It’s not true what they say…Southern California DOES have seasons! One might not experience them as much in the city itself, but the neighboring mountains, deserts and forests change dramatically over the course of the year. One of the appeals of So Cal hiking is the huge variety of scenery. However, timing can play a big role in one’s enjoyment—and safety—when exploring the outdoors. Here are some suggestions, by month, for some of the best hikes in Southern California.
January: Laurel Springs in Orange County is a popular destination that can be reached with a challenging, straight-uphill climb of five miles. The scenic rewards include dramatic canyon and mountain views. True die-hards can continue past the springs, all the way up to Main Divide Road – a 19-mile round trip.
February: Newton Canyon’s lower waterfall is well known, and easy to get to, less than a mile from Kanan-Dume Road. However, the less-known upper waterfall, reachable by some off-trail scrambling, is usually flowing spectacularly early in the year, especially if there’s been a lot of rain.
March: Speaking of waterfalls, Black Star Canyon, one of Orange County’s most (in)famous waterfalls is often at its best in March.
April: On clear days, the view from 3,100 foot Manzanita Mountain, north of the San Fernando Valley, is one of the best in So-Cal. The climb through oak-lined Placerita Canyon is enjoyable as well.
May: Switzer Falls is one of the Angeles National Forest’s most popular waterfalls, recently accessible following the Station Fire. Dramatic views of Bear Canyon on the way down are part of the attraction.
June: Mt. Baden-Powell, the fourth-tallest and second most famous summit in the Angeles National Forest, is usually snow-free by this point. It might not have the same bragging rights that come with nearby Mt. Baldy, but if you followed last year’s list, you should already have done Baldy, right?
July: If Mt. Baden-Powell was small potatoes, try your luck on San Jacinto Peak. Many people take 11.5-mile route from the tram, not a small achievement, but for an even bigger challenge, try hiking it from the Seven Pines trailhead.
August: Ontario Peak, one of the more prominently visible summits of the San Gabriels, can be reached via a 13-mile round trip hike from Icehouse Canyon.
September: The popular Lower Arroyo Seco Trail, which is almost entirely shaded and is accompanied by the pleasant sound of a trickling stream, is partially re-opened following the Station Fire. The 6.5-mile round trip to the Paul Little Picnic Area is a nice way to beat the heat.
October: Gray’s Peak, one of the popular summits near Big Bear Lake, is closed from November through March, so October is your last chance to visit it. In October, leaves are changing colors, and you also avoid the summer crowds.
November: The Sandberg Loop, in the northwestern corner of Los Angeles County, may be a little bit of a drive for many L.A. residents, but nearly feet above sea level, it provides dramatic desert views, and fall colors that could almost pass for New England.
December: Speaking of New England, while the rest of the country is freezing, why not take a trip to the beach? The Torrey Pines State Reserve in north San Diego County is a three-fer: dramatic coastal and beach views, unique marine geology and the signature Torrey Pines, the rare trees that only grow here and on Santa Rosa Island. It’s convenient to San Diego, and well worth the drive from Orange County or even L.A.!
So get out there and enjoy your seasons, Angelenos. Happy New Year, and have a great, active and successful 2012!