Family Hike: Runyon Canyon

Runyon Canyon has been in the news a bit this summer due its recent facelift. It’s an extremely popular urban LA hike in the Hollywood Hills that is known as not only a great workout but also an interesting people watching place and “Instagram photo opp”.

Runyon Canyon east trail

It was closed for four months (April – July 2016) to replace a water pipeline and renovate the main trail. Now it has a newly paved fire road and new water fountains. It hadn’t been on my list of hikes I really wanted to do, but now that I had read about it in blogs and newspapers, I wanted to check it out – and I rallied the family to join me.

Runyon Canyon family

There’s always a bit of uncertainty involved in trying a new hike – parking situation, hiking route, and trail intensity – all equally pertinent issues in this case. I had tried to research the hike a little before heading out. In this case, I learned there were 3 entrances to the park and 3 trails of varying intensity within the park that all connect and loop together. Things wouldn’t be clarified until we got there.

Coming from West LA, I chose the entrance at the end of North Fuller Avenue (1854 North Fuller Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046). I had read there is plenty of street parking there, which there was, but available street parking was very scarce. You have to be lucky (and avoid street cleaning days), and we luckily were and got parking within a block of the park entrance. Another main entrance is off Mulholland Drive at Pyramid Place, where there apparently is a little lot, and a third entrance is at the end of North Vista Street just a couple of blocks away from Fuller Avenue.

Once parked and sunblocked, we headed towards the park. We were so surprised to see a self-serve snack stand at the park entrance that worked on the honor system! We had flashbacks to our cycling tour in Switzerland where we had come across the same thing out in the countryside – a well stocked and nicely organized snack stand available for passers-by to use honestly and respectfully. It’s such an unexpected thing to see, especially in a big city like LA.

Runyon Canyon snack stand

The kids noticed some people walk by and take items without paying, but I also noticed a QR code with a Venmo label and preferred to think that they would pay later or on their way out. We finished admiring the snack stand and promised the kids something upon our return.

I wasn’t quite sure which way to go after entering the park. We wanted one of the harder hikes, not just the newly paved fire road. We soon passed by a large lawn that was fenced off; this is where free yoga classes happen. Then we came to an unsigned junction by a new water fountain (a fancy one with four different spouts—one for adults, one for kids, one for dogs, and one to refill water bottles!).

Runyon Canyon junctionRunyon Canyon fountain

A sign would have been helpful for us newbies to Runyon Canyon. In a recent LA Times article, I had read about the “main trail”, the east or “steps” trail, and the west or “spine” trail. I remembered reading at to go counterclockwise for a steeper, more scenic climb, so we continued straight (and did not take the path to the left).

Runyon Canyon courtBefore we knew it, we were on the east trail. We passed the odd unfinished basketball court which actually looked like a tennis court to us. Soon we were upon the first scenic viewpoint, known as Inspiration Point. From there the hike became much more challenging as we embarked upon the wooden steps and climbed up the ridge line.

Runyon Canyon steps

The trail soon leveled out and we had amazing views towards the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory, and of course the city views behind us continued. We came to another scenic viewpoint. This one is called Clouds Rest.

Runyon Canyon hills view

At this point we hadn’t even hiked a mile yet and weren’t ready to begin heading back down, so we chose to continue upward and onward instead of heading back down into the canyon along the fire road. Also, the ridge on the other side looked interesting to hike. We followed the fire road up for a bit, past a house I admired (and later learned is called Runyon Ranch and is a private home that’s available as a shooting location and private party venue), and then back onto a dirt trail.

Runyon Canyon Runyon Ranch

One thing I loved about this Runyon Canyon hike was the variety of terrain we encountered. So far we’d had wide dirt paths, irregular and steep steps, single track trails, and paved road. Now we came across a series of wooden staircases which was then followed by more single track, some it quite steep and very uneven, as we made our way across the west ridge and then down again to the bottom of the canyon where we started. In a way, it was like a real life obstacle course at times, with great views and fun people watching to boot.

Runyon Canyon stairsRunyon Canyon climbing

The west ridge, or spine trail, was certainly more technically challenging due to the erosion and at times steep ascent or descent. There were stretches where we had to use all fours to climb up or steady ourselves going down. For us the challenge was not slip-sliding down the slopes. For the hikers coming up, their challenge was keeping a steady breath. Many of them were really huffing and puffing as they passed us.

Runyon Canyon west ridge

I highly recommend Runyon Canyon for families. It was a short but sweet excursion with a sense of adventure and a great variety of trail experiences and incredible views. Our loop was about 2.5 miles and took about an hour, not including stops at the scenic viewpoints. Runyon Canyon is also a dog park, much of it off-leash. Since we’re not a dog owning family, my kids got a kick out of seeing dogs along the trail.

Runyon Canyon west

Doobie is almost 10 and handled the terrain perfectly fine. Much younger kids would probably have some difficulty, or at least certainly need adult support to get through some stretches safely. But the great thing about Runyon Canyon is that all the trails connect and loop together so you can find something perfect for your family. Even a hike along the fire road would yield fabulous views.

Hiking Runyon Canyon was certainly an example of taking advantage of what LA has to offer – fun hiking along with spectacular city views.

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