10 Intense Southern California Trails For Avid Hikers

f you provide the boots and the gumption, we’ll get you there. A secret waterfall. A lost mountain city. A wild river gorge. Time to hit the trail

1. Fish Canyon Narrows, Angeles National Forest

fishcanyon_mapLength: 8 miles round-trip Difficulty: Moderate Elevation gain: 500feet USGS topo map: Whitaker Peak Permits and passes: National Forest Adventure Pass Time needed: 6 hours Highlight: A canyon swim

Living in cities, we forget how empty spaces affect us—when walls disappear and the limitless horizon pours out. Wilderness like that—wilderness that drove Thoreau into paroxysms of terror on Mount Katahdin (“What is this Titan that has possession of me!”)—is rare around L.A. and, Thoreau’s freak-out notwithstanding, restorative. Several miles past Valencia, atop the Grapevine’s first grade, a right turn on Templin Highway leads into a landscape so cinematically vast, it could have wowed Sergio Leone: red gorges large enough to pilot a DC-10 through, mountains like mastodons.

Park where the highway ends at a traffic barrier. Follow the faded asphalt that runs past it into a broad valley, where two large streams exit a pair of converging canyons. A left turn on a dirt track paralleling the farthest creek begins your trek to Fish Canyon Narrows. The lower reaches are wide and dry, but down in the streambed, water pools in crystalline troughs beneath sycamores, ideal for swim breaks. Nearby palisades make the Pyrenees look like sand castles, and the smell that leaves them when wind careers off a million acres of chaparral is an olfactory sucker punch. After a couple of hot but undemanding miles, you slip into the cool narrows, 50 feet wide in spots, noisy with falling water, and illuminated by aspen groves exploding in sunlight. Beyond, the canyon reopens into lush riparian meadows, but for now these tight walls are a meditative shelter from all that emptiness waiting outside.

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