The practically straight-up Vital Link Trail connects popular Wildwood Canyon Park in the Verdugo foothills with the Verdugo Mountains crestline. Almost every step on the trail yields a higher vantage for the panoramic view of the plate-like San Fernando Valley floor and the pillowy Santa Monica Mountains beyond. The reverse, downhill leg of the trek is a possibly knee-banging exercise, but the view then lies directly in front of you. The entirely south-facing, sun-struck aspect of this hike mandates that you hike only during the coolest time of year. That means January or February, two months that also yield frequent crystalline-air conditions that will likely enhance the spectacular view.
To get to the foot of the trail, exit Interstate 5 at Olive Avenue in Burbank. Follow Olive northeast 1.2 miles to Sunset Canyon Drive. Turn left, go six blocks northwest, then turn right on Harvard Road. Go 0.6 mile and turn right into Wildwood Canyon Park. Drive 0.3 mile to the trailhead on the left (this is actually the second of a total of four gateways to the park’s trail system).
Starting off from the trailhead, head sharply up the canyon wall to the north. After 1/4 mile, make a right and settle into a moderate grade that will take you up along the narrow crest of the canyon wall. Go 0.3 mile and stay left at the next trail junction. Go another 0.3 mile (not quite as far as a picnic table perched on a nearby knoll), and look for the narrow Vital Link Trail slanting left.
The real climb begins now as you doggedly cling to a narrow ridge trending north and acutely uphill. Continue all the way to the Verdugo Fire Road, high atop the Verdugo crest. You’ve gone 1.8 miles and gained 1600 feet of elevation so far — so if you’re happy enough with the view at this point, you can retrace your steps for a round-trip distance of 3.6 miles.
Possible extensions include a visit to the nearby Fire Warden’s Grove (an experimental forest of planted trees), a traverse west and then south into Stough Canyon, or a traverse east, ending at any of several trailheads on the north or west sides of the Verdugo Mountains. The Vital Link trail truly provides a vital link for all kinds of travel possibilities.
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.
Vital Link Trail
Climb the steep trail linking the foot and the crest of the Verdugo Mountains outside Burbank.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 130 miles
Biking length: 3.6 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous