Exploring Los Angeles one trail at a time

Franklin Canyon

Oh, Franklin Canyon, I do love you.

Located smack-dab in the middle of Los Angeles — with a lake, a pond full of turtles and ducks, and 5 miles of trail — this park is a surprising, uncluttered, bucolic find. As part of the Santa Monica Mountains, Franklin Canyon is an important stop for birds making southerly migrations and for local fauna that inhabit the mountains, including yours truly.

With chaparral and pine trees and songbirds and the peaceful ripples in the quiet lake, you feel like you’re — I don’t know — in Mayberry or somewhere all-American like that, perhaps because the opening to the Andy Griffith show was filmed here: lil’ Ronnie Howard and his pop strolling along, whistling, with their fishing poles bobbing on their shoulders.

“Gee, pop, is this really L.A.?”

I may not be a ten-year-old redhead but I feel like a kid every time I come hiking here…

I recently went back with a dude we’ll call Mr. O, a man I’ve known for a decade now, on a clear, lackadaisical Sunday. The sky as blue as Zoey Deschanel’s eyes. The trail was empty. We practically had the place to our self.

We chatted effusively. Rambling talk. Old pal gab.

We’ve known each other since college. Boston. Drinking in bars and talking about scripts. We’re co-dependent reminders of our youth. Friends.

Mr. O getting his flower sniff on.

We climbed hills with wooden steps, hard dirt paths, stomped over fossilized sneaker prints.

We traversed wooden bridges, gazed at mansions, watched helicopters overhead, admired native plants while trying to deduce their names: Bull thistle. Deerweed.  Black sage. Shortpod mustard. They’re all in attendance up here. The fauna is varied and scraggly and totally Southern Californian.

Crossing bridges.

Franklin Canyon is a long canyon with a series of short trails ascending the hills to peek-a-boo views of the lake and sometimes Century City and the Westside beyond. Choose any of these spurs for a nice climb and view.

We progressed through the park letting the moment guide us, picking this trail and that trail willy-nilly. When you allow any option, it’s hard to be displeased.

A little history about the place. This was the summer family retreat for Edward L. Doheny, an oil tycoon whose memory is preserved in the eponymous street to the south, practically down water from here. You can imagine how nice that must have been to have this canyon to yourself, riding horses, swimming in the lake, almost a century ago.

We experimented with a few of these routes to get a sense of what Franklin Canyon has to offer. The trails themselves are narrow and you can tell that this place doesn’t get a lot of traffic. The grass and mustard plants are reclaiming the trails and at times you have to bushwack your way through. This is a plus for me but might annoy some tamer hikers.

I like my trails overgrown and wild.

Overwhelmed with life.


Squirrels scamper around in the undergrowth. A lizard strikes out across our path.The noises are small and pastoral. Life slowed down.

We continued on, drawn towards the sound of speakers playing, music drifting through the canyon.

Down at the nature center there was a group of people, a dozen and a half or so, dancing, writhing, doing some form of yoga movements to strange, New-Agey music. It was a bit cult-like and weird. Totally L.A.. Watching these people for a while to try to make sense of what they were doing drew no results, there was no pattern to it, each dancer moved in their own contorting way, flailing around in slow-motion. If you took a Grateful Dead concert and slowed it down this is what it would look like.

They looked happy at least.

We left them to continue doing whatever it was they were doing and continued north, higher into the canyon.

After more meandering, both on the trail and conversationally, we  found ourselves staring up at a vertical ascent that needed conquering; so Mr. O and I raced up full-speed, shouting like cavemen, topping it in ten seconds. Up on the summit was a fire station with a basketball hoop.

Getting down was a bit more tricky.

We traversed up canyon. The trail grew more forgotten, seemingly unused. Random. A cartographer’s mistake. It was a cagey romp through the brush. Unexpected. I dug it.

Another surprise was this giant elevated pipe towering over our heads. A steampunk homage: man’s aggression to nature; a totem of industry: Modernity’s collateral damage, I suppose.

We sat in the shade and tried to guess what was coursing inside that steel tube but came to no conclusion. Oil? Water? Natural Gas? Poop? Who knows.

I hope it’s not poop.

We continued our climb uphill until we popped out at the intersection of Coldwater Canyon Blvd and Mulholland Dr. There was a phone booth without a telephone and a dangerous hairpin turn, and no where safe to walk.

We quickly crossed the street, dodging traffic like Frogger, all to check out the Treepeople headquarters, and their displays and nursery and view of the valley, L.A.’s smoggy, creepy, ignored brother-in-law.

Glorious San Fernando Valley.

After a little respite, educating ourselves one placard at a time, we ventured back down the hill, towards the lake, and the pine trees, oak, and redwoods that make the perfect on-the-cheap backdrop with built-in props and all for the movie makers and TV show makers out yonder…

There are picnic benches lining the shore. I made the determination right then and there to come up here with a group of friends, devour a little feast, throw the Frisbee back and forth and chill out in the shade. Maybe eat some pineapple.

That’s all we really want to do in the end, right? Chill out.

These fowl were chilling out. Not sure what they are: mallards? Floating around, minding their own business, drifting through the water, pecking at things underneath. There were some babies, too, chirping up a storm. It looked like a nice little birdy life for them.

No hurries.

We got a chance to snap another photo of the lake with the sky changing color and the day beginning to shed its warmth and the breeze making the surface undulate. You can’t help but appreciate what’s right here, in our backyard, minutes away. There for the exploring. Approachable. Close. A nice collection of trees and birds and sunshine.

When you need a break from the daily balancing act, leave your cell phone in your car and scamper around the hills for an hour or two. Good for your lungs, good for your soul.

Franklin Canyon always sets my kilter right.  The right balance of lake and scrubby hills, pine trees and don’t forget! turtles floating with their little heads on the surface watching the world. This is the land. We are its inhabitants. It’s good land. I can’t help but extoll my appreciate for this gem.

Get your kilter right.

Conveniently located in the center of our city, just off Sunset and Beverly Dr., Franklin Canyon has a lot of move-around room. The trails are personal, full of wildflower. There’s a surprising abundance of quiet and a healthy dose of solitude. There’s no better landscaper than Mother Nature, and she did a sweet job up here.


Now, let’s go back in time…


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