This is the time of year when we usually present the annual list of best hikes. However, most of us would agree that 2020 has been anything but usual. Somehow “Top ’20 of ’20!” didn’t have the right ring to it – so instead, here are the BOTTOM twenty hikes of this year.
As with the 2018 and 2019 lists, they are reader picked (or in this case, you might say reader unpicked) based on the amount of site traffic they received. As with the previous lists, the whims of search engine optimization and indexing play a role in how much traffic a given post receives – or, to put it in English, a hiking area’s popularity isn’t necessarily reflected in how much traffic the post received.
Another goal of this list is to shine light on some lesser-known hikes. Social distancing and overcrowding were hot-button issues this year and indeed the ongoing debate about whether publicizing hikes does more harm than good rages as intensely as ever. However, one upside from 2020 is that many new people discovered the therapeutic effects of spending time outdoors. There’s no quick answer to the question if the benefits people have received from discovering hiking this year are worth the toll it is taken on public lands, but the goal of this site has always been to provide accurate information to help readers recreate safely and responsibly. One of the ways the site has striven toward that goal is by publicizing trails that aren’t as well known but are still worthy alternatives to more popular hikes. (Some of the hikes on this list are actually quite well known, but received low traffic due to much other information about them being available online).
All new years are chances for fresh starts and never more has this been the case as we anticipate 2021. If you are new to hiking or if you are a veteran looking for some new trails to chase, we proudly give you Nobody Hikes in L.A.’s bottom 20 hikes of 2020!
#20 Punta Mesa Loop
Murrieta’s Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is best known for its vernal pools, but there is much more to explore. This 9-mile tour explores the property’s secluded back country, leaving the crowds behind.
You may encounter crowds heading for Lizard Rock or Paradise Falls at the beginning of this hike, but once you get on the north side of the Clef Mountain Ridge, you’re likely to have a lot less company.
#18 Lopez Canyon
Sharing a trailhead with the more popular Los Penasquitos Canyon, Lopez is an easy, enjoyable stroll that can even be done during the summer heat.
#17 Stonewall Peak
Stonewall Peak is no secret – arguably one of San Diego County’s most popular hikes and one whose excellent views attract hikers from all over So Cal – but if by chance you are not familiar with it, make it a goal for 2021.
#16 San Ysidro Creek
Well documented by hiking sites focusing on the Santa Barbara area, San Ysidro Creek is one of the best trips in the Santa Ynez front country. The trip to the waterfall is a good workout with some inspiring coastal views, but ambitious hikers can continue all the way up to Camino Cielo.
#15 Indian Mountain
Indian Mountain, located on the northwest slope of the San Jacinto range, turns some hikers off with its fire road approach, but it’s a good introduction to this richly scenic area and worth considering when snow conditions on the higher peaks are too hazardous.
#14 Kwaaymii Trail
San Diego County is well (so to speak) represented on this list; there are many great sites that focus on the area that tend to rank high in searches. The half-mile Kwaaymii Trail might not qualify as a bucket list destination but it’s still an enjoyable excursion for anyone visiting the Laguna Mountains. As for the pronunciation? KWEYE – mee.
Riley Canyon Wilderness Park tends to rank low in the pecking order of Orange County parks, but it makes a nice introduction to the densely populated area’s wild side.
Located in the foothills east of San Diego, Hollenbeck Canyon offers a wide variety of trails, good for a casual nature walk with kids or more ambitious trips. Scenic highlights include live oak groves, cabin ruins and mountain views. Hollenbeck is no secret among San Diego hikers, but even those who live farther away might find this a worthwhile destination.
#11 Zanja Peak
Though the Crafton Hills are dwarfed by the nearby San Bernardino range, on clear days, the view from their high point, Zanja Peak, are impressive. Most people climb Zanja Peak from Yucaipa Regional Park, but this longer route from the west offers a more gradual approach with less foot traffic.
#10 Ryan Ranch
One of several short nature trails in Joshua Tree National Park, this one visits the site of the former Ryan family homestead. While it lacks the panoramic views of the peaks or any signature geological features such as Arch Rock or Skull Rock, it’s still an easy excursion to add to a Joshua Tree itinerary.
With memorable ocean views, it’s no wonder that Inspiration Point is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Santa Ynez front country.
As one of San Diego’s more recently established open spaces (2011), the Ramona Grasslands Preserve is not as well known as nearby hikes such as Cedar Creek Falls or Mt. Gower, but this little gem is well worth a visit. The oak-dotted hills and seasonal ponds are typical of the foothill landscape of Ramona, as the remote layer of San Diego suburbs fades into the western slope of the Cuyamacas.
Though not widely known outside the Thousand Oaks area, the trails of the Conejo Open Space are understandably popular among the locals. This route, which climbs to a 1,450-foot high vista point, offers an energetic workout but is still accessible for kids and beginning hikers.
Straddling the Ventura/L.A. County line, Leo Carillo State Park is a popular destination, but one known more for beaches and camping than for hiking trails. That’s not to say that the trails aren’t appreciated by those in the know, but hikers who are used to Malibu Creek and Topanga might find the Leo Carillo back country to be pleasantly sparse. The Ocean Vista Loop offers a short but vigorous climb to (spoiler alert) an ocean vista. Ambitious hikers can continue with the steep ascent to Nicholas Flat, some thousand feet higher.
#5 Granite Loop
We return to the Santa Rosa Plateau for this short but enjoyable loop that serves as an attractive sampling of the area’s scenery. The hike’s easy distance makes it a good option for the summer.
How about one more short San Diego County nature trail? Actually, while this hike might be short, it presents its share of challenges – and scenic rewards. It makes a suitable addition to a trip to the Palomar Mountain Observatory or Palomar Mountain State Park.
Generally botanic gardens aren’t the first places that come to mind when one considers hiking destinations, but Santa Barbara’s botanic garden has enough trails to provide a sense of adventure. With a variety of native plants to enjoy and views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the gardens are one of the better family-friendly hikes in the Santa Barbara area.
If this name doesn’t ring a bell to you, you’re not alone. However, while it might not be a big draw, this loop near Thousand Oaks has its rewards: views of the Santa Monicas, Simi Hills and if visibility is good, the San Gabriel and Topa Topa ranges. The hike makes for a quick, convenient workout and can also serve as a starting point for longer trips within the extensive Los Robles trail system.
And the LEAST viewed this year of the 1,000 hikes written up on Nobody Hikes in L.A. is:
While it might not boast a geological feature resembling a certain snack food, Bernardo Peak is one of the more impressive summits in the San Diego suburbs. Though not a secret among local hikers, Bernardo doesn’t receive as much visitation as other summits: as of this writing, it has only 10 Yelp reviews, compared to 948 for Cowles Mountain and 466 for Iron Mountain in Poway. (Remember – checking out how many reviews a hiking area has on Yelp, Google, Facebook and other sites can provide a rough estimate of how much company you might expect and how easily it will be to socially distance.) What Bernardo does offer is a scenic view of Escondido; Lake Hodges in particular.
Thank you all for reading Nobody Hikes in L.A. this year and let’s all have a happy, safe and successful 2021, both on and off the trails.
Text and photography copyright 2020 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.