L.A.'s quintessential urban trail -- the trail to Mount Hollywood -- takes you to the point of highest elevation in Griffith Park, the sprawling patch of open space on the easternmost end of the Hollywood Hills. From the top on a clear day, your line of sight could stretch 50 miles or more, with the city spreading outward toward ocean and mountains.
The ongoing renovation of Griffith Observatory and Planetarium has disrupted some of the trails leading toward Mount Hollywood, but if you stick with the easiest route described here you'll reach the top in only 1.5 miles of walking or jogging.
To get to the trailhead from Interstate 5, exit at Los Feliz Boulevard and drive west to Hillhurst Avenue or Vermont Avenue. Turn right on either street and continue into Griffith Park, following the signs to Griffith Observatory/Planetarium.
The main, wide trail to Mount Hollywood begins at the north end of the observatory parking lot and goes north (uphill) along a ridgeline. Dipping just a bit, you cross high over a road tunnel; listen for horns blaring as cars traverse the tunnel below. Next, a couple of long, lazy switchback legs take you to a trail junction not far below (and south of) Mount Hollywood's summit. On the way up those trail segments, note how Griffith Observatory's domed profile in the south nests in the foreground, while downtown L.A.'s skyscrapers soar behind it. In the west, there's an oblique view of the famed hillside HOLLYWOOD sign.
At the trail junction south of the summit, make a sharp left. Pass shady Captain's Roost picnic area (a water fountain is here) and traverse across the west flank of Mount Hollywood. Keep ascending past a round water tank. Make a sharp right turn at the next opportunity, and walk up to the picnic tables on the bulldozed summit of Mount Hollywood. The sole appeal of this barren spot is the tremendous view you get, potentially taking in nearly every major mountain range in the Southland and a good percentage of a populated region of some 15 million people.
On the return, go back downhill about 200 yards, make a sharp right, go past Dante's View picnic area (drinking water here), and continue your descent -- this time along the east flank of Mount Hollywood. You will end up back at the trail junction south of the summit. From there, simply retrace your steps back down the two long switchback segments and return to the observatory parking lot.
Some of the shrubs you'll pass on the way down are toyon (a.k.a. California holly, Christmas berry), which grows abundantly on Griffith Park's hillsides. This is the holly that is referred to in the name Hollywood.