The rambling Puente Hills, overlooking the San Gabriel Valley to the north and Orange County to the south, interrupt what would otherwise be a continuous spread of flat, nondescript suburbs. Rising no higher than 1500 feet in elevation, they host a collection of hillside homes; the sprawling, mostly undeveloped Rose Hills Memorial Park; the huge Puente Hills Landfill; and several large open-space areas for habitat preservation and public recreation. Whenever the L.A. Basin is swept clear of smog and moisture by offshore winds (common this time of year), the higher elevations of the Puente Hills offer truly mind-blowing views of almost everything from the mountains to the sea.
Hellman Wilderness Park, perched on a south slope of the Puente Hills overlooking the city of Whittier, offers a quick passage via steep trail to some of the more airy vantage points. To get to the Hellman Park’s trailhead, exit Interstate 605 at Beverly Boulevard in Whittier. Drive east on Beverly for two miles and turn left (north) on Greenleaf Avenue. Go 0.2 mile north to the trailhead parking lot on the right.
You begin with the fire road going straight up the ridge to the east — a route dubbed “cardiac hill” by the locals who are into cardiovascular exercise. Ignore lesser paths that diverge right. After 0.4 mile the trail dips slightly and you are faced with two alternatives: a more gradual ascent on a curvy trail to the left, or a continuing steep climb along the spine of the ridge. Pick the left fork (you will return on the steep path to the right) and thread alongside slopes overlooking a yawning chasm to the north.
At 1.0 mile, you reach a wide fire road. To the left (north) is the ridge-running Tank Fire Road, and plenty of other possible routes to hike all over the Puente Hills if you have the time and inclination. Our briefer, looping route, though, goes sharply right. After a short stint on the wide fire road, veer right and go uphill briefly on the path that follows the spine of the ridge and passes over a high point. That’s where you’ll get the most panoramic views. Whenever crystal-clear skies prevail, a vast sweep of L.A Basin landscape stretching from skyscrapers of downtown L.A. to Palos Verdes is in vivid view, along with nearly all of Orange County. At times a distinct Pacific Ocean horizon can be seen, interrupted by the rambling profile of Santa Catalina Island.
From the high point on the spine of the ridge, continue in the same direction (southwest), and make your way steeply and almost straight down to the trailhead.
Hellman Wilderness Park
Get a mind-blowing view of the Southland from L.A.’s centrally located Puente Hills.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 115 miles
Hiking length: 2 miles
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.