- Location: Ferndell Picnic Area, Griffith Park. From I-5, take the Los Feliz Blvd. exit and head west for 2.1 miles. Turn right on Ferndell and follow it 0.4 mile to the picnic area, across from the Trails Café. From the 101 Freeway, take the Hollywood Blvd. exit and head east (left if you are coming from the Valley; right if you are coming from downtown) for 0.4 mile. Turn left on Western Avenue and follow it 0.4 mile to where it turns to the east and becomes Los Feliz Blvd. Make the first left onto Ferndell and follow it 0.4 mile to the picnic area. Park where available. The Observatory Trails leave from the opposite side of the picnic area.
- Agency: Griffith Park
- Distance: 1.7 miles
- Elevation gain: 550 feet
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG
- Best season: Year-round (hot during the summer)
- Dogs: Allowed on leash (exercise caution on warm days; some terrain may difficult on their paws; be careful ascending and descending the steep use trails while holding the leashes)
- Cell phone reception: Weak to none at Ferndell and on the lower portion of the hike; good on the upper portion and at the Observatory
- Water: Fountains at Ferndell and the Observatory
- Restrooms: Available at Ferndell
- Camping/backpacking: None
- Recommended gear: Hiking poles
- More information: Trip description (out and back) here; Map My Hike report here
- Rating: 5
Updated December 2018
Threading the thin strip of land between the East Observatory Trail and Griffith Park’s southern boundary, the unofficial but regularly traveled Firebreak Trail climbs a steep ridge from the Ferndell picnic area to just below the observatory. On clear days, the short but leg-burning ascent offers fantastic views of downtown Los Angeles and even if visibility is not great, the trail provides an interesting, not often seen perspective on the southwestern corner of the park, notably the two Observatory Trails and the Hollywood sign.
From the Ferndell picnic area, pick up the East Observatory Trail and almost immediately, just past the green sign reminding dog walkers to clean up afterward, look for an unmarked but obvious trail heading uphill through a grove of oaks. After briefly leveling out, the trail splits and rejoins just before the main ascent. Griffith Observatory, your destination, is clearly visible here but to get there, you have over 400 vertical feet to climb. A short but very steep and often loose ascent brings you to a bump where you can catch your breath and enjoy the view to the south. Vermont and Western Avenues in particular are clearly visible, cutting a straight path all the way down to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
After a brief downhill stretch, the trail makes another climb, picking up another quick hundred feet to reach a junction just below the observatory. The Boy Scout Trail heads east toward Vermont Avenue while the Observatory Trail heads west downhill back toward Fern Dell. An unsigned trail heads northwest – an interesting option for a return – but for now, head straight and make the final ascent to the Griffith Observatory. From here, you can extend the hike to Mt. Hollywood or other spots in the park – but the observatory makes for a surprisingly satisfying hiking destination, especially when visibility is good. Not having to fight to find parking is a plus as well.
After taking in the sights, retrace your steps to the junction. For variety, try taking the unsigned trail immediately on your right (from this vantage point, the Boy Scout Trail is on your left, the Observatory Trail is on the right and the firebreak is in front of you). Follow it northwest under the observatory, through a grove of willow trees. This short but scenic stretch provides nice views o the canyon below – and as much solitude as you will find in Griffith Park.
You soon reach a clearing, with good views of the Hollywood Sign – but no obvious way out. Look for an obscure use trail dropping sharply off the plateau, descending over 100 feet in less than 0.1 mile to join the West Observatory Trail. From here, simply follow the trail downhill, half a mile back to your starting point.
Text and photography copyright 2018 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.