Griffith Park, home to the famous Los Angeles Equestrian Center, offers a cherished refuge from one of America’s most congested cities. In fact, at 6½ square miles, it’s the biggest city park with urban wilderness in the country.
That’s right — wilderness — right in the heart of Los Angeles. I drive just 15 minutes down a 10-lane freeway from my home in South Pasadena to the Silver Spur Riding Club, one of many private stables that border the park. There, I saddle up my Quarter Horse mount, Trigger, and head for the hills.
As I start out, the trail takes me through a tunnel underneath the often-jammed 134 freeway. I can’t help but notice the contrast between the zillions of cars above me and the dusty trail below. Peace and relaxation flow into me. In minutes, Trigger and I are away from the noise and traffic, trotting along a quiet, shaded trail.
City & Country
With 56 miles of trails to explore, the question becomes, which trail should I take? Stick to the lower elevation with its flatter trails, or head to the high country? It’s a pleasant dilemma!
I might ride to the observatory and to the cave that served as Batman’s lair in the classic television series.
One of my favorite trails ends at a place known as Mount Hollywood. The last quarter mile or so is a wide-open stretch, where Trigger loves to put on the afterburners and run for all he’s worth. It’s always a rush for the two of us to sprint to the park’s peak, eye level with those giant letters that spell HOLLYWOOD.
Up there, from the saddle, you can see all over Los Angeles. In one direction lie the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. Below us sits the dome of the observatory. East is the skyline of downtown suburban Glendale. And looking west on a clear day you can see the shimmering waters of the mighty Pacific Ocean. It’s quite a sight.
If time is short, you can ride an hour-long loop on Skyline Trail, where a steep switchback climb soon puts you up on a hill high above the freeways.
Off in the distance, you’ll see snaking traffic, the occasional helicopter, and Disney’s Burbank studios. But the natural terrain you’re riding over will sooth you.
Despite its manmade attractions, much of this park looks just like it always has. There are forests of oak, walnut, and conifer trees, and canyons thick with vegetation. This is beautiful California mountain country, a cherished remnant of the American West.
The Spice of Life
The park sits on the eastern range of the Santa Monica Mountains, with elevations ranging from 384 to 1,625 feet. But the trails aren’t the least bit hazardous. Most of them are like a single-lane fire road.
You’ll find a variety of terrain. There are long, flat, wide-open stretches like that sprint to Mount Hollywood, where you can let your horse run full blast. There are switchbacks that will give your horse a good workout. (I’ll sometimes get off and walk, to give Trigger a break and to get some exercise.)
You can lope on a long flat stretch that runs right along Interstate 5, on a trail that takes you to the Autry Museum, a Western museum founded by singing cowboy Gene Autry. There, you can even tie your horse at a hitching rail, and go in for lunch, if you like.
Keep going, and the trail takes you along a golf-course fairway. Cross a road, and you’re off into the hills.
On the higher trails, especially on a weekday, it can feel as though you have the park all to yourself — except for the coyotes! I’ve also seen deer, bobcats, and rattlesnakes. On rare occasions, mountain lions have been sighted.
However, the experience I enjoy most is just soaking in the peace and quiet of sharing the trail with my horse. And it is a real luxury to be able to do it right in the heart of the city, just minutes from home.
Stables & Rides
In the Griffith Park area, there are a multitude of stables where you can board your horse. But like everything else in Los Angeles, it’s expensive; expect to pay about $500 per month.
Leasing or sharing a horse can be a more affordable option. That’s essentially my arrangement with Trigger. He belongs to David Hooper, an excellent horse trainer and riding instructor. My wife and I ride with David once a week. The chance to get in the saddle on this well-trained mount is a treat we both look forward to.
If you’re visiting the area without your horse, don’t worry. The L.A. Equestrian Center is just one of a number of facilities that rent horses. One of the best known is Sunset Ranch Hollywood, located in a canyon just under the Hollywood sign. It’s been offering day rides in the park since 1929.
Sunset also offers a four-hour round trip dinner ride to the Viva Fresh Mexican Restaurant, a longtime favorite outing for locals and tourists alike.
When you’re driving along a nearby freeway — whether you’re flying along or stuck in traffic — you can look up at the hills of Griffith Park and be reassured that this trail gem is still there, right in the center of the city.
The hills and the coyotes and the peace are always waiting for you anytime you can get away.