2 to 8 miles round-trip; easy to moderate
Alternate: Liz’s Loop and others
This isn’t actually a San Gabriels hike-it’s a little-known series of trails through the chaparral of the San Rafael Hills on the south side of La Cañada, and it’s ideal for hikers who don’t have more than an hour. A new part of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the hillside swath of land sits between housing developments and Descanso Gardens, and it’s covered with well-marked trails and a fire road. From the parking area, head into Cherry Canyon via Owl Trail, a lovely half-mile path shaded by oaks. This pops out onto the fire road; head left (uphill) and look for a sign sending you downhill to the “Ultimate Destination” — really just a picnic table on a barren plateau with a sweeping view of the Crescenta and San Gabriel valleys. If you’re training for a big hike and just want a workout, power up the fire road, which goes for four miles. Or take the fire road to Descanso Gardens or explore some of the small loop trails, especially Liz’s Loop and the Cerro Negro Trail.
Driving directions: From the northbound 210 Freeway, exit at Berkshire and turn left. Follow Berkshire (past some honkin’ mansions) and veer right at the Chevy Chase Drive stop sign. Turn left on Hampstead Drive, right at Cherry Canyon sign, and park on the shoulder.
Hiking directions: From the parking area you’ll see the Owl Trail sign. Walk down that trail, which emerges onto the fire road; turn left. Hike uphill on the dirt road until you see a sign for the Ultimate Destination, which you can see below. Go down for a look and perhaps a picnic at the table, then head back up to the fire road. Take the road downhill, passing the Owl Trail sign; if you have time, take the Liz’s Loop detour, about a mile and a half.