In our previous post – 9 Rules for Hot Weather Hiking – we told you all of our favorite tips for still getting outside in Southern California during miserable late summer heat waves. But – as with most hiking experiences – your choice of trail has the biggest impact on your hiking experience.

If you’re up for hiking in the heat, we recommend you take three things into consideration – Shade, Water, and Elevation. Here are what we think are the 15 Best Summer Hikes in Southern California.

SHADE

By far the easiest way to make sure you keep a sensible temperature is to pick a trail that isn’t in direct sunlight. While most of the trails near the major population centers of Southern California are in the shade-poor coastal scrub or chaparral regions, it is, indeed, still possible to find shade without having to drive too far. These are some of our favorite shaded trails.

Solstice Canyon

Solstice Canyon

The trail to the ruins of the Tropical Terrace House in Solstice Canyon can be reached via a 3.2 mile round trip path along a creekbed that’s almost completely shaded. There is often a stream running alongside the house that will also help cool you off. Family and dog-friendly (on leash).

Franklin Canyon Reservoir Loop

Franklin Canyon Reservoir Loop

An easy 1.4 mile stroll around the reservoir, this loop has lots of trees – along with plenty of birds and other wildlife. In addition to being close to many areas of the Westside of Los Angeles, this park is also dog-friendly (on leash) and features several other trails if you’re feeling energetic (and a visitor center if you want to retreat indoors). Just make sure you keep an eye out for their notorious stop-sign cameras.

Murphy Ranch

Murphy Ranch

We get it – sometimes you want more than just trees and shade on a summer hike. Sometimes you want a little adventure, too … for instance, descending into the ruins of an old Nazi sympathizer compound designed to be Hitler’s California Hideaway after they won World War II. The City of Los Angeles keeps threatening to tear down all the fun parts of this trail, so get in while you can!

Palomar Mountain 

palomar_shade

There’s a lot to hike in Palomar Mountain State Park but the Doane Valley Nature Trail really hits the spot in the summer months. Beautiful sylvan scenery, a popular campground, and the gurgling sounds of Pauma Creek all make this loop a welcome retreat in northern San Diego County.

Big Laguna Trail

big_laguna_trail

Jeffrey pines and Black oaks provide ample shade in the summer on this route on the Big Laguna and Pacific Crest Trails. A great hike in any season, if you wake up early enough it’s also a spectacular place to catch the sun rising over the Anza-Borrego Desert.

WATER

Of course, it also makes sense that a trail near a good source of water will also provide some easy opportunities to cool down – and if the trail is in a shaded canyon or near the ocean the temperatures should be slightly cooler, too.  It goes without saying that during drought conditions some of the water flow in these regions will be less than spectacular – but most of these trails have year-round flow.

Malibu Creek

Malibu Creek

There are plenty of hikes to choose from in Malibu Creek State Park – from easy strolls to leg-busting full day loops. Go as far as you’d like on this route through the old ranch buildings and movie sets in Malibu Canyon. And take a dip in Malibu Creek itself or wade into the Rock Pool or the reservoir above Century Dam to drop that internal thermometer a few degrees.

Santa Anita Canyon

Santa Anita Canyon

Santa Anita Canyon is one of our favorite places to hike in LA – no matter what time of the year it is. In the summer, the year-round flow of Santa Anita Wash and Winter Creek provide wonderfully cool natural air conditioners near Sturtevant Falls and Hermit Falls. Even if the water is low from dry winters, the canyon directly above Sturtevant Falls is one of the most beautiful, lushly shaded places you’ll find in the San Gabriels.

Bridge to Nowhere

Bridge to Nowhere

Let me be clear – the Bridge to Nowhere is not a cool trail. Depending on the time of day you’re hiking (you are planning an early start, right?) you’ll most likely be in full sun the entire 10 miles. But what makes it perfect for the summer are the multiple crossings through the ice-cold East Fork of the San Gabriel River – and the amazing pools just past the Bridge. Whenever I hike this, my group usually spends at least an hour just floating in the water there – and we start our hike back out fully refreshed. Water levels are lower than usual right now but there’s still enough to sit and soak in.

Switzer Falls

Bear Canyon and Switzer Falls

The short and simple hike to Switzer Falls is a favorite for Angelenos. The trail is almost completely shaded, has plenty of barbecue pits for family picnics, and can take you right to the base of lovely Switzer Falls with a little effort. Reports have said that the Falls themselves are just a trickle right now due to the drought, but when we have water it’s a great place to cool off (and go swimming if you scramble above the falls!). The devastating Station Fire burned most of the surrounding area but thankfully left most of the vegetation in the canyon intact, so it’s still a great place to find shade. More adventurous hikers can continue down Bear Canyon, although some areas of the trail there are thick with debris.

Los Peñasquitos Canyon

penasquitos_creek

Although it’s technically inside San Diego, Los Peñasquitos Canyon seems a world away. This year-round creek and thick riparian wilderness is tucked directly within the North County sprawl and is a fantastic place to cool down while still getting exercise. Take an easy hike to idyllic Carson’s Crossing or go slightly further to scramble around a series of two waterfalls!

ELEVATION

If shade and water aren’t your thing – or if you’re still itching for a tough hike in the midst of the heat – your other option is to go up. Generally, for every 1000 feet you climb, you lose about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature – so when it’s scorching down here on the coastal plain it’s often more tolerable up in the mountains. You’ll have to keep your eye on the weather forecast for monsoon thunderstorms and bring plenty of sunscreen, but hiking a taller mountain is a great option when the heat is oppressive in the cities.

Throop Peak and Mount Hawkins

Throop Peak and Mount Hawkins

This moderate trail in the heart of the high San Gabriels is a wonderful introduction to this part of the mountains. A beautiful trail to Throop Peak winds through thick forests (and some burned ones, too) before delivering fantastic vistas. Adventurous hikers can string together trips to Mount Hawkins, Mount Islip, South Mount Hawkins, or even our next mountain …

Mount Baden-Powell

Mount Baden-Powell

Baden-Powell is a popular and challenging peak in the San Gabriels. Topping out at 9,407 feet, this peak offers spectacular views of the surrounding terrain and is also home to some 1500 year-old limber pines. This switchback-loving trail is predominantly on the cooler north side of the mountain, which means you’ll have extra time in the shade in the mornings and afternoons.

Mount San Jacinto

mt-san-jacinto-3

At 10,834 feet, San Jacinto Peak is not only one of the tallest in Southern California – but it’s also one of the most prominent peaks in the entire United States. Rising in sharp relief from the desert floor, this mountain can be reached via a beautiful hiking or backpacking trip from Idyllwild or via a much less strenuous aerial tram ride from Palm Springs. If you’re coming up from Mountain Station, there’s also a great little cafe and restaurant near the tram station (with ice cream and air conditioning!)

Mount Baldy

mount_baldy_descent

The highest point in Los Angeles County and the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains (10,068 feet), Mount Baldy (officially Mount San Antonio) is one of the best and most challenging day hikes in Southern California. This is another trail that’s still going to make you sweat – but at least you’ll have cooler air and mountain breezes to keep you going. To cut off some of the distance and elevation gain either going up or coming down, there’s a ski lift that operates on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that will take you to or from the Mount Baldy Lodge – which is also a great place to grab lunch or a cool drink on the mountain.

Icehouse Canyon

Icehouse Canyon

Icehouse Canyon may just be the best summer hike in all of Southern California. Not only is it at a decently high altitude (the trail starts at about 5000 feet), but it’s also heavily forested and there’s also a year-round creek running through the lower canyon. A hike from the trailhead to the Wilderness Boundary is a moderately easy way to spend a day while feeling like you’re far from Southern California – and you can tackle a ton of mountains if you want to press on. Timber Mountain, Cucamonga Peak, Bighorn Peak, Ontario Peak, and Telegraph Peak and Thunder Mountain via the Three Tees Trail are all options from this canyon – and are all worth doing.

Did you favorite make the list or did we miss a great summer trail? Let us know in the comments!

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.

29 Comments

Rick

Rick Sep 4, 2016 17:09

As someone who used to live in Southern California, this list is exactly what I needed. Out of all these sites, I've only been to Switzer Falls and Icehouse Canyon. Oh, well. Next time I find myself back in California, I will definitely check all these places out. Thank you for the info. By the way, I've listed you as one of my favorite Outdoor Blogs in this article that I wrote. Check it out: http://smartarchery.com/top-outdoor-adventure-blogs-2016/

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15 Best Hot Weather Hikes in Southern California | Modern Hiker | euzicasa Aug 13, 2016 12:08

[…] https://modernhiker.com/2014/09/18/15-best-summer-hikes-in-southern-california/ […]

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Ayn-jo Aug 1, 2016 01:08

Fascinating list of places, I too am in the habit of only hiking local spots. Some other hikes I believe to be worthwhile in socal would be graffiti falls in Riverside, Bonita falls in Lytle Creek which has water year round even in a draught, the middle fork trail also in Lytle Creek it starts unshaded and dry for the first mile but quickly turns to shade by tall pines and cedars plus the year round stream. Bear canyon trail on mt.baldy starts at the village wind's it's way past several cabins ends up at the baldy Summitt altho it is one of if the toughest hikes in socal as you gain a 1000ft elevation for every square mile, turning around at bear flats is not a bad 2 mile, shaded hike with a now trickle of water, either. I could go on and on about so many more great hikes near by but I'll leave the list building to you. Please do compose another list.

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C Brown Jul 29, 2016 13:07In reply to: J.r. Graber

Too bad a bunch of idiots trashed the place and now the rangers hang out at the bottom of the hike and hand you a ticket, then make you turn around and hike right back up. It's a shame.

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Love The Outdoors? Hit These Hiking Trails This Summer | Campus Socialite Jun 12, 2016 23:06

[…] but give Santa Anita Canyon a chance. You’ll be surprised by how Sturtevant and Hermit Falls produce a natural air conditioner effect outside. The trail is shady and misty, so comfortable you’ll want to stay there all […]

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Marie Anderson Sep 10, 2015 11:09

I just stumbled across your site and love it! I would love to be on your email list but kept receiving an error when I try to sign up. Could you please add me? [email protected]

Thanks

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Megarrette Aug 15, 2015 19:08

Not enough shade at all on murphys ranch. Did it today and it was miserable.

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Pat Hamblin Jul 29, 2015 23:07

Another good hot weather hike under elevation would be Mt. Pinos. Especially if you are in the SCV or SFV.

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Greg S (SocalAdventures) Jul 23, 2015 18:07

When the tides are out, you can hike between Corona Beach and Crystal Cove. There are a few sea caves, a big arch and you can rock climb on Corona Beach in the cove. http://southcaladventures.blogspot.com/2012/04/crystal-cove.html

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Mt Whitney Quest Jun 22, 2015 21:06

Lest we forget the cool sweet water of Columbine Spring near the top of Icehouse Canyon and the spring just below the Sierra Club ski hut on Mt Baldy. I'd filter the water first but, boy oh boy, that cold blast is really refreshing compared to the dishwater-warm stuff in your pack bladder on a hot hike.

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IRONMAN May 1, 2015 01:05

My friend is hiking through southern California now, he is doing the pacific crest trail. you can check out his progress on his blog
http://hikingpct.pikespeakengineering.com/

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Monday for the Mavericks #1 | songs we sing Apr 13, 2015 01:04

[…] These hikes in Socal by Modern Hiker – Although it’s been a bit windy, the weather lately has not been […]

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Annie Mar 28, 2015 16:03

Are All these hikes dog friendly?

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Ellen Eades Mar 28, 2015 11:03

My dad and I used to hike Cheney Trail to the falls all the time. Forty five years later I still have dreams about that place.

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athas17 Mar 14, 2015 16:03

Don't forget, if you want an affordable place to stay while hiking Baldy and Icehouse, stay at Harwood Lodge owned by the Sierra Club on Mt. Baldy Road near Manker Flats/Zen Center. Harwood is open most weekends.

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J.r. Graber Feb 15, 2015 12:02

Tar Creek should be on the list.. Love it there and water slides and cliffs to jump are awesome

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Casey Schreiner Feb 13, 2015 16:02In reply to: Mike Pellegrin

Hey Mike - If you click through, every single hike on the site has a "Directions" button that will give you the exact trailhead - and a Google Map of driving directions, too! Happy hiking!

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Mike Pellegrin Feb 13, 2015 12:02

Just a suggestion - I'd love to see an overview map which identifies where a good trail head spot/parking would be for these adventures.
-Thanks, Mike

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Casey Schreiner Jan 15, 2015 10:01In reply to: j

Glad to hear it! I'm as guilty as the next person of just hiking in your favorite area, but it's good to get out and explore to see what else SoCal has to offer!

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j Jan 15, 2015 07:01

Just discovered your site through a friend who invited me to the Sturtevant hike. Your "15 Best..." gives me a chance to step out of the Baldy/Sheep/Cucamonga Wilderness area where I spend most of my time on the trail. Thanks!

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Casey Schreiner Nov 5, 2014 11:11In reply to: Kathryn

There sure is. If you search for Fish Canyon on the site or just click through here, you'll find all the info you need.

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Kathryn Nov 5, 2014 11:11

Thanks for your list. Is there an easy way to get to the Fish Canyon trail?

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Leila Sep 20, 2014 09:09In reply to: Raphael

Thanks for all the suggestions. You do a great job describing the hikes. I really appreciate the pictures and all the small details. My brother and I hiked Echo Mountian to Inspiration Point yesterday. Great day to do it completely over cast the entire ascent. Keep up the great job.

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Bernadette Sep 19, 2014 15:09

Nailed it! Literally did Icehouse Canyon to Cucamonga Peak last week to avoid the heat and pretend that it's almost fall. Leg-burner, gorgeous and felt like a world away from LA.

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Lendall Sep 18, 2014 18:09

Nice list. Still some I have not done. Must attend to these. For folks who like mountain hikes and want something close: I have always enjoyed hiking up Mount Lowe and Mount Lukens, both of which I have done many times. Not too strenuous (basically fire road hikes depending on the route you take), but good for thinking and exercise. And depending on where you start out from, both of these are fairly close. Another nice exercise hike is Bailey Canyon (unless you try to scramble thence to connect with the Mount Wilson Toll road, which I have done but which requires more hiking skills than I possess).

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Casey Schreiner Sep 18, 2014 18:09In reply to: Katie Brennan

No they are not. Blame some scrambling-to-get-the-post-done-before-a-live-stream-event-messiness on my part :)

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Katie Brennan Sep 18, 2014 18:09

Mt Baldy and Mt San Jacinto are the exact same height?!

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Jon B Sep 18, 2014 14:09

Good list. I would add Monrovia Canyon Falls as another cool shady hike that is easy for all ages.

Also, can't forget Sandstone Peak via the Mishe Mokwa trail. The proximity to the ocean generally keeps it nice and cool. The east and northern portions of the loop are very nicely shaded for the most part. And stopping at Neptunes Net on the way back is the perfect way to end the hike.

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Raphael Sep 18, 2014 13:09

PERFECT TIMING!

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