Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mt. Lee via Brush Canyon in Griffith Park - April 10, 2014

View south from Mt. Lee
See Mt. Lee hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages

I love hiking in Griffith Park, and spring is my favorite time. I heard in the news recently that the Hollyridge Trail trailhead to Mt. Lee would be closed for about six weeks while they construct a new gate. So I figured I’d check it out and use an alternative route to the popular summit with its iconic Hollywood sign. Brush Canyon seemed like the ideal starting point and is one of my favorite locals in the park to hike.

I leave my office in Echo Park at 3:15 and navigate the 101 to Frankin Avenue and head north on Beachwood Drive. My first stop will be to check out what’s happening at the Hollyridge Trail trailhead. Sure enough, the street is closed off at the junction of Hollyridge Drive, a block shy of the trailhead.
Hollyridge Trail trailhead closed
I turn right on Hollyridge hoping to find a place to park or a road back to Beachwood. But I end up winding through the narrow streets half way back to Frankin. Back on Beachwood I finally park near the closure. A park employee stands guard. He tells me that the other routes to Mt. Lee are open. Great! I decided to head south again on Hollyride Drive to find a shortcut east over to Brush Canyon. It’s like navigating a bowl of spaghetti. It ends up not being a shortcut but I really enjoy the amazing collection of houses crammed into every nook and cranny of the steep hillsides.

Once I reach Canyon Drive in Brush Canyon my next task is to do some investigative work. Recently John from the UK emailed me some photos from the 1950s TV show Highway Patrol and wondered if I knew where the locations were in Griffith Park. I quickly deduced they were from Brush Canyon near the Bronson Caves. So my goal now is to replicate the several shots. Even without the lenses to get the exact composition, I’m pretty pleased with the results. Now it’s time to hike.

Highway Patrol 1955
1955 - Highway Patrol, Art Robbery
Canyon Drive, Griffith Park
2014 - Canyon Drive, Griffith Park

I park my car in the parking lot at the head of Canyon Drive in Brush Canyon. There are only two spaces left in the small lot that holds 14 cars.

Heading north on Brush Canyon Trail
4:30 PM - Begin hike. Sunset is at 7:20 this evening so I have about two and a half hours to hike with some buffer time to spare. Pass the locked vehicle gate and begin walking north on the broad dirt road. The hillsides are greening up and leaves have returned to the sycamores. Our sunny weather has turned to gloomy skies today. It’s a little muggy.

I don’t really have a specific plan for the hike. I reckon I’ll end up on Mt. Lee and figure out the rest as I go. In all my hikes in Griffith Park over the years, I have never repeated one. I always managed to put various combinations of segments together to make each hike unique.

Junction from Brush Canyon Trail to use path to Hollyridge Trail
A few minutes up the trail I reach the check dam and have some options. I can continue up the road, but I’m inclined to achieve Hollyridge sooner. One route goes straight up the mountainside adjacent to the check dam. I’ve used it before both ways. But I am curious about the route that is about 40 yards to the north and angles up the draw. I’ve done some recon at both ends but never have tied it together. From the aerials it looks like a good route. A gal and her dog pass and head up that trail. It looks well traveled. I guess I’ll follow. Shortly the path becomes rugged and steep. The gal turned around and decided against that route. I continue out of shire curiosity. It becomes ridiculously steep and loose. This is not a trail! Thankfully I’m wearing heavy boots and am able to dig my feet into to the loose dirt as I claw my way up the precipitous mountainside. After about 10 minutes of craziness I reach the ridgeline. Wow, that was an adventure. I never get bored with Griffith Park.

I turn right (northwest) and continue up the ridge. The views toward Hollywood and beyond are shrouded with marine haze but I’m enjoying the rugged surroundings. Stop to take pics of ceanothus and wishbone bush, the most common plants in bloom today. Aside from the mustard, there is not much else in bloom.

View northwest from Hollyridge Trail toward Mt. Lee
I reach Hollyridge Trail at 5:02. A lady peacefully sits on the road’s edge soaking in the beauty of the park. It’s kind of weird to be at this location with hardly anyone around. I briefly head up the trail (wide dirt road) then veer left and take the shortcut route up the ridge. I always prefer these use paths and opt for them whenever I can. Foot traffic and erosion have worn a deep trench as the path. Up I climb with expanding views. I add wild Canterbury bells and wild cucumber to the blooming plant list. Nearing the top, I was intending to take the spur path over to Mt. Lee Drive but it’s been washed out. So I continue to the crest of Mulholland Ridge. Always love the views from here. A short descent delivers me to Mt. Lee Drive at 5:33.

View east from Mt. Lee Drive
Head west on the paved road and enjoy the views of the San Fernando Valley sprawling below me. With the cloud cover, it’s not warm but it’s sticky and I’ve worked up a sweat. I like not squinting into the dipping sun. There are others on the road but not many. Tree tobacco adds a yellow flower to my list along with a weedy looking thing I don’t recognize. I reflect on the good company of friends I had last June while walking along this road.

View south from Mt. Lee
5:49 - Mt. Lee (1680’) and the Hollywood sign. I love this place. There are a couple guys on the summit and that’s it. Soon a lady arrives. In a few minutes they all leave and I’m standing on the summit of Mt. Lee all by myself in total solitude. What a rare experience this is to be alone at this place, one of the most iconic landmarks in the U.S. I decide to leave the summit via the well-worn path heading west but when it reaches the road cut it disappears into a shire vertical drop. I chuckle over trails like this in Griffith Park that dead end to nowhere. I retrace my steps and descend the normal route.

View east toward Mt. Chapel from Mulholland Ridge
Leave Mt. Lee at 6:10 with an hour and 10 minutes till sunset and the locking of the parking lot gate. My pace now is brisk. Get a shot of the creamy while flowers of elderberry. Bugs me when people walk their dogs without a leash. Transition back to Mulholland Ridge. I figure I’ll do a loop by hiking back on Brush Canyon Trail. Along the ridge route I notice that the remote wildlife camera is no longer there. I see a rabbit but he moves too quickly and my photo is a blur. Eventually I need a good rabbit photo to add to my Animals in the San Gabriels page. The sun peeks out and lights up the Verdugo Mountains and Burbank to the north.

View south from the flank of Mt. Chapel from into Brush Canyon
I transverse the south flank of Mt. Chapel and enjoy views into the heart of Brush Canyon. As I approach Mt. Hollywood Drive I look for my shortcut which I first used climbing Mt. Chapel one year ago. I find the junction and turn south on the use path that descends a ravine south. I really like this trail, which is a good shortcut. There is a small wildlife camera attached to a tree trunk.

Heading south on Brush Canyon Trail
I arrive at Mulholland Trail near the junction with Brush Canyon Trail at 6:46. I have a half hour to cover the mile back to the trailhead. My pace is earnest but comfortable as I descend the wide dirt road. I reflect on the various adventures I’ve had in this canyon. There are still some routes I have yet to explore, so I contemplate return visits. I’m enjoying the beauty of this rugged canyon as dusk approaches.

View south from Mulholland Ridge
7:14 - Finish hike…6 minutes before sunset. It’s 70 degrees. There are still 7 other cars in the parking lot. I wonder what happens if they get locked in. I drive out through the park gate at 7:18. A park vehicle passes me on the way in.

Epilog - Another thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding hike in Griffith Park. Every hike offers a new adventure, a different experience. And to be at atop Mt. Lee and the Hollywood sign with virtual solitude was a real treat. What a gift this park is to Angelinos. icon


  1. Sounds like a great trek through Griffith Park. I just climbed Baldy "the hard way" this weekend. Thanks for your post on that, It really helped. For me, a 'one time' hike!

  2. Dan,

    A short posting on my blog, which probably also relates to the gate closure. They're going to launch a three month, weekend pilot project shuttle bus to run some where up along Mt. Hollywood Drive, starting May 3.