Never mind the official website; here’s the best way to hike right up to the famed white mountaintop letters spelling H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — The first rule of Hollywood Sign Hike Club? Don’t talk about the Hollywood Sign Hike Club, or so it would seem for anyone who attempts to search online for the most direct hiking route up to the famed nine white mountaintop letters that spell H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D.
The official website for the sign, hollywoodsign.org, does not present the most direct, shortest route to the sign. Instead, it suggests several longer hikes that begin far from the sign, including from Griffith Park Observatory.
Even though the official site won’t tell you, there’s a much quicker, more direct route launching from the neighborhood beneath the sign. But the folks who live near that hiking-trail entrance don’t want you driving up their street, North Beachwood Drive, or parking in front of their homes. It’s a classic Los Angelenos versus tourists battle.
If you go
Directions on Google Maps won’t get you to the nearest trailhead. Take Franklin Avenue to North Beachwood Drive and go north on North Beachwood until it dead-ends (approximately at 3400 N. Beachwood Drive, Griffith Park, Los Angeles 90068). Go through the metal security gate at the end of North Beachwood and follow the signage for Hollyridge Trail. There’s one switchback early on, a hard left turn, that it might be easy to miss. It’s where Hollyridge Trail meets Mulholland Fire Road. Before embarking on the hike, consult directions at www.hikespeak.com/trails/hollyridge-trail-mount-lee-hollywood-sign-griffith-park, where the 11th photo in the collection shows that junction.
There’s no parking on North Beachwood Drive from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. But if you get there by 6 a.m., a hiker of average skill and in average shape should be able to ascend and descend Mount Lee by 8 a.m.
Moderate. Be sure to carry water and watch for rattlesnakes. Wearing sneakers is fine; you don’t need special hiking shoes.
Gizmondo.com reported in November 2014 that a Los Angeles city councilman even managed to get GPS company Garmin and Google on board with changing directions to the sign.
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Go ahead, go to Google Maps and type “Pittsburgh to Hollywood sign” or any other directions, and you’ll see they steer you miles away from Beachwood, instead directing would-be hikers to Griffith Park Observatory, and then a gray dashed line stretches from there to the sign atop Mount Lee. (Note: To make matters more confusing, Mount Hollywood is a different hill altogether.)
But savvy hikers don’t have to take the longer observatory route. They can enjoy the Hollywood sign up close, embarking from the North Beachwood Drive trailhead, if they time it right. Two key variables to keep in mind:
• The park opens at 5 a.m.
• Parking on North Beachwood is prohibited between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on prime hiking days: Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
Armed with this information, I set out to make the hike on a Sunday in mid-August between 6 a.m. and when parking restrictions kick in at 8 a.m.
Driving up North Beachwood Drive, framed by palms and eucalyptus on either side of the road, I spy the sign through morning haze. I park close to the trailhead just before 6 a.m. The first thing I see: a coyote prancing down the sidewalk. I keep my distance; he keeps his.
There’s a metal gate where North Beachwood Drive dead-ends and it’s unlocked from 5 a.m. to sunset, according to the Los Angeles Times. I slip through it and follow the rutted dirt road that leads to Sunset Ranch Hollywood, which offers horseback rides (on one website a hiker suggests, “follow the scent of horses” and you’ll know you’re on the right path). Soon enough I see the sign for Hollyridge Trail on the right, and I begin my ascent.
Hiking guides warn Hollyridge Trail can be congested on weekends, but at 6 a.m. it’s empty and peaceful. Perhaps too peaceful when you come upon this warning sign: “Caution: Rattlesnakes.”
Stepping gingerly to avoid potential rattlesnakes and horse manure, I venture on as the trail grows steeper and my huffing and puffing becomes more pronounced.
After making a hard left turn from Hollyridge Trail to westbound Mulholland Fire Road, and after rounding a few bends, I spot the sign. Once you reach Mount Lee Drive, the rest of the trip is on a paved road.
Switchback after switchback, higher and higher you climb until you’re riding the ridge of Mount Lee, which offers views to the south of Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles and views northward toward Burbank, including the sight of the Walt Disney Studios.
It takes only 35 minutes to make it to the “H” in Hollywood, but for people thinking they can stand in front of the letters for a selfie, be warned: The trail leads you to a spot above and behind the Hollywood sign; tall fencing prevents hikers from getting down underneath it.
The sign was erected in 1923 as a sales tool for a nearby housing development. At that point the sign was longer, spelling out the development’s name, Hollywoodland. By 1949 the sign was in disrepair and faced a possible teardown when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce paid to spruce it up and remove the letters spelling “land.”
In the late 1970s, the original was torn down and replaced with the sign visitors see today.
The view from the top of Mount Lee is smoggy early that morning. I begin my descent at 6:50 a.m., and the view on the trip down proves almost as worthwhile as on the hike up because I notice landmarks I missed the first time, including a view of Griffith Park Observatory.
On my way up, I encountered just a few people: a gaggle of teens walking down, a few men and women jogging up. On the way back down, the trail is more active with a few families and more joggers and hikers heading for Mount Lee, including 27-year-old Mark Henson. He routinely begins his march to the top about three miles farther south of the trailhead.
“It’s an easy hike if you start from here, but I start at Hollywood Boulevard and take it all the way up and carry a 35-pound pack,” says the North Hollywood resident. “I love the workout. The first time I went to see the Hollywood sign up close. Now I just do it to get the blood flowing.”
Henson says the smog often lifts later in the day, but depending on the time of year a visitor makes the trek, it can get hot, too.
“Bring some water,” he advises, before adding, “if California has any left.”
I make it back to my car by 7:30 a.m. On the way out through the metal gate I see a security guard who hadn’t been there when I began the hike. He’s hired by the city of Los Angeles to shoo away any tourists trying to park during the no-parking hours.
I also have another encounter with the coyote; I’m now convinced he was hired by the neighbors to scare off tourists. I look at him, the coyote looks at me. He turns and trots up a hillside and disappears into the brush.