The 10 Best Hiking Trails in Southern California for RVers
Southern California is a hiker’s paradise, boasting a diverse landscape that encompasses majestic mountains, breathtaking coastal views, and picturesque desert landscapes. From the rugged peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains to the stunning shores of the Pacific Ocean, there is a plethora of incredible hiking trails waiting to be explored. While driving in your RV, there is a lot of places where you can camp, spend the night under the stars, and get ready for the morning walk or hike, while the sun is still low.
In this article, we present the 10 best hiking trails in Southern California, each offering a unique experience and an opportunity to connect with nature.
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The Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles
Easily the most popular hiking trail is the one that leads to the most famous landmark in California, The Hollywood Sign. Wandering through the Hollywood Hills is a beautiful experience that gets rewarding at the top – stunning panoramic views of the Los Angeles skyline, the Griffith Observatory, and the Pacific Ocean. If it’s clear, you can even see Santa Catalina Island.
The sign itself is fenced off and protected, so visitors are not permitted to climb or touch it, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the view and the surrounding nature. Breathe in the history of this glamorous place and don’t forget to hydrate!
Mount Baldy, San Antonio Canyon
Standing at an elevation of 10,064 feet, Mount Baldy is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains and offers breathtaking views, challenging trails, and a sense of accomplishment upon reaching its summit. You can choose which route to take, each route with a different level of difficulty and unique scenery.
The most popular is Mount Baldy Loop Trail, which is 11 miles long, but it requires a solid level of expertise and physical condition. Since this summit view is one of the best in Southern California, make sure to arrive early because the place might be crowded on weekends and holidays.
Barker Dam, Joshua Tree
This scenic route is a short and easy one, but it offers a spectacular landscape. Who knows, you might even stumble upon one of the many wildlife species in the area. Located in Joshua Tree National Park, the trail is a loop that spans 1.5 miles and it takes no more than an hour to finish, making it suitable for families with children.
The trail leads to Barker Dam itself, a historic reservoir that is home to a variety of wildlife, including birds, bighorn sheep, and reptiles. You can climb on hundreds of rocks while you’re there, explore the Dam, or study Indian petroglyphs that date back thousands of years.
Marion Mountain Trail, San Jacinto Valley
Towering over Coachella Valley, San Jacinto Peak is a popular destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. If you’re thinking that after Coachella you might get some fresh air climbing on San Jacinto Peak, guess again. Rising to an elevation of 10,834 feet, the climb to the top requires hiking experience and solid physical condition.
But the view from the top is breathtaking! As with most mountains, you can choose from a range of hiking trails, with different difficulties. The most popular trail is the Marion Mountain Trail, a challenging 12-mile round trip that begins in Garner Valley. For the adventurers, there are a lot of spots from which they can hop on to the Pacific Crest Trail and camp along the way.
Bridge to Nowhere, San Gabriel Mountains
If you follow this 10-mile round-trip trail along the San Gabriel River, you’ll stumble upon a beautiful abandoned bridge in the middle of the wilderness. The starting point is in Azusa, near the East Fork Road. Along the trail, you can soak in the stunning views of towering canyon walls and crystal-clear water beneath you.
However, there are a few challenging river crossings along the way. Extra pair of socks and shoes? You bet! Bridge to Nowhere was constructed in the 1930s, as a part of a road-building project, but the project was never completed, leaving the bridge isolated in the midst of the wilderness. If you’re an adrenaline seeker, you can even sign up for a bungee jump off the bridge! To where? To Nowhere!
Potato Chip Rock, Mount Woodson
Located in San Diego County, this popular and unique hiking route is famous for its picturesque views and the iconic Potato Chip Rock formation. This unique rock resembles a potato chip, jutting out from a granite outcrop. Ideal for your new Instagram photo!
The trail begins in Poway, near Lake Poway. The 7.6 miles long round-trip is moderately difficult and leads you through diverse terrain. It’s best to start the climb early in the day, to avoid the heat, and hordes of other visitors, especially on weekends and holidays.
El Moro Canyon Loop, Crystal Cove State Park
This stunning hiking trail offers a fantastic combination of coastal views, pristine canyons, and diverse ecosystems, making it a favorite among nature enthusiasts and hikers. The scenic El Moro Canyon features a lush riparian habitat with a year-round flowing stream, which is a lifesaver during the warmer months. The loop trail starts at the El Moro Visitor Center and is 5.5 miles long with moderate difficulty.
One of the highlights of the trail is the ascent to a ridge, which offers breathtaking panoramic views of the coastline. There, take a moment to bask in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, the sandy beaches below, and the stunning cliffs of Crystal Cove State Park. Don’t miss the opportunity and reward yourself with a nice swim after.
Three Sisters Falls, San Diego County
Located in Cleveland National Forest near Descanso, the Three Sisters Falls Trail is known for its beautiful waterfalls and scenic views. However, it is one of the more challenging hikes on this list. Hikers should be prepared for steep descents and challenging terrain.
The trail is only 4 miles long and at the end of the trail are three cascading waterfalls – Three Sisters Falls. The waterfalls are particularly impressive after rainfall when the water flow is at its peak. Besides the spectacular falls, along the way, you’ll enjoy the hillsides and stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains and valleys. A holiday for your eyes!
Solstice Canyon Trail, Santa Monica Mountains
This popular hiking trail is only 2.6 miles long, but it’s full of natural beauty and historical landmarks. Solstice Canyon is known for its picturesque setting, featuring a year-round creek, lush vegetation, and shaded areas. On the trail, you’ll hike through a variety of landscapes, including oak woodlands, coastal sage scrub, and riparian habitats.
One of the highlights of the hike is the ruins of the Tropical Terrace House, which was built in the 1950s and destroyed by a wildfire in 1982. You can bring your kids with you and have a picnic near the Solstice Canyon Waterfall, listening to the tranquil sounds of cascading water.
The Kelso Dunes Trail, Mojave Desert
Last but not least, The Kelso Dunes trail is a unique and mesmerizing hiking experience that can be quite physically demanding. Walking on sand requires more effort than walking on solid ground, and as you ascend the dunes, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an expansive sea of sand, with undulating peaks and valleys stretching as far as the eye can see. The dunes are constantly shifting and evolving due to wind patterns, creating a dynamic and ever-changing landscape. Sounds otherworldly!
One of the highlights of the Kelso Dunes is the phenomenon known as “booming sand.” As you walk on certain areas of the dunes, you may hear a deep, resonating sound resembling a low-frequency boom or a distant thunderclap. This unique auditory experience is caused by the vibrations of the sand particles as you walk on them. Tell me you don’t want to climb that summit, like right now?! The Mojave Desert is full of many hidden gems. Seek and thou shall find it!
Embarking on a journey to discover the best hiking trails in Southern California with an RV is an extraordinary adventure that combines the freedom of the open road with the exploration of stunning natural landscapes.
From towering peaks to serene canyons, the diverse terrain of Southern California offers a wealth of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature. Whether it’s conquering the challenging peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, strolling along the breathtaking coastlines, or exploring the Mojave Desert, South California offers something special for every traveler.