Walk Distance: 5.8km walk to the Hollywood sign and back
Walk Duration: Allow around 3 hours with mini hikers.
Maps: There are various paper maps available including some basic ones from the Griffith Park Visitor Centre but none I’d recommend particularly over another. You can find free online USGS topographic maps of Burbank, CA which cover the area or the map below, zoomed out to show surrounding trails in case of a mis-turn, should be sufficient on this well-trodden route. I’d always advise having a physical map with you though and to download any on-line mapping system you use in case of loss of signal.
Suitable for: Kids in carriers and older kids. Also mini hikers with plenty of uphill stamina! No shade so avoid with babies on very hot days and set off early or later afternoon in warm weather.
Walk Features: Amazing views over Griffith Park, Los Angeles and up to the San Gabriel Mountains, close-up views of the iconic Hollywood sign (you can’t go right up to it though). No refreshment or toilet facilities.
‘The Mt. Lee to the Hollywood Sign Walk is one of the most famous routes in Los Angeles. Whilst the summit of Mt. Lee sees a good deal of people traffic the uphill the effort is well worth it for the fantastic views alone. The Hollywood sign itself is fenced off and guarded by cameras and regular police helicopter patrols – woe betide anyone trying to get too close – but you can still see the letters big & bold.
Roo at 4 was up for the challenge after spotting the Hollywood sign from the top of the Griffith Observatory. She hiked up Mt. Lee with only one short stretch where she got fed up of the uphill. This is quite an uphill challenge for little walkers and also for parents carrying youngsters on their backs in hot weather, so make sure their heart. Bring lots of water and snacks and be sure to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Expect to carry very little walkers for a good chunk of the uphill section & a rucksack with reigns is recommended – the paths are wide but there are some steep edges.. If you decide after the first ten minutes that it’s all a bit too much for your kids, then do persevere up to just beyond the first bend on the dust trail – it’s really not far and the great views to the Hollywood sign will make your short outing worthwhile.
One note: this route is the easiest non-road route with young children but local residents are not keen on tourists blocking up their streets with their cars and unfortunately occasional antisocial behaviour. Please park according to local notices (see directions), pay attention to curb colour markings and don’t block driveways. As ever, leave no trace and stay on the hiking trails in this fragile landscape.’
The Mt. Lee and Hollywood Sign Walk starts from the very end of N. Beachwood Drive, although depending on when you visit and whether you are bringing your own transport or not (see directions for parking info) you may end up hiking in a little further.
At the end of N. Beachwood Drive the road is gated off and signposted for Sunset Ranch Stables. The trail starts through the pedestrian gate to the left of this – it looks imposing and not entirely welcoming but it is the right way!
Through the gate the paved road continues and begins to climb uphill. Get used to it – it’s uphill for a good 2.9km from here on in to the Hollywood sign!
As you climb up out of the high banked section of road you will see a dust trail leaving sharply to the right through some red and white barriers. Take this path.
At the bend continue around to the left hugging the hillside, ignoring the side trail that lays ahead. Continue on and a short way past here you get your first really good view of the famous Hollywood Sign. It’s a great spot of an unobstructed family photo so even if the kids are already flagging and you are tempted to ditch the whole hike, at least get this far before turning back.
Continue on the dirt trail. On your left you pass the Sunset Ranch stables where regular horse riding tours of surrounding Griffith Park and to Mt. Hollywood start from. A group of riders headed out from the stables just ahead of us when we were there, much to Roo’s delight. I credit the horses with getting Roo up that first stretch of hill without really noticing the incline – she was far too busy watching their slow progress up the trail ahead!
The dirt trail continues, giving good views behind over the city and to the right out towards Griffith Park and the observatory. Eventually this trail joins another at a t-junction. Turn sharply left an continue to walk uphill on the dirt trail as it zigzags back around the hillside again giving increasingly good views back over the city. Occasionally you get a glimpse of the Hollywood sign, albeit with some of its letters obscured. This was another game that Roo enjoyed on the way up – racing on the next viewpoint of the sign and asking me what the sign said now – ‘Ollywod’ being her favourite variant for reasons best known to her 4 year-old thinking!
The dirt trail snakes round and back into the hillside before eventually joining a paved fire road. From here you just need to take a right turn onto the road and stay on its paved track right up to the sign, ignoring any minor dirt tracks leaving along the way. It’s still quite a haul uphill and round several more bends but as you round to the northern side of Mt. Lee, depending on your timing, you may get some relief from the sun and are rewarded with wonderful views towards the San Gabriel mountains. We even spotted one peak with snow on top when we hiked here in early November.
The road bends back on itself once more (ignore the dirt trail leaving to Cahuenga Peak) before bringing you out to the very imposing chainlink fence that guards the Hollywood sign from mere mortals! The fence, which obscure the view of both landscape and signs fairly well and the very dominant signs telling you not to trespass can all be a bit of an anticlimax after the long climb.
Don’t despair though – continue on the road and follow it as it bends round to the left and then takes you up to the very top of Mt. Lee on a small dirt trail. From here the views are once more uninterrupted and spectacular on a good visibility day and you can make out at least some of the famous Hollywood sign letters easily below you.
It’s worth bring a snack/lunch or whatever for the top – by taking your time up here before starting the return leg you’re more likely to get the view all to yourself for a bit and the kids will love seeing the police helicopters up close as they take their regular patrols past the Hollywood sign.
Return the same way you set out – it’s much quicker and easier on the descent, with Roo galloping downhill most of the way! It’s surprising how different the view is too when seen from a different direction.
Map of Route:
The Mt. Lee and the Hollywood sign walk described here involves starting from an exclusive residential area of Los Angeles, with many rich and famous residents based within a short distance of its leafy avenues. Unsurprisingly, as a result tourists and sweaty hikers are not exactly smiled upon by the locals!
When I visited midweek in November 2015 I parked at the very end of N. Beachwood Drive pretty much right next to the cones cordoning off the gateway to Sunset Ranch. You can park on the streets here during the week but it is residential parking only at weekends. At these times you might be better to take an Uber cab to the trail-head and call for another one 5 minutes of so out from the end of the hike on your return. It’s also worth checking on-line for the latest situation on parking and access for this trail before setting off as access to hiking from this residential area has been challenged in the past. Unfortunately, with young children in particular, other access routes to Mt. Lee either suffer a similar issue or are significantly longer or more strenuous. For now – just go midweek if you can!
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