I live relatively close to Runyon Canyon, an infamous 160-acre park trail that follows the ridges of the Hollywood Hills. It rewards those willing to brave Hollywood traffic and parking with stunning views of Los Angeles, as well as the signature Hills mansions that surround the perimeter of the trail. With its central location, easily ‘gramable views, laissez-faire dog leash policies, and an everyday chance of spotting a celebrity in their Lulus, it’s no surprise the canyon park is swarmed with tourists, locals and good dogs everyday.
It’ll never be as pristine or calm as a central California thru-hike, but with some good planning, the canyon can be a hassle-free people- and dog-watching mecca.
I arrive at the residential neighborhoods surrounding the Fuller Ave entrance at around 9am. If you’re ridesharing or walking from a nearby Metro station (the Hollywood and Highland station is a brief 5 minute walk) the time of day is not as big of a deal. But if you’re driving yourself, finding a parking space any later than 10am at the Fuller entrance can be tricky, especially on weekends. You might consider the parking lot at the Mulholland Trailhead on the north end of the canyon, but fair warning, starting the trail at the top of the loop will present you with a downhill walk to start and an uphill climb to finish.
During my brief walk up to the trailhead, I use my new “Spark” vape pen to prep for the journey ahead, courtesy of Arizona-based Sunday Goods. Their Spark blend is a grapefruit-flavored sativa with a 1:3 THC-to-CBD ratio, lighter on the psychoactive THC with uplifting terpenes; perfect for an active start to the day without any lethargic after-effects.
If my smartphone nav hadn’t pointed it out already, the steady flow of athleisure towards the trailhead gate would’ve been an easy enough waypoint. Past the gate, I’m presented with a fork in the road, with a second fork further up the left path; essentially three paths to choose from. Each path has a different difficulty.
The trail is a bisected loop with three main routes that run from the top to the bottom of the canyon, allowing you to customize how difficult you want the ascent/descent to be. The three routes are Runyon Canyon Road (easy), the Inspiration Point Trail (medium), and the West Ridge Trail (hard). The most common route would be taking the left then right fork: going up the paved and gradually sloped Runyon Canyon Road and back down the Inspiration Point Trail, a configuration that takes 30-45 minutes. Short of simply going up and down Runyon Canyon Road, this is the least physically demanding route and takes you down the Inspiration Point Trail, which mitigates some of the difficulty of the “medium” difficulty trail. The Inspiration Point Trail also features a few rest areas with convenient spots for photos. This is my go-to when I’m hosting visiting friends.
I’ve become pretty familiar with these paths and I’m feeling pretty up-and-at-’em with a couple Spark puffs in me so I opt for the advanced route. (Not recommended if you’re new to either Runyon or cannabis!) Taking both left forks, I’ll go for a West Ridge Trail ascent and a leisurely descent down Runyon Canyon Road, a configuration that generally takes 45-60 mins. While the Inspiration Point Trail is picturesque, the nature of this route with added foot traffic can create bottlenecks if you’re at jogging pace. The West Ridge Trail is higher in elevation than the Inspiration Point Trail, and both it’s climb and it’s views are plenty breathtaking.
As I begin the trail in earnest, I can feel the Spark pen coming on as a fuzz on the edges of my consciousness. I can feel my thoughts and movements syncing up with music in my running playlist, my natural state of flow coming easier. This is helpful as the loose sand and gravel up the 18 degree slope demands my undivided attention. My movements are more measured than normal, and it’s easier to focus on my technique and foot placement.
After a short false peak, I reach the real end of the first leg of the route marked by a memorial to Dr. Hasni Karmali, who passed away on a hike in early 2016, due to the difficulty of access for first responders. The AED memorial was erected to prevent something similar from reoccurring. It’s a somber reminder to take in the view while you can. As one of the highest and most southerly points on the canyon ridge, this first stop offers some of the best unimpeded views of LA’s immense urban sprawl. On a clear day, you can see from the ocean on your right, all the way to the San Gabriel Mountains on your left. I take one more gentle puff from the Spark to reward my completion of one of the more difficult sections of this trail and drink in the view.
The next section of the route is a welcome respite, offering some views of Hollywood Hills homes on your left, and overlooking the people who’ve opted for the paved Runyon Canyon Road on the right. The stroll leads me to a bushy, rocky peak that makes you feel like you’re more in the wilderness than the Hills mansions peeking at you from the next ridge might suggest. There’s a nice viewpoint with a cliff on the right, but to keep moving I’ve got a steep decline off to the left. I bend my legs to lower my center of gravity and start a controlled shuffle down the loose gravel to keep myself from tumbling down the ridge.
After this there’s some wooden stairs and decks to help you traverse the canyon, that eventually leads you to the next fork in the road. On the right is the descent, on the left, a bonus trail to Indian Rock, the true peak of Runyon Canyon park. Obviously, I opt to take the extra 10 minute climb, but thankfully it’s a groomed trail with rocks and wooden blocks strategically placed to make it easier. (The things I do for you, dear readers) As the highest peak, it features arguably the grandest view the park has to offer, including being able to watch the other Runyon Canyon-goers mill up and down the three routes like ants. On a clear day like this, I can even see all the way down to Orange County. After a rest on the bench, it’s time for the descent.
After a fairly arduous climb, I go at a brisk jog down the canyon, letting gravity do most of the work. The gentle gradient and evenly paved Runyon Canyon Road is a perfect, low-stress way to coast down the canyon. I get to the bottom with a clean 49 minute finish. That’s my average even without the bonus trek to Indian Rock so I’m pleasantly surprised.
As a whole, I think the Spark pen certainly added to a loop I’ve done many times before. From a physical perspective, I felt more honed in, my flow state more easily accessible. The more intermediate parts of the trail felt meditative, where nothing occupied my mind but my surroundings and my next step, a welcome departure from the hustle of city life. But I’d say the best part of bringing the Spark along was being more open and attuned to the majestic views of the canyon and city. I found myself more curious than I would be otherwise; watching the runners and dogs, peering into the nooks and crannies of the cliff faces. Even having run the same route several times, I felt as if I was able to approach the experience with a new and genuine sense of childlike wonder.