Reader Jess wrote-in recently with a few questions:
We know LA fairly well and have done dozens of hikes. However, we’ve yet to get too adventurous in terrain or distance. One reason is we have yet to figure out where/how to find decent/detailed maps for the Santa Monicas and San Gabriels. We’ve scoured online and have never found a ranger station with much info.
Do you have any suggestions? Is there a one-stop shop or do most people cobble together different resources?
Also, we have a compass but no GPS. Do you think one is mandatory? Or will compass + good maps do the trick?
Good maps are an important part of hiking — they’re one of the Ten Essentials, even. A lot of times, local guide books and ranger stations will have simplified trail maps that are often hand drawn. These are fine for getting an idea of the area, but should not be considered “trail-worthy.”
It is possible to order specific maps from the USGS, but it’s a tedious process that can get pretty expensive, too.
Instead, I highly recommend using a Tom Harrison map for the area you plan on hiking in — they’re waterproof, durable, very detailed and easy to read — and he covers the L.A. area pretty comprehensively. You should be able to find them at your local outdoors store (or you can pick one up below and support this site, too!)
… Harrison doesn’t have an overall map for the Santa Monica Mountains, but National Geographic does. I haven’t used this map personally, but I did take a NatGeo map of Joshua Tree into the backcountry and thought it was fantastic.
And, despite this site’s love of all things GPS, they are not necessary to hike. They’re great, don’t get me wrong, but you don’t need one to enjoy a good trail, and even if you do take one with you, you should always have a hard-copy map backup. You never know when your batteries are going to give out, and you don’t want to be lost in the woods without any idea how to get out.
Image by hexodus…