Old Los Angeles Zoo/Fern Canyon (Griffith Park)
- Location: Griffith Park near Los Angeles. From the south, take I-5 to the Los Feliz exit, turn left and cross the freeway and turn right on Crystal Springs Drive. Go 1.3 miles and turn right onto Griffith Park Drive. Park in the lot near the merry go round. From the north, take the Los Feliz exit and turn right, then immediately right onto Crystal Springs Drive.
- Agency: Griffith Park
- Distance: 2 miles
- Elevation gain: 250 feet
- Suggested time: 1 hour
- Difficulty rating: G
- Best season: All year
- Dogs: Allowed on leash
- Cell phone reception: Good
- Water: Fountains and restrooms throughout the park
- Restrooms: Throughout park
- Camping/backpacking: None
- More information: Articles about the zoo here and here; description of the picnic area here; Map My Hike report here
- Rating: 3
Though it’s been closed for more than half a century, Los Angeles’ original zoo is one of the most popular attractions of Griffith Park. The abandoned animal enclosures are particularly popular around Halloween; like Haunted Table 29, they have an air of eeriness. When it was in operation, the zoo was called the Griffith Park Zoo, but the site is now known as the Old L.A. Zoo. The Griffith Park Zoo was a popular attraction, drawing as many as 2 million visitors per year, but by the mid 1960s, the aging facilities were inadequate for the animals. The current Los Angeles Zoo opened in November of 1966.
Because the walk to reach the zoo site is barely more than a mile round trip, many opt to combine it with other destinations in Griffith Park. The write-up below includes an additional half-mile detour through peaceful Fern Canyon. From the parking area, head uphill and take the right fork just before the Mineral Wells Trail. This fire road heads northeast, soon reaching the first remnants of the zoo: an abandoned cage and a maintenance shed. Shortly after, you reach the Old Zoo Picnic Area, where you can walk a loop of 0.2 mile past the unused animal habitats and perhaps enjoy a snack on the lawn beneath a sycamore tree.
After exploring the old zoo grounds, you can retrace your steps or if you prefer a different route and don’t mind pavement, you can continue past the zoo through Spring Canyon and walk back through the parking lot. To reach the Fern Canyon Trail, leave the parking lot again and take the second single-track trail that branches off on the left (not the Mineral Wells Trail.) It ascends to a junction. The two forks meet up again; the left is the more scenic of the pair. It climbs wooden steps through an oak grove, crosses a footbridge and arrives at the tiny Fern Canyon Amphitheater. Here you can sit on a wooden beam set into the hillside and enjoy some peace and quiet. Despite trash and graffiti, Fern Canyon is a pleasant oasis where everyday life is easily forgotten.
Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
Text and copyright 2016 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.