Trail runners in Los Angeles are no joke. Although the Leadville 100 in Colorado has the most notoriety among runners and the general public, Los Angeles has a race that mirrors the Leadville course in its elevation, distance, and terrain. The Angeles Crest 100 is a race through the Angeles National Forest along portions of the Pacific Crest trail with 22,000 vertical feet of elevation gain and 48,310 feet of total elevation change. The fact that the race is done August makes it even more intense. Such a race is representative of the prominence of the San Gabriel Mountains. Not everyone is able to train on steep climbs that go on for 5-15 miles without reprieve – which are common in the mountain range. It can be hard to find that happy medium between flat road runs and epic mountain climbs, but thankfully Cherry Canyon is around. Located in La Canada-Flintridge, Cherry Canyon is a relatively small drainage with a small network of fire roads and single track that is great for running and hiking.
What Makes It Great
Location matters. Los Angeles is a bizarre polarized example of extreme urban sprawl adjacent to mountain peaks that make seasoned hikers squeamish. It is this easy access to trails and culture that makes for such a special experience. Cherry Canyon fits into this mold and is, in many ways, the archetype of accessible nature within the city. The drive is 15 min from downtown and the miles of single-track make it a worthwhile trip.
The park is located just above Descanso Gardens – a ranch formerly owned by a Los Angeles newspaper magnate who grew world-class flowers. The trails are a mix of fire roads and single-track. The entire park is up and down, but the grades are never too steep.
From the Forest Hills Trailhead, run up the fire road for 0.3 miles, then turn left onto a lightly descending single-track trail. Stay right at the one turn option you are given, after another 0.3 miles you will hit the Cherry Canyon Fire road. Climb up the Cherry Canyon Fire road until you hit an intersection of Descanso Mountain Way in about a half-mile. On the left you will see a small single-track trail, this is the Cerro Negro Trail. Take this, it will loop you around and to the top of the Cherry Canyon Trail. This is the best ascent of this small canyon. There are countless opportunities for additional routes and fun. The park is operated by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the map on their website is all you need to explore this small labyrinth of a canyon.
Who is Going to Love It
If you are a runner who loves exploring single-track trails and climbs, then this might be for you. The accessibility and small but twisted trail system make it an adventure. The park can be accessed from the Descanso Motorway and a trailhead at Hampstead Road.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The park is most easily accessed via the Verdugo Boulevard exit off of the CA-2 Freeway. Head east on Verdugo Boulevard and turn onto Descanso Drive. After a half-mile on Descanso Drive, turn right onto Padres Trail, take the first left onto Forest Hill Drive. Shortly up the road, Forest hill Drive terminates and the fire road begins. Park on this residential street, but remember to be conscientious of the residents.