Distance (round-trip)

3 mi

Time

2 hrs

Elevation Gain

872 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

One of our 16 Ways to See the Hollywood Sign

The hike to the Wisdom Tree via Cahuenga and Burbank Peaks is a rugged three mile out-and-back in the newest section of Griffith Park. This trail features relentless ascents and tremendous views of Griffith Park, heading to a unique lone tree and geocaching area. The trail then traverses a ridge east toward recently-saved Cahuenga Peak with an even more rugged option to continue to Mount Lee and the Hollywood Sign. One of the most fun trails in Griffith Park.

Griffith Park is one of my favorite things in L.A. It’s full of history, great hikes, and is way more rugged than most other major city parks in the country. Unfortunately, because it’s so awesome, the well-known trails can get a little too crowded for my tastes. And unless you’re in the mood to go hike up ridgeline use-trails, most of the hikes are on fire roads.

Enter the Aileen Getty Ridge Trail. This route traverses Cahuenga Peak from the upper Beachwood Canyon neighborhood right to the back of the Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee – and it’s surprising for most people to learn that this terrain was only recently preserved as parkland. The entire region was privately held land since the 1940s and in 2008 a developer announced plans to construct five luxury estates on the land.

An effort led by neighborhood groups and the Trust for Public Land raised enough money to buy back the land from the developer in 2010, with big last-minute donations from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Aileen Getty, and Hugh Hefner and now the land is part of Griffith Park.

Park along Lake Hollywood Drive and begin your hike heading east on Wonder View Drive. The pavement ends at a gate and you’ll have a short distance on a dirt road. Look for a high tension power line tower straight ahead. You’ll see the dirt Wonder View Drive continues and a single-track trail splits off to the right. That’s your destination!

Cahuenga Peak 012 (2 of 54)
Cahuenga Peak 016 (7 of 54)

You’ll see a prominent, newly-placed plaque commemorating the land’s protection and listing off some of the donors who chipped in to save it. The trail begins here … and really doesn’t waste any time in starting its climb.

 

Cahuenga Peak 017 (8 of 54)

Since this post was originally published, someone has removed this plaque. This is why we can’t have nice things, LA.

Cahuenga Peak 018 (9 of 54)

Cahuenga Peak 020 (11 of 54)

I’ll admit, I was pretty surprised with just how rugged this trail is. In a lot of ways, it’s very similar to the ridgeline use-trails in other parts of the park – it’s very steep, kind of crumbly, and really fun to hike!

You’ll ascend almost the entire gain of the trail before you even hit the first mile mark – it’s about 743 feet of gain in 0.78 miles. But while you’re huffing and puffing (and sweating if it’s sunny out – this trail is almost entirely shade-less), you’ll have amazing views of Griffith Park. If it’s clear, you’ll also be able to see downtown Los Angeles and the Griffith Park Observatory sneaking out from behind the front range.

IMG_5380 (14 of 54)
Cahuenga Peak 023 (17 of 54)

Cahuenga Peak 026 (19 of 54)

Cahuenga Peak 027 (20 of 54)

On the last part of this stretch, be sure to watch your footing. Parts of the trail here are a bit eroded and there are some steep drops.

As you approach the 0.8 mile mark the trail makes a sharp turn to the east on a ridge – but be sure to look to your west where you’ll see the lone tree overlooking the city. There’s a short spur trail that will take you to the ledge, where you’ll find shade, amazing views, and a fun geocaching box / summit register.

Cahuenga Peak 031 (24 of 54)
Cahuenga Peak 032 (25 of 54)

I’ve heard this tree referred to as the Lonely Tree, the Magic Tree, and the Giving Tree (the tree most others call the Giving Tree is in Bronson Canyon) but most often it’s called the Wisdom Tree.  According to the person who operates the Wisdom Tree’s Instagram account, the tree was one of several purchased at a local Vons and allegedly planted by a man who dedicated the trees to his mother in a note inside the original ammo box for everything she taught him about life and the wisdom she imparted to him. The original ammo box also had the hand-painted phrase “Wisdom Tree Wishes” on it, although that box has since gone missing. The Wisdom Tree is the only tree in the area that survived the devastating Hollywood Hills Fire in 2007. This is one of the most interesting and unique places I’ve been to while hiking inside L.A. city limits and it’s definitely worth a visit. When you’re there, be sure to rifle through the geocaching box to see what people have left behind. It’s very L.A. – this is the only summit box I’ve ever seen that was full of business cards for film editors and coupons for local marijuana dispensaries … but there are some great entries in the registers, too.

Cahuenga Peak 034 (27 of 54)
Cahuenga Peak 039 (32 of 54)

Over the years, this location’s popularity has become a bit of a problem. While it remains a wonderful place to visit and one of the quintessentially L.A. trails for local hikers, the Tree itself is in danger of being Loved to Death. Please, if you visit, only leave your name in the register – don’t tie things to the tree, don’t build rock cairns, and don’t leave trash on the summit. The bins that are there are hauled out by volunteers, so if you really want to be in touch with the spirit of the tree, why not haul some extra trash out on your way back to the trailhead?

When you’re done enjoying the scenery or adding contacts to your Linked In account, head east on the ridge trail. You’ll see your two destinations clearly ahead – Cahuenga Peak and Mount Lee.

Cahuenga Peak 040 (33 of 54)

Here, you’ll see plenty of evidence of that 2007 fire. The north slope has recovered quite a bit since then but you’ll notice the brush isn’t nearly as dense and there are still lots of charred branches sticking out from the chaparral. Continue on the ridge as it makes its way toward Cahuenga Peak.

Cahuenga Peak 041 (34 of 54)
Cahuenga Peak 042 (35 of 54) Cahuenga Peak 043 (36 of 54) At the 1.2 mile mark, the trail reaches a small clearing near the USGS marker for Cahuenga Peak. There’s not a whole lot to see here and your views are actually better along the trail in either direction. If this is all you want to see today, turn back the way you came – but if you’re up for another extra challenge continue east on the trail toward Mount Lee. Almost immediately, you’ll be able to see a section of this region that was most definitely NOT touched by a 2007 wildfire.

Cahuenga Peak 050 (43 of 54)

The trail between Cahuenga Peak and Mount Lee is surprisingly tough – there are a few portions where you’ll have to do a bit of scrambling to stay on the trail and a few very steep sections – but as long as you just watch your feet and take your time you should be fine. It’s worth the effort, too – this section of trail is really quite beautiful and it might just be the most fun single-track I’ve done in Griffith Park so far. I didn’t pass a single other hiker on this stretch – and was kept company by soaring hawks, butterflies, hummingbirds and a few rabbits, too!

Cahuenga Peak 051 (44 of 54)
Cahuenga Peak 052 (45 of 54) Cahuenga Peak 054 (47 of 54)

Just before the 1.4 mile mark, the trail meanders into some thick brush but there’s a very short use-trail to an overlook with some more plaques commemorating two of the biggest donors in the effort to save the trail you just hiked from becoming a Kardashian’s sixth house.

Cahuenga Peak 055 (48 of 54)
Cahuenga Peak 056 (49 of 54)

Yeah, does YOUR city have a plaque commemorating a porn impresario? Point, Los Angeles.

Also, if you look closely, you may see a third, smaller monument:

IMG_5386 (54 of 54)

Scramble down to the paved road and round the bend to summit Mount Lee, see the Hollywood Sign through a chain link fence, and watch the more casual hikers take selfies with the city behind them.

Cahuenga Peak 057 (50 of 54)
Cahuenga Peak 061 (53 of 54)

NOTE: While it’s technically possible to hike to the Hollywood Sign, it’s very, very illegal. There are cameras everywhere and usually rangers or police officers are close by enough to catch you. So don’t do it.

When you’re done, return back the way you came – making sure to take your time on some of those steep descents on the way back to the trailhead!

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





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Historical Interest

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48 Comments

Casey Schreiner May 2, 2019 12:05In reply to: Zachary

Hey Zachary,

You can park on Lake Hollywood Drive, but the parking is limited and tends to fill up quickly. I'd recommend an early start, especially if you're looking to hike on the weekend. Also note that the Observatory is in a different part of the park than this trailhead!

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Zachary May 2, 2019 09:05

Hey Casey, I wanna do this hike during my stay in LA. I’m thinking May 12th I was gonna get a rental car and see the observatory and do this hike. So is parking mainly on Lake Hollywood Dr? I wanna make sure I’m not upsetting law enforcement or the locals.

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Casey Schreiner Jan 21, 2019 20:01In reply to: Joe

Well, you need to remember that it's a public park, not a private dinner table -- and it's a very popular spot for sunsets ... so I'd say bringing in like a picnic or something like that would be fine, but you might want to be willing to do it not on the actual summit. Cahuenga Peak is just a bit to the east and sees less traffic that Burbank Peak / Wisdom Tree. Alcohol is prohibited within Griffith Park boundaries.

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Joe Jan 21, 2019 11:01

Been to the top twice now. Both time left me speechless. The view was amazing. In a few months, my wife and I will be celebrating our 24th wedding anniversary. We are from Indiana, and I want her to hike up here with me. I want to do a romantic sunset dinner up there but wasn’t sure if it’s allowed. Also, can we take wine with us?

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Casey Schreiner Jul 24, 2018 08:07In reply to: Teresa Villanueva

It's a really lovely hike - this time of year, we HIGHLY recommend getting started bright and early. That opening incline is (as you've seen) no joke, and there's not really any shade on this route, so take advantage of that friendlier morning sun :)

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Teresa Villanueva Jul 20, 2018 07:07

We attempted this hike last Sunday. Unfortunately, the steep terrain and the heat kicked our butts so, we had to call it a day, and turn around, and go back. I feel unaccomplished so, we decided to give it another try. However, next time, it’ll be earlier or later in the day. Wish we had read this before we went.

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Casey Schreiner Jun 1, 2018 08:06In reply to: Jessi

Jessi, there are a few steep drops on the side here but nothing I think you need to worry too much about. I've taken groups including middle school kids up here and nobody's panicked :)

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Jessi May 31, 2018 05:05

Hey! Really glad I found this blog! I'm visiting LA next year, and want to get to the back of the famous Hollywood sign, but also do a good hike. This route, do you pass many thin trails that are on an edge with a steep drop? or are the scramble parts enclosed? Thanks. A fan of a hike, but not steep drops!

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Casey Schreiner Apr 16, 2018 14:04In reply to: Wendrika

Mount Lee and Cahuenga Peak are two different trailheads. The issues with guards and neighborhood residents were mainly occurring in Beachwood Canyon, which is a separate area. Both the trailheads for Mount Lee and Cahuenga Peak as described on the site are legal parking areas so you should be good to go!

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Wendrika Apr 16, 2018 13:04

Is the access and directions for this trailhead still the same as it is written in the description? I read what seems to be conflicting info on your 6.5 Mount Lee trail guide page. I'm wondering if parking is still impossible due to neighbors hiring security guards to keep people from coming up the street. We were planning this hike tomorrow and are hoping we can park easily legally. Thank you!

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