Sharply terminated by the Los Angeles River and Interstate 5, Beacon Hill stands as the last eastward gasp of a 50-mile-long mountain range -- the Santa Monica Mountains. Back in the early 20th century, the hill served a utilitarian purpose as the site of an illuminated beacon for Grand Central Airport in Glendale. Today, it presides over flatlands overrun by industrial buildings. Commercial air operations have long since shifted to LAX and four other big airports around the Los Angeles Basin.
Beacon Hill remains unspoiled today because it lies in L.A.'s spacious Griffith Park. On this looping hike up to Beacon Hill's seldom-visited summit, you'll have a unique view of the city of Glendale's medium-rise downtown skyline and spreading housing tracts, and the looming Verdugo Mountains beyond.
Start your hike on Griffith Park's east side, just west of Interstate 5. This section of the park includes the Crystal Springs picnic ground, and the park's visitor center and ranger headquarters. From the entrance to the large parking lot west of the ranger station and south of the merry-go-round, head south across a paved road onto a parallel fire road. Travel 0.1 mile east, and then turn sharply right up the narrow but obvious footpath that goes straight up the hill. A very steep but short climb takes you up past twisted live oaks and tree-sized toyon shrubs. When you reach a ridgetop path lined with pine trees, turn left and walk up to Beacon Hill's rounded summit. The top is grown over with rangy laurel sumac bushes, but you need only descend a little to the east for a fairly unobstructed view of Glendale.
You can return by a much more gradual but longer route, entirely on fire road. From Beacon Hill, walk west on the ridge to a five-way junction on a shady saddle. Take the right branch, and wind easily down the sides of a steep, north-flowing ravine called Fern Canyon. You pass through some of Griffith Park's densest growths of vegetation -- an agreeable mixture of native chaparral, oaks, and various nonnative trees. Near the bottom, stay right at both of two closely spaced intersections. Your starting point lies directly ahead.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.