Hiking in southern california: It gets better than irvine

Jenaun Aboud
Class of 2017

Some people find their solace through practicing yoga, or through some form of artistic expression like painting or music. These are no doubt rewarding pursuits for people who can achieve five minutes of meditation without giggling hysterically, or who are capable of drawing a straight line. For me, getting up at dawn and exploring hidden pockets of natural beauty hidden throughout Southern California fills that well of inner peace.

I grew up in Southern California, and I have heard far too many UCI Law students lamenting over the grand misfortune of spending three years here. “I would never live here by choice,” these people say. “Everything is commercial and beige. There is no culture. The windpipes of art are being squeezed by corporate drones.

To those people, I offer a measure of salvation: You can leave Irvine. No, seriously—I agree that Irvine alone would be a suffocating place to spend three years. But Southern California can be a stunningly beautiful place, if you know where to look.

Studies have shown that simply walking in nature leads to a lower risk of depression. Taking a few hours to isolate yourself from the stressors of daily life provides great benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. I got into hiking during a time in my law school career where I greatly needed spiritual and mental clarity, and I personally experienced these benefits. Plus, who doesn’t appreciate standing underneath a beautiful waterfall every now and again?

Several people have asked me for hiking recommendations around the Orange County and Los Angeles areas. Below, I have listed a few of my favorite trails and tips for hiking each of them.

Note: These are merely recommendations, not hiking guides for each trail. Before I hike, I will usually pull up a step-by-step guide for the particular trail on my phone and take screenshots of everything the guide says, in case I lose service along the way. You can Google the name of the hike, but I’ve found SoCal Hiker and Modern Hiker to be very dependable resources. Finally, make sure to bring a daypack to each hike and estimate your food and water rations liberally—hiking is hard work, and your body needs fuel!

Beginner’s Trails


(Pictured: Fish Canyon Falls)

Fish Canyon Falls
Address: 3901 Fish Canyon Road, Azusa, CA 91702
Distance: 5 Miles
Notes: This hike is accessible only through a privately owned quarry operation. The trail used to be available to hikers only on select days, but a new agreement between the cities of Duarte and Azusa allows for year-round access. The first roughly 0.7 miles of the trail will take you through the quarry operation. Once you see the trailhead, it’s a little less than two miles to the three-tiered waterfall. This is the only waterfall I’ve seen in Southern California that is not a sad trickle, and it is a gorgeous sight to behold. I highly recommend this hike!

Crystal Cove State Park (El Moro)
Address: 8741 N. Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92652
Distance: Depends which trails you take—they’re interconnected.
Notes: Crystal Cove State Park is the closest of any of these trails to UCI. The trail overlooks Newport Beach and provides sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. There’s a map at the entrance of the park showing you the intersection of all the different trails, and you can choose to plan your route accordingly. The plant life here is typical California chaparral, but the views of the ocean are lovely. Note that parking is $15, but it’s usually pretty easy to park at the nearby Trader Joes parking lot. And since I would never advocate breaking the law, buy a victory juice!

 Intermediate Trails


(Pictured: Bighorn Mine Trail)

Bighorn Mine Trail
Address: Big Horn Mine Road, Azusa, CA 91702 (Vincent Gap Parking Area)
Distance: 4 miles
Notes: This is one of my absolute favorite trails, though it’s a pretty far drive from the law school. I would recommend waiting until the snow melts to hike it, unless you have the appropriate gear. You wind through a breathtaking evergreen forest that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to New England, and you emerge in front of an abandoned mine structure! You can climb up into the mine and actually explore the tunnels inside, so bring a flashlight or headlamp with you for this one.

Bridge to Nowhere
Address: Camp Bonita Road, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Azusa, CA 91702
Distance: 10 miles
Notes: This is an out-and-back trail to a bridge that doesn’t appear to connect to anything (not to be confused with the “bridge-to-nowhere” in the famous contracts case Luten Bridge Co. v. Rockingham County—I checked!). It follows a stream for most of the hike, and you do cross several times so bring an extra pair of socks. You’ll often see hobbyists camped out by the side of the river panning for gold on the weekends. This is a longer hike with an ascent at the end, so bring enough food to be out for several hours.

Bonus: If you sign up and pay ahead of time, you can also bungee jump off the side of the bridge!

Advanced Trails


(Pictured: Ice House Canyon Trail)

Mt Wilson
Address: Santa Anita Canyon Rd Sierra Madre, CA 91025
Distance: 14 miles
Notes: If you want to attempt ascending a peak, this would be my recommendation for your first try. It begins at Chantry Flat, which is a network of trails in Pasadena that is extremely popular for hiking. I would recommend forking out the extra $5 to park in the private lot, because you’ll wind up hiking an extra three miles to get to your hike unless you get there at 5 A.M. (Plus, the private lot is attached to a farm that houses chickens and bighorn sheep­—when was the last time you saw one of those?) The first few miles of the trail take you to a popular waterfall much like the one in Eaton Canyon, and then you begin your ascent. You’ll be climbing over four thousand feet, so bring more food and water than you expect you’ll need—your body will begin craving it quickly. So far, I’ve found climbing peaks to be a masochistic hobby befitting of a law student. It can be miserable, but the feeling you get when you’ve pushed yourself to the top is indescribable.

Dawn Mine Trail
Address: Chaney Trail, Angeles National Forest, Altadena, CA 91001
Distance: 6 miles
Notes: I put this in the “advanced” section because there is no clearly marked trail, and because the last mile or so consists of climbing steadily up a wall of giant boulders. It is fun to try to decipher where you’re going, because previous hikers have stacked rocks and left other trinkets to mark important turns. I would never do this without a step-by-step guide, however, and I would refer back to it extensively to make sure you haven’t gotten lost. At the end, you’ll be rewarded with the chance to tour an abandoned mineshaft—complete with overturned mining carts, watering holes, and stalactites. Bring a flashlight or a headlamp for this one!

Ice House Canyon
Ice House Canyon Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759
Distance: 7 miles
Notes: This place can be truly magical in the right weather. If you hit it just when a light layer of snow has just fallen or is beginning to melt, you’ll feel like you’re walking through a winter wonderland. Evergreen trees and redwoods begin appearing as you ascend through the canyon, but be warned that the last few miles of switchbacks are difficult. I would recommend hiking this trail in early spring. Also, the café situated at the base of the trail makes chili that I would only describe as “otherworldly.” (In the alternative, this hike is difficult, and I was literally starving).

Feel free to email or message me if you have any questions, or if you want more recommendations!