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Franklin Canyon Ranch, a patch of open space north of Beverly Hills, belongs to a sprawling assemblage of interconnected parklands called the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Without the benefit of administrative protection, much more of Los Angeles's canyon and mountain open spaces in the Santa Monicas would surely have succumbed by now to housing developments for the wealthy.

Franklin Canyon is worth a look around, perhaps before or after touring Beverly Hills itself. Go north on Beverly Drive -- but be careful to fork left on the lesser-traveled north end of Beverly Drive where the main Coldwater Canyon Drive goes straight. After 0.8 mile, bear right on narrow Franklin Canyon Drive. Go 1.2 miles farther along the canyon side to Lake Drive. Turn right and backtrack 0.3 mile south to a small parking area. The Hastain Trail begins there, on the left. (It is also possible to reach Lake Drive and the Hastain Trail by driving south from Mulholland Drive on Franklin Canyon Drive.)

From the parking area, walk the twisting Hastain Trail (a fire road) 0.9 mile along chaparral-covered slopes to a hairpin turn (980 feet elevation) with a panoramic view of the city. Looking over green-mantled Beverly Hills estates and the office towers and condominiums of the Wilshire corridor, you can sometimes see a blue horizon beyond.

From the hairpin turn, the fire road continues climbing toward Coldwater Canyon Drive. You veer right on the narrow switchback trail descending to the green lawn and ranch house below. Somehow this old gentleman's ranch managed to retain its rustic, rural charm before being acquired for parkland about three decades ago.

From the ranch house you can walk back to your car on either of two trails that parallel Lake Drive. The trail on the right passes under a shady canopy of live oak, while the trail on the left meanders among scattered oaks and sycamores down along Franklin Canyon's usually dry stream bed.

For additional hiking in the area, try following the Cross Mountain Trail, which leads one mile north to Mulholland Drive. You can also walk or drive around placid Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir, visit a tiny duck pond adjoining it on the west dubbed "Heavenly Pond," and/or check out the exhibits at the nearby Douglas Nature Center.

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