It’s sprawling, it’s hilly and there’s a big planetarium in the middle of it. What more is there to say about Griffith Park? Plenty, according to author Casey Schreiner, author of the new Discovering Griffith Park: A Local’s Guide. Schreiner, the creator of popular outdoors blog modernhiker.com, has a broad base of knowledge about the park’s history as well as its current hikes. We’re keeping the book in our car (next to our hiking shoes) so we can pick out an awesome trail whenever we have a spare hour. Check out the best hikes (and some pretty cool facts) about our beloved patch of nature below.
Ghosts, Secret Gardens and the Best Hiking Trails: 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Griffith Park
1. It’s Haunted
The southern slope of Mount Lee, near the base of the Hollywood Sign, is said to be haunted by the ghost of actress Peg Entwistle, who jumped to her death in 1932 after her big break didn’t pan out. (Her story is featured in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series Hollywood.) Hikers claim to have seen her falling from the “H” or wandering the nearby trails at night, the scent of her signature gardenia perfume trailing in her wake. Schreiner also reports ghost tigers patrolling the abandoned zoo and disappearing people riding the merry-go-round.
2. GPS Made Hollywood Sign Viewing Harder
The Hollyridge trail starts in Beachwood Canyon and was always the easiest hike for getting a great view of the Hollywood sign. But once GPS and Google Maps began leading throngs of people into the 100-plus-year-old neighborhood and led to congestion, the city closed a gate to the trail. Now if you want to get that perfect Hollywood sign selfie, you’ll have to set aside a solid 90 minutes to hike to the best viewing spot and back. It’s still worth it, though—start at the end of Canyon Drive in Bronson Canyon.
3. You Can Visit the Bat Cave
Back in the 1960, a campy TV show had the Caped Crusader and Robin seeking shelter in the Bat Cave, which was filmed on the site of an old rock quarry in Bronson Canyon. It’s a quick hour-long, half-mile hike that leads to yet another view of the Hollywood Sign.
4. There Are Volunteer Gardens That Are Little Oases
In 1971, an Iranian immigrant named Amir Dialameh discovered a fire-ravaged hillside and decided to give it a makeover. He built stairways and paths, and hauled plants and trees up the mountainside to create Amir’s Garden, a hidden gem in the park. It’s still lush today, and reachable by a steep little hike from Crystal Springs Drive. The Captain’s Roost and Berlin Forest are two more beautiful gardens that you can (and should) hike to, and you can even volunteer at them by signing up at Friends of Griffith Park.
5. Note The Numbers
You’ll see numbers on water tanks, fire hydrants and trail signs throughout the park, and you should mentally note what they are as you pass by. That’s so that in case you get lost or injured, you can contact the park rangers and they will immediately know where you are.
6. The Park’s Namesake Has An Unbelievable Story
Griffith J. Griffith (yes, that was his real name) was a Welsh-born lad who emigrated to America in 1865. By the 1870s, he was a newspaper reporter who became an expert in mining operations in the West. Thanks to insider information, he was able to invest in mines and buy 4,071 acres of rancho land in Los Angeles; afterwards, he became wealthy through real estate and lending and went on to be a vigorous (and with his gold-tipped cane, flamboyant) philanthropist. He married, had a son and then donated 3,015 acres of land to the City of Los Angeles in 1896 to be used as a park. He was feted as a civic hero—until less than 10 years later, when the teetotaling Griffith appeared drunk at a Santa Monica hotel, shot his wife in the face (she miraculously escaped) and was tried for attempted murder. His defense? “Alcoholic insanity.” He wound up paying a fine and spending two years in San Quentin.
7. There Are Critters To Look Out For
Male mountain lion P-22 lurks quietly in the brush here, but odds are he will be way more scared of you than you should be of him. (Although it’s reported he crept into the L.A. Zoo in 2016 to make a meal of a koala bear.) Hate spiders? Beware the big hairy tarantulas that walk the trails at sunset after mating season. Coyotes wander quite brazenly looking to chomp down on some garbage or small dogs (so keep your little Fluffy on a leash everywhere in the park). And Southern Pacific rattlesnakes live here, so never hike in open-toed shoes or walk through the tall grass.
8. The Observatory Hike Is Great For The Directionally Challenged
While the Griffith Park Observatory is still closed as a public health precaution, there’s no reason not to walk on up to it to enjoy the wide lawn, handsome statuary and the impossible-to-get-lost wide road to follow up. It’s a straight up-and-down round trip starting from the Fern Dell section of the park, and while the climb is steeper at the beginning of the hike, it just means you’ll get to enjoy those breathtaking views that much sooner.