Los Angeles: Hiking to the Re-Opened Hollywood Sign
It’s Oscar season, and what better way to celebrate than by visiting the famous Hollywood sign? It may be true that the only way to get to Carnegie Hall is by practicing, but there are several different routes that can be taken to the top of Mt. Lee, where the famous sign is located.
Route 1: Rated G
The “G” rated – that is, easiest – route to the 1,680 foot summit is via the Hollyridge Trail. To get there, take Highway 101 south to Franklin (or Gower, if you’re coming from the south, in which case you will turn right on Gower and right on Franklin) and head east to Beachwood. Turn left and follow Beachwood almost two miles to its end in the Hollywood Hills. Park where you can and begin hiking on the Hollyridge Trail, which climbs for a half mile and meets the Mulholland Trail. Head left, and look for a paved (but closed to traffic) road heading off to the right: appropriately named Mt. Lee Drive. This brings you to the top of Mt. Lee, where you can see the sign below, and if the weather is clear, the views are great. You can see the ocean, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Ana Mountains of Orange County and more. The total distance on this hike is 3 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of 750 feet.
Route 2: Rated PG
A more challenging – “PG” rated, if you will – route is from the Brush Canyon Trail. If you decide to take this path, you can also visit nearby Bronson Caves, known for its history as the Batcave and as the location of a famous Jim Morrison photo shoot. To get there, take Franklin to Highway 101, as described above, but continue farther (half a mile east of the freeway) to Canyon Drive. Turn left and follow Canyon Drive into the park (about a mile.)
This brings you to the Brush Canyon Trail, which climbs steeply, gaining 600 feet in just over a mile before it reaches the Mulholland Trail. Turn left and head toward Mt. Lee (stay straight as the Hollyridge Trail joins from the south) and turn right on paved Mt. Lee Drive, which takes you to the sign.
Route 3: Rated PG-13
The hardest of these three hikes – the “PG-13” version – is the western approach. Although it’s actually shorter than the PG version, it’s much steeper, with considerably more elevation gain, and the terrain is rugged. Hiking poles will come in handy. However, this is the most scenically and historically interesting of the three routes; it’s one of the best hikes in the Hollywood Hills.
The hike begins at the corner of Lake Hollywood Drive and Wonder View Drive. From the 134 Freeway, take the Forest Lawn exit. Go southwest on Forest Lawn for 2.3 miles and turn left on Barham Blvd. Go 0.8 miles and turn left on Lake Hollywood Drive. Follow Lake Hollywood Drive for 0.5 miles and park on the corner of Wonder View Drive. From Highway 101, take the Barham Blvd. exit and head north for 0.3 miles. Turn right on Lake Hollywood Drive and follow it half a mile to the corner of Wonder View Drive and park there.
The hike begins with a quarter-mile climb up Wonder View Drive, a private paved road. On the way, you get great views of the Hollywood Reservoir and the L.A. skyline. At the end of Wonder View, look for a single-track trail branching off to the right, and get ready for a steep climb. The trail gains 700 feet in three quarters of a mile, and you’ll be huffing and puffing by the time you reach the ridge that connects Burbank Peak (to the west) with Cahuenga Peak (the highest point in the Hollywood Hills) and finally Mt. Lee.
You can take a quick detour to see Burbank Peak by heading left; the summit is known for the “Lone Pine”, a nice place to sit and take in the view. To get to Mt. Lee, however, head right (east) and climb to the Cahuenga summit. Here, you get great views of the San Gabriel Mountains to the north and the L.A. basin to the south. Look for an obscure, but easy to follow, trail heading down off the east side of the Cahuenga summit. There are a few places where you’ll have to use your hands as well as your feet. You drop down to a saddle, climb another bump and descend to the paved Mt. Lee Drive.
Turn right and make the last few steps to the summit of Mt. Lee and the sign. Here, you are rewarded for your efforts with not only an aerial view of the famous sign, but the ocean, the Santa Ana Mountains, the San Gabriels and Santa Monicas. If the weather is particularly good, you may get a glimpse of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Peaks, a hundred miles east.
Is there an R-rated or NC-17 rated version of the hike? Perhaps, but for now, these three routes can get you started. If you get off to an early enough start, you should have no problem completing the hike… and making it home in time to shower and get dressed for your local Oscar party. Hooray for Hollywood, and for Mt. Lee!