Hiking to the Hollywood Sign


It’s become a thing with me to not make a big deal about my birthday – I just don’t. In fact up until a few years ago, I worked on my birthday because I felt like it.

But with this job giving me Personal Days and whatnot, I decided last year to take the day off and hit all the local eateries that were offering free birthday foods (I started signing up in November 2016 for every one I could find). It was fun but still just…meh.

So about a month before The Big 49, I had decided to do something different and something I had always wanted to do: hike to the Hollywood sign. It used to be pretty easy to access but over the years, the locals got tired of tourists and adventurers parking on the street and the sign was an easy target for vandals as well.

That’s no longer the case. It’s clean, guarded 24/7, and there is no longer parking on Beechwood Drive. Things have definitely changed.

Knowing this, I had to figure out a few things before I made my way up there, like parking and, you know, which trails to take. But once I did I was pretty excited to start my local adventure.

It took about an hour – typical drive time – to get to Canyon Drive, the place where the trails begin. And because it was the middle of the week I had no trouble finding a parking spot. On the weekend? Forget it.

So with my backpack strapped on my back, GoPro* mounted to a stick in hand, I locked up the car and made my way.

Before you venture in, there’s a map of all of the trails you can take in the area. It’s hard to believe this is in Los Angeles, right?

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The fire danger is always high around here

As part of my pre-hike preparation I had already looked up all the trails and marked my intended route on my Endomondo fitness tracking app so I wouldn’t get lost. Naturally, I took the longest route which is a little over 5k (3.22 miles). Because I’m a fool.

Need proof? Look at the picture below. This is near the start of the trail and you can barely see the sign or the radio/TV towers on top of Mt. Lee.

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I would get there eventually but oh, there are hills to climb. This was maybe just under a mile into the hike.

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It was about here when I learned something: hiking is not walking. I normally walk at a brisk pace and I started out that way but it sure didn’t last. I toned it down a bit for the rest of my trek.

The trails are clearly marked and that’s a good thing. A bunch of hills and valleys later, I came across this sign and took a little break for air and water. Just under a mile to go!

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While on the way up, I passed a few groups of tourists riding horseback on the trail. From what I could gather, they only stay on the dirt trails and don’t ride up to the sign – it’s much to steep for them. But wow, they are such majestic creatures, aren’t they?

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Here’s a little something you may not know. From a distance, the Hollywood sign looks all nice and straight but if you look closer at the image below, you’ll see just how misaligned it really it. In fact, the first O looks to be the farthest out of them all.

And hey, I’m getting closer!

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This is the final trail: Mt. Lee Drive. This wraps around and ends at the Hollywood sign.

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If you look to the right, you get a spectacular view of the valley. In the dead center of this image are a few studios including Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation, Warner Bros. Studios, etc.

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This plaque is sitting just before you turn the corner and reach the sign. The donor list includes Hugh Hefner and a handful of studios.

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Finally, just over an hour from when I started, I had reached my destination. And was it ever worth it.

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And did you know there was a lake up here? That would be Lake Hollywood (duh) and the Hollywood Reservoir.

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Here’s what all those towers look like up close.

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Life’s little moments are worth celebrating.

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Just after this picture was taken, I decided to have a seat and snack on the banana and protein bar I had packed. That’s when my phone rang. It was Mom calling to wish me a happy birthday.

“Are you at work?”

“Um. No. But you’ll never guess where I am,” I told her.

“Oh no. Where are you,” she asked, slightly concerned.

“I’m on top of Mt. Lee. I just hiked up to the Hollywood sign.” There was a moment of silence.

“Oh my…the Hollywood sign?” Her concern turned into a little bit of excitement once she realized I had made it and everything was fine. We talked for a little bit – definitely a surreal moment – before she let me go so that she could tell my brother to call me.

I finished my conversations and noshing on whatever snacks I had and made my way back down the trail. But if you think that’s it, you’re wrong! There was one more stop: to the Batcave (aka Bronson Canyon)!

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This is it, the one that Batmobile drove out of in the original Batman TV series. You can see a then-and-now on this Instagram post. The cave is manmade and aside from Batman, has been used in a slew of TV shows and movies.

Me, unkempt, in a cave. Because why not.

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But just because it’s manmade doesn’t mean you won’t find anything interesting in there. While I was walking through, a couple was pointing a flashlight into a small hole – there was a baby bat inside.

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The video I shot gives you a better idea of what we were looking at. I maxed out my zoom since I didn’t want to frighten the little guy.

So with that being my final stop, I was done. And in case you’re wondering what all the meandering looks like, here you go:

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The green line is speed; the gray line indicates elevation which started out at 646 ft. and ended at 1,696 ft. for a gain of 1,050 ft.

Here are the stats Apple Health gave me for the entire day:

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94 floors? Holy moly. No wonder I was sore the rest of the week.

If you’re ever in the area, by all means take some time and do this. The trails to the sign aren’t terribly rugged but I wouldn’t recommend wearing flimsy shoes, either. A good pair of running shoes ought to do the trick as would a few bottles of water and some snacks.

Oh, and definitely bring your phone for pictures (and a portable charger). The view from the top is worth every step you take.

All in all, it was a good time and something I would definitely do again. Next time I’d like to take a trail in to Griffith Park or Griffith Observatory, one of my favorite places in L.A.

The question is: what will I do next year for my 50th?

I have no idea, but there’s time to start planning.

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*I’m still in the process of editing the video on my phone. Steven Spielberg I ain’t.

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