Fire roads are dirt roads that run through the mountains, so named because it allows vehicles access when needed to fight wild fires. These wide dirt roads sometimes have a bad reputation among hikers: they tend to be popular with mountain bikers, so one has to look over their shoulder when walking them; they’re often unshaded, and they tend to be steadily graded, which for some might feel a little monotonous. On the other hand, hikes that are on fire roads can be a great way for people who are less familiar with the outdoors to get out and explore some of L.A.’s great natural areas. Navigation and terrain are rarely, if ever, going to be a problem, and fire roads are more likely to be included on maps.
The hikes on this list represent a great variety of difficulty levels, locations and scenic variety. Even some veterans who look down at fire roads might find some pleasant surprises here.
Big Rock Lateral – located in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains, Tuna Canyon is tricky to find, but worth the effort. Its remote location makes it less crowded. On the Big Rock Lateral trail, you get great views both of the ocean and the mountains above.
Boat Spur to Bommer Ridge – in south Orange County, this vigorous hike in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park features great ocean views, interesting geology and on clear days, panoramas of the L.A. basin.
Claremont Hills Wilderness Area – just a stone’s throw from the edge of the Inland Empire suburbs, this challenging 5-mile loop features nice views of nearby Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks, and on clear days you can see across the basin to the Santa Ana Mountains.
Edison Road – one of Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park’s lesser-traveled routes, this trail has a lot of up-and-down that’ll be sure to get your blood pumping.
Modjeska Peak – the northern of Old Saddleback’s two summits can be reached with a 12-mile round trip hike on fire roads. On the way and from the top, you’ll get great views of Orange County, the Inland Empire and more. (A single-track cut-off near the top allows you to shave a mile off the trip in each direction.)
Ritter Ranch Loop – the Sierra Pelonas, north of Los Angeles, are one of this area’s lesser-visited mountain ranges. This loop, entirely on fire roads, gives hikers great views of the high desert and the back country of the San Gabriels.
Road to Nowhere – like the nearby Bridge to Nowhere, this hike visits an abandoned architectural landmark that has become a mecca for So Cal hikers. Watch out for the tunnels!
Santa Anita Ridge – for most hikers, the Chantry Flats area is a jumping off point either to visit Sturtevant Falls or Hermit Falls – or perhaps the beginning of an epic climb to Mt. Wilson. However, the Santa Anita Ridge trail is worth visiting too, providing great views of the San Gabriel Valley and the famed Santa Anita Racetrack.
Trailer Canyon Fire Road – in the southeastern corner of Topanga State Park, this route provides nice views of the ocean and the area’s characteristic geology.
Whiting Woods Motorway – climbing the eastern end of the Verdugo Mountains, this route winds in and out of hills and canyons, and gives great views of the San Gabriel Mountains.
While several of these hikes can be good year-round, the winter is the best time for many of them. While wilderness is a precious resource and the challenge of negotiating a tricky trail can be very rewarding, these fire roads show that even closer to civilization, there are great places to get out and enjoy nature.