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Living in Southern California is a dream. Beyond what Hollywood projects out into the world. Just outside of LA, in every direction, are towering mountains, soft-sand desert scapes, cool and temperate ocean views. We really have it all here in California and I feel blessed to be raised here. Over the years I have had the privilege of exploring the entire state, and yet still, the southern area of California is my all-time favorite. I want to share with you some of my most loved hikes - places to explore with your family, and treks only for heavily experienced hikers. I encourage you to get out and see each one of these places and I absolutely know it will bring you immense joy - There is no doubt about it!! Have fun, be free, safe and remember to Leave No Trace.
1. Rancho Palos Verdes Coastal Trail
- Location: Palos Verdes, California
- Level: Moderate
- Length: Up to 5 miles
- Family and dog friendly
This is one of my favorite coastal trails due to the temperate weather and variety of wildlife for Southern California in Los Angeles area. There are a number of options on trails to take - you can easily see the trails from the cliffside and choose which direction you would like to go. These trails are dog friendly (on a leash of course), and also great for bringing family, young and old along. Just be cautious not to select a steep trail. Once down at the beach, the rocks/pebbles have so much character. I have collected rocks here in the past to make crafts with. During particular times of the year there are sea lions, seals and dolphins in the water. The flowers and vegetation are beautiful during the spring months. If you are a runner or looking for a workout, these trails in the steep sections can be a great choice. Great ocean breeze - best time to go, in my opinion, is in the morning.
2. The Slot
- Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California
- Level: Moderate
- Length: 2.3 miles
- Not great for small children & no dogs allowed
This trail is so unique and drops you into canyons located about an hour and a half East of San Diego. Be sure to plan in advance to find this trail and draw or download a map to find the trailhead before you go. These canyons are not for the faint at heart and if anyone in your group has an issue with tight spaces, maybe pick another trail. Slot Canyon is exciting and filled with natural beautiful rock formations. The walls of the canyon itself can exceed 40 feet with small caves and natural bridges. Be sure to bring a lot of water with you, as the desert areas can be hot during the majority of the year. This is a loop trail and it is easy to navigate, but do be aware of flash flood warnings. I believe the best months to use this trail are between September and April.
3. Vivian Creek Trail to San Gorgonio Peak
- Location: San Gorgonio Wilderness, California
- Level: Hard
- Length: 17 miles
- Not great for small children & dogs friendly
I personally like this trail because it is local to me and of course, takes you to the highest peak in Southern California. It is a true accomplishment to peak out on this mountain range. I recommend this trail to experienced hikers and would avoid making this a family outing as it is difficult and you may have to stay overnight (permits required). This trail is one of the steepest and most challenging leading to the summit of San Gorgonio in comparison to others. The best months to conquer this trail would be between May through October. There are streams, wildflowers galore, wildlife and if you get lucky - you will spot the glorious mountain goats. Be sure to pack layers, a lot of water, and food. Be prepared you may have to stay overnight whether you planned on it or not. Such a fun trail and huge accomplishment!
4. Castle Rock Trail
- Location: Big Bear Lake, California
- Level: Moderate to Hard
- Length: 2.6 miles
- Kid, family & dog friendly
I always suggest this hike to those visiting Big Bear during the warmer months. If you really want to get the “full picture” of Big Bear Lake - this hike is a must do as it’s easily accomplished. Be prepared to walk uphill and gain a little over 800 feet in elevation, but all worth the trek. The top of this hike boasts a massive rock which can be topped out. Please do not bring small children or dogs to the top of the rock as it is dangerous and rises about 60 feet from the ground. My favorite time to do this trail is in the morning or evening for sunrise or sunset. There are adorable friendly chipmunks at the summit, but please don’t feed them. During the early spring months there are waterfalls from the creek - I highly suggest going during the month of April. Overall the best months are April through October and this trail can be hiked in the winter with snowshoes.
5. Barker Dam Nature Trail
- Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California
- Level: Easy
- Length: 1.8 miles
- Kid & family, no dogs allowed
Joshua Tree happens to be my second home. I love the magical energy here. Once you get a glimpse into the history, you will feel so connected. The towering rock formations are one of a kind and if you’re lucky - you will get to watch some amazing climbers out here scaling the rocks. The trail was recently re-done with beautiful handmade rock steps leading you down a trail into the dam area which used to be a lake used for cattle farmers. During the early spring months there is a gorgeous lake here at the dam which boasts a perfect glass reflection of the soaring rocks surrounded by hundreds of wildflowers. The desert vegetation is much like a story book and if you have seen The Lorax by Dr. Seuss - you will see where he got his inspiration. This is a wonderful family hike to take during the months of October through April.