Thursday, September 12, 2013

Western Cyn to Mt. Hollywood & Bell in Griffith - Sept. 12, 2013

Griffith Icon In the six years I’ve been hiking in Griffith Park, I’ve not repeated a hike. With the vast web of trails, I’ve been able to cobble together various trail sections and destinations to create a different hike each time. My first and only time to hike up Western Canyon was on May 14, 2010 to the observatory to celebrate its 75th anniversary. So today’s hike will be a first for me as I hike from Western Canyon all the way to Mt. Hollywood and beyond. The convergence of having the car for an early morning meeting at work, decent temperatures, and an itch to hike in Griffith Park occasioned this outing.

I leave my office in Echo Park at 3:17, jump on the 101 Freeway, and head north. I exit Hollywood Blvd. and navigate my way to Fern Dell Drive off Los Feliz Blvd. I decide to park in the residential area adjacent to the park so that if my timing is off, I won’t have to worry about hurrying back to my car to avoid the consequences of the park’s “no-parking after sunset” rule (today sunset is 7:03). It’s 86 degrees.

3:45 PM - Begin hike from trailhead across from The Trails Cafe on Fern Dell Drive. Cross a couple bridges and walk north through the Ferndell picnic area. I love the mature sycamores and their shade. Soon I reach a confluence of trails at the bend of Western Canyon Drive (across from the large parking lot). I stay right and continue north on Western Canyon East Trail. The sun is warm as I leave the shady canopy. Mt. Hollywood stands majestically at the north end of the canyon. There is virtually nothing in bloom and vegetation is parched…a huge difference from the lush greenness and life of spring. I always wonder why the early guardians of the park felt compelled to carve all these wide dirt roads though this rugged natural space.

Soon I reach the junction where the west route joins and I continue up. I eyeball narrow use paths and ponder future exploration. Over my shoulder the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island begin to reveal themselves through the Canyon’s v-shaped month to the south. My road bends east and south as it makes its final ascent to Western Canyon Road. Just before the road, I veer right to visit the splendid lookout terrace. Its strategic location is ideal for spending a few minutes scanning the opposite canyon slopes and examining the use paths dropping into the canyon from the west ridge. One of these shall be my return route.

4:30 - Leave the lookout terrace and walk the couple hundred yards to Western Canyon Road. I cross the paved road to continue up the trail. Within a couple minutes the Hollywood sign on Mt. Lee to the west comes into view. A few more minutes brings me to Charlie Turner Trail where it crosses the Vermont Tunnel. Views to the east and southeast open up. I pick out a few landmarks, including my office building in Echo Park. A ribbon of bluish-gray haze defines the distant horizon.

I cross the bridge and veer right, departing from the wide dirt road, and begin to climb the narrow path up the south slope of Mt. Hollywood. I always prefer this route over the wide dirt road. The climb is steep and the sun is warm. I love the amazing views of the rugged parkland and sprawling metropolis. And in spite plenty of foot traffic in the park today, it’s easy to feel a degree of solitude and escape.

Arrive at junction of Vermont Canyon Trail coming up from Bird Sanctuary to the east. Choose to take the path straight up the ridge rather than baring left on the gentler route. It’s steep but I’m enjoying the workout. Six minutes more delivers me to the five-point junction south of Mt. Hollywood. I have three choices to get me to Mt. Hollywood, but I’m a hiker so I choose the middle one and continue up the steep ridge. This is the good life. The summit looms above.

5:07 - Mt. Hollywood (1625”). I love this peak. What an amazing panorama! Always people here. Visibility is pretty clear today. I chat with a young man and woman and point out various landmarks. I notice several small trees have been planted along the south edge of the summit. As these grow it will decimate the view. Gotta get that fixed!

5:35 - Leave the summit and head north. Pass the four-point junction and walk along the ridgeline toward the “Bells”—Baby Bell and Mt. Bell. I enjoy great views east while the view west is hazed by the late afternoon sun. I veer left on the use path and decide to skirt Baby Bell for this trip. I spot the old control tower for the long-gone Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale and think about the early days of aviation in So Cal (see my Beacon Hill Hike description for more). I arrive at the saddle east of Mt. Bell and three minutes gets me to the summit.

5:52 - Mt. Bell (1582’). I love this peak too. I’ve climbed this summit more times than any other peak in Griffith Park, probably because of its central location. And I’ve encountered another person up here only once. Great panorama to the north and east. I take particular interest in photographing the Verdugo Mountains where I was two weeks ago. Zoomed in on Mt. Hollywood, there are 12 people there now, with one hanging upside down.

6:02 - Leave summit and head west I’ve got one hour till sunset. A five-minute scramble delivers me to the road about 70 yards from the saddle west of Mt. Bell. I continue down, take a shape left, and arrive at paved Mt. Hollywood Drive. My original plan was to descend via Brush Canyon Trail, climb the ridge past Bronson Caves and drop down into Western Canyon. But I’m running out of daylight so I proceed down the paved road. The golden hour provides wonderful warm light for pictures. With great interest, I gaze down into Brush Canyon since I recently spent many hours completing my Brush Canyon hike description. I spot some routes worthy of exploration.

6:42 – Reach the ridge that separates Brush Canyon and Western Canyon. Across the canyon Griffith Observatory basks in the glow of the setting sun. I turn right (southwest) on the dirt road that follows the ridge town to water tank 116. In a couple minutes I turn left onto a spur ridge to check it out. A use patch heads down into Western Canyon which I had considered as an option, but ruled it out for this hike. Back at the ridge road I continue down. I arrive at the water tank to watch the sun set behind the western hills.

Now time to descend a ridge. I first I have to climb a steep knob which I hadn’t ascertained from the aerial photo. Shortly beyond the knob the path drops precipitously down a rock face. This is my route!!?? Eeeek! I take a big breath of courage and begin to carefully pick my way down using feet, both hands, and butt. After a tense few minutes I safely reach a saddle. I spot a group of several others climbing down behind me. I turn left and take a brushy path 100 yards to Western Canyon Road. Feels good to have my feet on solid pavement. My plan had been to descend another use path from this road down to the canyon bottom, but as darkness settles in, I opt to head down the paved road instead. After a few minutes down the road, a path heads down the slope. It looks doable. I take it. Four minutes delivers me safely again at Western Canyon Road at the bend where the parking lot is. My pace is relaxed now as I stroll through the picnic area under the sycamores. It’s dark now and there is a peacefulness here.

7:37 - Trailhead. That was fun! There are several cars still here and I wonder about the timing of officials in enforcing the “closed-at-sunset” ordinance. I know that they do ticket and tow, so I wouldn’t gamble leaving my car here into the dark. I stroll back to my waiting car parked safely out of the park zone.

Epilog - What an enjoyable outing in my beloved Griffith Park! I love exploring new routes. I’m learning to never underestimate the park trails and that being diligent to plan off-trail routes is a good thing. And I love to experience day turn to night and to watch the human sprawl turn to a sea of twinkling lights. icon

Griffith Icon  See Hiking Griffith Park at Dan's Hiking Pages
  (includes links to my other blog posts for hiking in Griffith Park)

Related Hikes in Griffith Park:
NEXT > Mt. Hollywood and Mt. Bell via Griffith Observatory - Sept. 19, 2013
PREVIOUS > Mt. Lee Hike in Griffith Peak - June 25, 2013


  1. I'm pretty sure if you park further up on Western Canyon, and definitely if you park near the Observatory, you can park until after 10pm.

    1. Yes, SkyHiker, I think that's true. And do you get to park in staff parking? :-)

  2. Yep. :D Guaranteed parking is nice. But I'm also amazed by how far down Western Canyon some people park, and then walk up they way back up to the Observatory. On Greek Theater Concert nights, it seems like cars are parked nearly all the way down to the gate. So I'm not sure at what point you can park until 10:15pm and where it is you gotta be gone by sundown.