This route in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park is a lovely 5+ mile loop through almost every section of this lovely green space near the Arroyo Seco. Birds are abundant here, and the air will probably be filled with birdsong as you hike its mostly easily-graded trails and fire roads. This park is mostly dog-friendly, has facilities for picnics and fishing, and a top-notch Audubon Center with plenty of activities for kids and kids-at-heart. It’s a great family destination or a place for a quick hike when you can’t make it out further — and it has some of the best views of downtown L.A. you’ll find anywhere.
Ernest E. Debs Regional Park is a 300 acre gem on old ranch land in the Arroyo Seco neighborhood just northeast of downtown L.A. Chances are, you’ve driven past this place dozens of times already and never even knew it was there – and that’s mostly reflected in the park itself, too. For being completely surrounded on all sides by the city, there were long stretches I hiked in this park where I was the only person on the trail.
There are a few different entrances to this park. Surprisingly, for such a small green space, Debs does have several very different feelings depending on what part of the park you’re in. For this route, start in the park’s western entrance near the Audubon Center.
Please note that the Center is open from 9AM to 5PM, Tuesday through Saturday. When the Audubon Center is not open, the gate to their parking area is closed but the area is still accessible to pedestrians.
If you’re hiking with kids, you may want to explore the Audubon Center a bit further. There’s an extensive play and exploration area just behind the building with plenty of activities for kids to do – as well as a short Butterfly Trail. It’s a very pretty area that’s definitely worth seeing. The Center also occasionally leads short group hikes and nature walks from here, and you can ask about that at the information desk.
This starts out as a very brief single-track trail just to the east of the unused paved road before joining the road. From here, it’s a well-graded dirt road. Continue on this road. At the 0.4 mile mark (including the distance walking up the entrance road from the street), the trail hits a three-way-junction at a short green staircase in the woods:
At the 0.6 mile mark, you’ll reach another three way junction at a bench … and you should have a pretty tremendous view south of the skyscrapers in downtown Los Angeles, too.
It’s a bit overgrown in some places – and you’ll definitely want to check for ticks if you’re hiking in shorts – but it’s a very well routed and serene stretch of trail. You’ll even pass some old wells and chimneys from the ranch days along the way.
The trail drops you back off near the junction with the paved road to the high-point. This time, head south on the paved road, passing a sizable gazebo along the way. Just past the gazebo, you’ll notice a faint use-trail heading off the paved path. Save your boots some wear and tear and hop onto this – the Valley View Trail.
The southern end of Debs Regional Park is very different than the north. Here, a large parking lot sits directly next to two large, open, grassy picnic areas – stocked with benches and tables, roofed structures, and lots of barbecue pits. You’re much more likely to find ice cream trucks, sunbathers, and birthday parties down here than anywhere in the northern part of the park.
There are a number of trails in the southern end of the park, but they’re not nearly as well traveled as those in the northern end and are therefore a bit tougher to find. I read about a Native American Terrace Garden on the park’s southern boundary and headed toward the southwest corner of the second picnic area, where my map told me a trail began. Look for this white gate near an old dirt road grade and head south.
Backtrack to the second picnic area and look for this small dirt path that climbs up a ridge.
Shortly above the stairs, there’s a junction between the trail and a fire break. For a more direct and steep route, hike up the firebreak, which will spit you out right at the edge of a small pond surrounded by pine trees.
Do a quick loop around the pond or take a seat and relax for a bit. Rejoin the paved path and head north. At about the 4.4. mile mark (or slightly less if you just headed north on the road instead of backtracking a bit like I did), you’ll pass a small bathroom facility. Just north of that, you should see another small single-track on the west side of the road. Hop onto this trail heading west and you’ll quickly find out why it’s called the City View Trail.
At 4.8 miles, the City View Trail rejoins the Scrub Jay Trail. From here, retrace your steps back to the Audubon Center or your parked car.