When my now-husband asked me to go on a hiking date to a place called Suicide Rock in Idyllwild, I’m pretty sure I asked him if he was a serial killer. But after huffing and puffing (and talking and laughing) for three miles, two hours and almost 2,000 feet of elevation, we finally reached that slab of granite and gazed out at the San Bernardino National Forest — and, well, that cemented it for me. Blame it on the fresh mountain air — I was in love.
This Valentine’s Day, why not opt for a hike? Pack a thermos full of hot chocolate, wear your warmest socks and find romance in the outdoors.
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And if you’re single? Let nature be your matchmaker. Check out L.A. Hike Club, born in 2018 as a social outdoors meetup started by Madison Powers, a 35-year-old television producer and native Angeleno living in Hancock Park; Andrea Rojas, a 36-year-old landscape architect and mother living in Beverlywood; and Kelsey Lynn, a 34-year-old talent buyer who lives in Echo Park. It’s grown into a 1,000-plus-member hiking club that’s inclusive, friendly and offers icebreakers at the beginning of each hike.
I chatted with the founders about why hiking is so romantic, their favorite spots for Valentine’s Day and their desire to make the city’s hiking trails even more inclusive.
How did L.A. Hike Club go from the three of you to over 1,000 members?
Rojas: We were three best friends from college who started hiking, and five years ago, the group formed really organically.
Powers: We were spending so much time at our 9-to-5 jobs indoors, and L.A. is so vast, and there are so many public lands donated for people to hike on. We started with Runyon and Temescal at first, and it became an excuse to share hiking with everyone and be social, healthy and connect with nature.
Rojas: During our hikes, we share interesting facts about the area and the trail and L.A., so it’s fun and educational, and we get our workout in.
Can you give me an example of local stories you’ve told on hikes?
Lynn: My personal favorite is the wild and colorful story of the infamous Griffith J. Griffith, who displayed a wide range of controversial and absurd behaviors. He shot his wife in the eye in the presidential suite of the Arcadia Hotel, and he demanded everyone address him as Colonel Griffith even though he was not a colonel. Ultimately, though, he cared deeply for L.A.’s natural habitat and donated his land to be what we now know as Griffith Park. In his will he donated a chunk of his estate to build the Greek Theatre and Griffith Observatory.
Rojas: I’m a landscape architect, so I always try to talk about the plants on our hikes. Mr. Abbot Kinney, tobacco heir and developer of Venice, is responsible for bringing the eucalyptus tree to Los Angeles from Australia and spreading its seeds across a treeless Southern California. Today, although we consider the tree a staple of our landscape, we also know it is a fire and falling hazard, and it’s been nicknamed “the widowmaker.”
You get 50 to 75 hikers on each trip. How do you find trails that can accommodate you all at the same time?
Powers: It’s really challenging. Where’s everyone going to park, is there access, is this far enough but not too far for everyone? We do a lot of scouting trails beforehand.
Do romances ever strike up when you’re all out on the trail?
Powers: Yes! Going to dinner is the world’s worst date because you’re just staring at each other talking. If you’re hiking, the endorphins are high, so it’s much easier to talk to people.
Lynn: Science shows that group activity breaks down barriers and increases connectivity. A hike is a great way to induce some natural conversation and get to know someone in a low-stress, high-enjoyment environment. And if they don’t like hiking — there’s your first red flag!
Powers: A lot of friendships get formed, and definitely a lot of people seem to show up trying to meet people romantically, so much so that people asked us to throw a singles hike. We always do an icebreaker at the top so people can talk to somebody they haven’t spoken to yet. It can be so silly, like what’s your favorite taco flavor, or what are your summer plans? The energy changes after the icebreaker when they realize they can talk to someone they don’t know.
Rojas: We take three stops during the hike, and we stop at the summit for breaks and an activity, so they can catch their breath and be social. At the summit everyone has that great feeling, and we always make sure to take a group shot to record that moment.
What’s your favorite romantic hike for Valentine’s Day?
Rojas: Tuna Canyon in Topanga. It’s an easygoing 3.8-mile hike with gentle slopes, stunning ocean views, canyon and coastline views, dogs off-leash and, best of all, no big crowds. Even on a weekend, it feels like an intimate trail.
Lynn: Mine has to be Dante’s View in Griffith Park. It’s a gorgeous little tucked-away garden that was built by Brazilian journalist and Griffith Park aficionado Dante Orgolini. You could easily sneak an intimate kiss there.
Powers: Mine is off of Commonwealth in Griffith Park. The first 10 minutes, you’re completely alone and you’re kind of scaling this mountain, so your heart is beating fast. Then it lets out into this tree-lined forest, so you feel like you’ve been transported to another place — like you’re on a romantic weekend to the Pacific Northwest. There’s rarely anyone else around, so it feels like you rented out the hike. I think the privacy and novelty of it just make it super romantic — and it will be sure to impress your date, because it’s likely they’ve never been there and you’ll get to show them something new.
You’ve noticed you have to pay for parking near many trailheads, especially since you’ve organized so many large social hikes. Shouldn’t hikes be free?
Lynn: In an ideal world, the financial burden of maintaining and protecting our beautiful parks shouldn’t fall on the individual hiker. We need more government funds directed toward protecting our natural habitats. It’s the same problem we face with tips in America — companies should pay their employees better wages; the burden shouldn’t fall on the customer.
Powers: We noticed in our social group that a lot of people had just moved to L.A. and were trying to meet people, a lot of people were unemployed or in college, trying to do something free. We really started to notice the parking thing.
A lot of these lands were donated by someone who rose to fame and riches, came from nothing and wanted to give the land back. But a lot of the lots charge $12, including Temescal and Escondido Falls, where you can go down and park on PCH and walk, but it’s dangerous. Often you have to park in the lot, because all the residential area surrounding the lot is no parking. If you can’t afford to pay, you’re out of luck.
Rojas: We are hesitant to pick a group hike where you have to pay for parking. Then we have to send out an email saying, “By the way, don’t forget to bring that $15 for the parking.” On top of that, you have to have a credit card and a bank account. These hikes are supposed to provide access to nature, access to a healthy workout and physical activity, time with your family or friends to bond in an easier way than going to the mall and having to spend all this money, but instead it’s paid access to a lot. When we did Temescal, we did get an email request for directions to get there on a bus, and it was a long ride and a lot of work.
What’s a possible solution?
Powers: We would really like to see the parking fees removed, the parking lots just be opened. California is set to become the world’s fourth largest economy, and it’s the largest sub-national economy in the world. There’s an income barrier on hiking, and we should remove it.
Inclusivity is obviously important to you as a community.
Powers: Yes. My mom is disabled, and she has a hard time walking and has trouble with her hip, so I’d like to see some flatter trails. It’s hard to figure out which ones are appropriate for her.
Rojas: It’s so important to us that we’re open to everyone. We pick mostly hikes that are accessible, which people can easily do. We’re always open to all ages. I wish that Los Angeles would be more verbal or promote hiking more, just because it’s a doorway to so much.
To learn about upcoming hikes with L.A. Hike Club, sign up for the mailing list here.
3 things to do
1. Shake it out and see some art. If your body is craving good vibrations, shimmy on over to the California African American Museum (CAAM) on Friday from 7 to 10 p.m. for KCRW’s outdoor Open House Dance Party, featuring tunes from DJs Francesca Harding and Tyler Boudreaux. Shake out your work week in the outdoor beer garden, with food trucks and libations to keep your energy up. While you’re at it, catch the vibrant lobby exhibition from Adee Roberson and Azikiwe Mohammed: “because i am that.” The event is free, but you’ll want to RSVP.
2. See Black life in celluloid. The dynamic, 12-day Pan African Film and Arts Festival (PAFF) will take place at venues across Baldwin Hills Crenshaw, including the Cinemark Theatres and the outdoor plaza, Feb. 9-20. PAFF will screen more than 150 films from 40 countries, in 19 languages, with 39% created by female, queer or nonbinary filmmakers. Ancillary events include an arts festival, fashion show, opening and closing night festivities, a comedy show and a spoken-word fest. Read on for more details, and buy festival passes here (individual tickets will be released soon).
3. Add trail-builder to your résumé. Want a deeper connection with the trails you hike? On Saturday at 9 a.m., people ages 18 and over can take an indoor class with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, where they’ll learn techniques for erosion repair, building rock walls, proper pruning and more. The class is free and no prior experience is necessary, but you need to sign up, and masks are required. If you’d rather hike than learn, take an easy guided nature walk at McBride Trail in Palos Verdes with panoramic views of the 191-acre Filiorum Reserve. The hike is also free, but you should register.
A mandatory composting law kicked in Jan. 16. If, like me, you live in the foothills at the edge of the human-wildlife interface, you might have a problem: bears that feast on your green bin like they’re getting their money’s worth at an AYCE buffet. Depending on your sanitation company, you might be able to buy a bear-safe green bin locker that your sanitation workers will unlock. I drop my compost at the local community garden, where the locks and the weight of the industrial-strength containers prevent hungry bears and raccoons from pawing in. Some libraries have compost containers, and even national parks like Yosemite are getting in on the action.
Read Jeanette Marantos in The Times to learn about more ways to compost, where you can get free kitchen bins and how to sign up for composting workshops, including the Japanese method bokashi.
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Rejoice, because the snowpack is the deepest it’s been since the early ’80s. We need it for our precious water supply. But my son — he needs the snow for his gargantuan snowman with pine branch arms. If you’re hungering for a trip to play in the snow, check out Wrightwood. Though the drive home can take hours, it’s one of the best places we’ve found for taking kids to play in ample snow. There’s even a stretch of vendors along the highway with gloves, hot chocolate and sometimes champurrado for sale.
For more insider tips on Southern California’s beaches, trails and parks, check out past editions of The Wild. And to view this newsletter in your browser, click here.