail (except for the view at the top). This one (along with all the trails off of Ortega Highway) is dog-friendly! Bring your Adventure Pass.
Favorite trail for sunrise: Mt. Baldy
If you want to see one of the most spectacular sunrises you have ever seen, Mt. Baldy is your next destination. You can choose to set off for the summit in the middle of the night to make breakfast and enjoy a cup of coffee at the summit for sunrise or you can backpack this magical mountain and wake up for sunrise (I have done both). My preferred route is up AND down Devil’s Backbone and here is why; you can refill your water at the lodge, grab food, drink a beer and take the ski lift down to save your knees (and cut off 2.5 miles from that boring fire road). Let’s be honest though, Mt. Baldy is my absolute favorite mountain in SoCal and I can guarantee you I am hiking it in the snow, in the summer heat, in the fall and in the middle of the night. I have hiked from Bear canyon trail, Ski hut trail, Backbone trail and I am leading a group hike up Register ridge in October. Moo also thoroughly enjoys this mountain (hint: it is dog-friendly). If you haven’t figured this out yet, Moo is my dog. Bring your Adventure Pass.
Favorite trail for a quick overnight backpacking trip: Lower Moro Campground
I lead an overnight backpacking trip to this local campsite every year for gals who have never backpacked before or for gals who want to test out new gear. Although there is no water available at this campsite or along the trail (I recommend at least 5 liters and lots of wine for one night) there are pit toilets with toilet paper and cell phone service. Although you must make reservations for Lower Moro Campground on Reserve California, the specific sites are first come first serve so get there early, as there are only a couple sites with ocean views. This trail is 3.5 miles each way (I choose to hike the steepest way up and the route with stunning ocean views on the way back). Do not let this 3.5 miles fool you, with a pack and the steep inclines it is a booty killer. I like this trail for first-time backpackers because if you have an emergency or are just plain OVER IT, it is relatively easy to evacuate someone off the trail.
Favorite trail for the butt and thighs: Mt. Baden Powell
With over 40 switchbacks, stunning views, the infamous Wally Waldron tree and the experience of hiking on the PCT, there is nothing to dislike about this trail (well except for the disgusting bathrooms). To be honest, I have seen a lot of trail destruction within the last year after this became an alternate peak for the popular “six-pack” but this trail (despite the crowds and trail destruction) remains one of my favorite trails in SoCal. It is relatively short, Moo can come along, it has some decent elevation gains for training and the views at the top are stunning. Bring your Adventure Pass.
Favorite trail to watch the stars while camping: Joshua Tree National Park
Although this is not a trail per say, Joshua Tree is the only National Park in Southern California and it is one of my favorite places to escape to for a night or two. The galaxies and constellations are jaw dropping and my neck hurts after every single trip because I spend hours just staring at the stars. There are lots of car camping sites (summer is first-come-first serve and Fall-Spring is by reservation) but I prefer to backpack out into the desert and set up a tent where no soul can find me. There are a few backpacking trails where you can fill out a permit at the trailhead and hike as far into the backcountry as your desert soul desires. Remember to always have a GPS device and drop a pin of your trailhead and backcountry campsite as many people go missing each year because it is SO easy to become disoriented in the desert. You must hike in all of your own water and like truing backcountry sites, please remember to dig you cathole and always practice Leave No Trace.
Favorite long distance trail: San Jacinto via Deer Springs Trail
Just under 20 miles round-trip, this hike has it all; views, elevation, trees, wildlife, and campsites. I was completely taken aback when I hiked this trail in early summer of 2018 because it is just breathtaking. We chose to hike the Strawberry junction loop so we could experience new views and add some mileage and were not disappointed. There are a couple of streams to filter water but remember to start EARLY and bring a headlamp because this hike is long.
Favorite Thru-hike: Trans Catalina Trail
Hands down, this is a MUST do! From killer inclines, intimate beaches, jaw-dropping ocean views, bison on the trail to the yummy beer at Airport in the Sky. I had the ultimate pleasure of leading six other fabulous ladies on this 54-mile trail over 3 nights and 4 days in the fall of 2017 and I still get goosebumps thinking about our amazing experience. Make sure to book your campsites way in advance, grab your hiking permit online and book your boat ticket into Avalon and out of Two Harbors to make sure you get the first boat in and the last boat out. Also make sure that you order water and wood at Parson’s landing, visit Starlight beach at sunset and have wood delivered to your campsite at Two Harbors. If you want any further details about this dream trip, please reach out to me as I spent at least 20 hours making sure this trip went off without a hitch (okay so we dropped a few F-bombs and may have shed some tears along the way because this trek is HARD).