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UCLA Recreation

Looking to explore the outdoors near UCLA?

Great idea! UCLA is nestled into the base of the Santa Monica Mountains that run alongside the ocean for most of their length west of campus and terminate north of downtown LA. These mountains form part of the Transverse Ranges, the eastern portion of which are home to multiple peaks that rise to heights over 10,000 feet. These ranges are named for their east-west trajectory that is notable because most of the mountain ranges in California run northwards to southwards. UCLA's geographical setting near the ocean and among the mountains, much of which are protected as natural habitat, makes it an ideal location for people to enjoy and explore the outdoors.

Where should I go?

Try our local mountains! Because of how wonderful and accessible ecosystems near campus are, most of the overnight trips that we offer during the fall, winter, and spring are concentrated in the Transverse Ranges neighboring UCLA. We do also visit a location at the northern tip of the Peninsular Ranges that are also among our local mountains. The Peninsular Ranges, named for the Baja Peninsula in Mexico to which they extend, are part of the eastern boundary of the LA basin. They also form the south side of the Banning Pass (home to a large collection of power-generating windmills) that serves as a gateway to the Mojave Desert (home to Joshua Tree National Park) and the Sonoran Desert (home to Anza-Borrego State Park) that characterize southeastern California.

Here for the summer?

Consider the Sierra! Our summer trips are backpacking adventures that work best in regions with abundant availability of surface water in August and early September. The steep, eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains--where high-elevation lakes and streams fed mostly by melted snow provide plentiful sources of water throughout the summer season--is an ideal location for these trips. While the distance from campus to the eastern Sierra is substantial compared to our local mountains, the longer hours of daylight and milder weather during the summer make the drive more manageable. Summertime also happens to be among the best times of the year to visit this area because snow and ice complicate access the rest of the year.

Planning an outing and have questions?

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Half-Day Trips: Within 5 miles of UCLA

These day trips may be taken by public transportation, bike, or foot!

Native plants and Creek daylighting

Where Westwood Boulevard crosses the tracks of the E-Line Train about 3 miles from campus and a few blocks south of Pico Boulevard, an impressive array of native plants are thriving. From Overland Avenue in the east to Military Avenue in the west, habitat restorations have been undertaken on both sides of the tracks in different phases over many years. West of Westwood Boulevard and along the multi-use path south of the tracks, native plants like buckwheats, sages, coyote bush, sagebrush, and toyon grow among several oaks and redbuds. Stopping to watch the flowers for insect pollinators, sometimes including Carpenter bees, is worthwhile. East of Westwood Boulevard, part of the creek channeled underground decades ago to facilitate surface construction has been brought back to the surface as part of the Westwood Greenway. A wide variety of native plants line both sides of the each walkway, both the paved one south of the tracks and dirt one north of the tracks. The paved path connects to other sections along the E-Line Train, forming the Exposition Corridor Bike Path. Historically, the tracks served a passenger line that later became a freight line, then was not used for many years until the Expo Line--renamed to the E-Line in 2019--was built. This unique area may also be a jumping-off point for further explorations, such as taking the E-Line west to Santa Monica Beach or east to downtown LA.

Natural springs

Two outflows of a natural spring about 3 miles from campus are located in an area known by the Tongva, the people who originally inhabited this region, as Kuruvungna or "place where we are in the sun". The springs, located near the corner of South Barrington Ave and Stoner Avenue, are designated as California Historic Landmark #522. Due to being located on the present-day grounds of University High School, they may be difficult to see up close. Generally, they are the site of an annual celebration of Tongva culture on Indigenous People's Day in October. Additionally, a Museum and Cultural Center established at the spring site and operated by the Gabrielino Tongva Springs Foundation has open hours monthly. The telltale sign of the springs visible from the sidewalk next to the spring is a Cypress tree rising high above the gates and adjacent bungalows. The tree was allegedly planted by the Spanish around 1769 when they first arrived. Whether you are able to approach the springs or not, their presence is fascinating historically and ecologically.

Santa Monica Bay

Palisades Park overlooking the Santa Monica Bay is about 5 miles west of campus. Multiple options for riding public transit to this location exist, in addition to bicycle routes that take a combination of quieter sideroads and main roads with bike lanes. In this long, narrow park, lawns and a walking path hug the edge of the bluffs that rise above the Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica Beach. Look north to see the Santa Monica Mountains and Point Dume that marks the northern extent of the bay. At the southern end of Palisades Park and catty corner to it is Tongva Park which is named for indigenous peoples who originally inhabited this region. Sculptures, fountains, and native plants fill the area that was, until recently, a parking lot. The Santa Monica Pier, with its ferris wheel run by solar power, forms the southern boundary of Palisades Park and provides easy access to Santa Monica State Beach, extending north and south from the pier. Walking to the end of the pier provides a view of the ocean wildlife beyond the waves and access to the lower deck of the pier for a peek at the barnacle-covered pylons supporting it. Points of interest in the vicinity of the pier include: the original Muscle Beach now outfitted with gymnastics and playground equipment, Heal the Bay's Aquarium where you can learn about and see native organisms from the ocean, and the paved path for bicyclists and pedestrians that travels 22 miles parallel to the ocean.

Planning a day trip and have questions?

We're here to help:

Ask a local expert!

Day trips: Within 10 miles of UCLA

These day trips may be taken by public transportation, bike, or foot!

Baldwin Hills

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and Culver City Parkare about 6 miles south of campus. Public buses may be taken to within a short walk of both parks. By bicycle, this route takes sideroads and this route opts for the more-direct thoroughfare of Westwood Boulevard. These parks are connected to each other by walking paths, so they may be enjoyed together or on separate trips. One option is to start in Culver City Park at the Interpretive Trail, a wooden boardwalk that ascends the hillside to a large sundial, then traverse the hills by crossing the baseball fields and entering the western gate of the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. Extensive restoration of natural habitat has established a rich diversity of native plants and is ongoing in additional area of the park. Wildlife, including red-tailed hawks coasting and kiting through the air, may often be observed in both parks. A housing development was planned for the land occupied now by the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and both parks' current footprints had also been used for oil extraction, until they were converted to parks. Pumpjacks that presently extract oil are visible from the parks in neighboring areas of the Baldwin Hills. Another way to access the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook is from Jefferson Boulevard where a dirt path winds uphill to a roughly-hewn, concrete stairway that cuts straight to the hilltop. Hiking trails switch back and forth across the stairway, as well as wrapping around the hillside to the east, providing lots of ways to explore the park. Several overlooks throughout both parks provide grand views of the LA Basin, including a 360-degree view from the very top.

Ballona Creek and Wetlands

The Ballona Creek Bike Path, located about 6 miles from campus at its closest point, traverses the westside and leads to UCLA's Marina Aquatic Center as well as the bike path along the beach. The UCLA campus is located within the Ballona Creek's watershed, so tributaries like Stone Creek Canyon--part of which is still above-ground on campus north of the Anderson School before it is routed underground--flow eventually into the Ballona Creek. Closer to the beach, the Ballona Creek crosses the Ballona Wetlands which is a protected area that is home to one of the last expanses of salt-marsh habitat along the California coast and a plethora of native wildlife. Plants that thrive in the brackish waters blanket the reserve south of the creek where the tidal flow is maintained, despite the area being mostly surrounded by paved barriers, by gates built into the bank of the Ballona Creek. This rare habitat is frequented by avid birdwatchers because it hosts such an impressive variety of avian wildlife throughout the seasons, such as terns, sandpipers, herons, dowitchers, godwits, kingfishers, buffleheads, and osprey. Cross Ballona Creek when you reach the end of its bike path and head south on the beach path to explore the southern beaches of the Santa Monica Bay. Notable, public infrastructure along the bike path is the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, the oldest and largest treatment plant for wastewater in Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Scattergood Generating Station, which historically used gas byproducts from the treatment plant as part of its fuel to generate electricity. Portions of the sand dunes near these facilities have been landscaped with native plants as part of targeted efforts at habitat restoration. If you make it all the way to the bluffs above Redondo Beach, be on the lookout for dolphins traveling parallel to shore.

Santa Monica Mountains (west of campus)

Will Rogers State Historic Park is about 7 miles west of UCLA and connects to the adjacent Topanga State Park. By bicycle, there is a variety of routes to the park that involve minimal time on Sunset Boulevard--not a recommended route near campus for bicycling--or avoid it completely. Also, Metro's 602 Bus runs next to campus and up to a stop on Sunset Boulevard from which this park can be reached by a short hiking-trail. Additional trails extend throughout the chaparral and coast-sage scrub of the park which is covered with aromatic vegetation native to this ecosystem, like sages, buckwheats, lilacs, sagebrushes, and sunflowers. Extend your hike by connecting to the Backbone Trail that traverses 67 miles of the Santa Monica Mountains, a National Recreation Area managed by the National Park Service. Vistas showcasing the Santa Monica Bay, LA Basin, and natural habitat of the Santa Monica Mountains are a spectacular reward for ascending these parks' trails that are steep in some cases. Tours of the historic ranch and horseback rides are offered next to a grassy lawn perfect for a relaxing picnic.

Planning a day trip and have questions?

We're here to help:

Ask a local expert!

Day trips: Within 30 miles of UCLA

These day trips may be taken by public transportation or bike!

Santa Monica Mountains (east of campus)

Griffith Park, situated about 11 miles east of campus, is one of the largest parks in the country located within the limits of a city. It includes wilderness areas full of native flora and fauna in addition to maintained areas more typical for an urban park. Stay for sundown to hear the coyotes howling or visit the Griffith Observatory to learn more about astronomy and get an up-close view of the iconic building. Hiking trails through the chaparral-covered hillsides abound in the park and afford views of the city on both sides of the mountains. The two, main branches of the Los Angeles River join in on the eastern boundary of the park and mark the eastern terminus of the Santa Monica Mountains. For a challenging ride by bicycle, ascend from the south side of the park, then descend via on the north side into the valley and skirt the eastern boundary of the park to valley side of the park to loop back to your starting point. The bike path along the section of the Los Angeles River adjacent to Griffith Park, known as the Glendale Narrows, is also worth visiting. Because the river bottom is soft and unpaved in this area, it is a thriving habitat populated by a wide variety of riparian flora and fauna.

Palos Verdes Peninsula

For a challenging extension to the beach bike path that may be reach most easily by bicycle, follow the road along the coastline when the beach path ends and venture up the steep grade onto the Palos Verdes Peninsula where natural reserves dot the landscape and sheer cliffs rise out of the rocky ocean where kelp forests thrive. The southern boundary of the Santa Monica Bay, Point Vicente (which is about 28 miles from campus), is located on the peninsula and is a worthwhile point to reach. A lighthouse, an interpretive center, native-plant garden, and nature trails are among the attractions. If you're there from December to May, be sure to check in with the volunteers who congregate during daylight hours at the lookout in front of the interpretive center who survey the migration of Pacific Grey Whales. In the late fall, these whales make their way from Alaska to birth their calves in Baja California. They head back north in the spring with their calves. Because the ocean floor is unusually deep directly adjacent to the coast in this area, the whales often travel close enough to the land for their exhaling blows to be heard. Kelp forest grow from the rocky ocean-bottom in the area and hosts a wide variety of wildlife.

Malibu Lagoon

Malibu Lagoon State Park is located about 18 miles west of campus and is accessible by public buses or a challenging bike-ride. The route from campus travels largely along the Pacific Coast Highway which is a local mainstay of extended bike-rides. The lagoon is formed where Malibu Creek meets the ocean and creates a wetland habitat that supports a wide variety of native species, including a handful of endangered or threatened species. The watershed of Malibu Creek is, after Ballona Creek's, one of the largest watersheds feeding into the Santa Monica Bay. Unlike Ballona Creek's watershed, the majority of Malibu Creek's watershed is comprised of protected areas within the Santa Monica Mountains. Intensive efforts at ecological restoration executed by a coalition of stakeholders have focused on this unique area that has long been important to humans, starting with the Chumash people long before Europeans arrived, and wildlife alike. Further efforts to restore the creek upstream of the lagoon, such as removing the Rindge Dam which dates to the 1920s, are planned. Imperiled species like steelhead trout are part of the motivation for these measures in many watersheds because, like salmon, their life cycle requires access to both the ocean and freshwater streams that dams like the Rindge Dam restrict in the Malibu Creek Watershed.

Planning a day trip and have questions?

We're here to help:

Ask a local expert!

Routes for Bike Rides

Looking for ride ideas?

The below links connect to dozens of routes that we've mapped for traveling around the city by bike. Originally, we created them for commuters, but they are also great for recreational rides. Exploring the city by bike is an awesome way to get to know the lay of the land and its inhabitants. Sunday mornings are generally the least-busy times on the road and a great time to be out on the town riding. A neat to get to Will Rogers State Historic Park, a destination described in our day-trips section, is in the "Special-Event Routes" map. It involves crossing a creek using a public bridge that is accessible by a nondescript wooden-gate. Another ride to highlight is the one heading to Pasadena that uses the Arroyo Seco Bike Path--which travels in the concrete riverbed alongside the river--after the route crosses over the Los Angeles River. Finally, the "Oil Ride" mapped in "Special-Event Routes" is an homage to the history of oil exploration in Los Angeles. It visits several locations on the westside where oil extraction is currently taking place using equipment hidden from view by constructs like facades of a synagogue and an office building.

Special-Event Routes

Routes to campus from the East

Routes to campus from the North and West

Routes to campus from the South

Have questions about routes?

Ask a bike expert!

Overnight trips: Campsites within 40 miles of UCLA

Looking for a campsite close to UCLA?

Here are several that are located in the Santa Monica Mountains west of campus!

Musch Camp in Topanga State Park is a hike-in campsite accessible from the western entrance to the park off of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. This campground may also be visited as part of a backpacking adventure via public transportation by starting from campus and Will Rogers State Historic Park. Leo Carillo State Park and Point Mugu State Park may both be accessed from the Pacific Coast Highway. The Hike-and-Bike Campsites at these parks are a great option for a bike overnight; bicycling from campus to them is a challenging day-trip perfect for someone accustomed to riding with motor-vehicle traffic. Malibu Creek State Park is located in the heart of the mountain range.

For sample trips that include campsites in the Los Padres National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, Montana de Oro State Park, and the Santa Monica Mountains, we invite you to refer to the trips that we offer during the fall, winter, and spring. We focus on areas close to campus to minimize time spent driving and maximize time spent outdoors.

Planning an overnight trip and have questions?

We invite you to ask us for guidance:

Ask an Outdoor Guide!

Highest peaks in Southern California

Looking for an advanced challenge in the outdoors while you are based at UCLA?

You may consider taking a day trip during fair weather to one of the highest peaks in southern California, all three of which are located on the border of the LA basin: Mount San Antonio (aka Baldy), Mount San Gorgonio, and Mount San Jacinto! While each of the summits is possible to reach in a long day of hiking, traveling to the top of Mount San Gorgonio is best accomplished as an overnight, backpacking trip. Permits may be requested for backcountry campsites along the various trails on the mountain. These options are worth pursuing to allow more time for acclimatizing to the higher altitude and to break the many miles of hiking to the summit into smaller segments.

Mount San Antonio, located in the San Gabriel Mountains, is closest to campus and most visible--particularly during the clearer, colder winter months when it is covered with snow--of the three summits. On the clearest days, Mount San Gorgonio of the San Bernardino Mountains peeks into view east of Baldy. On the clearest of days, Mount San Jacinto may be seen to the south of these two peaks.

The trails to the summits of these mountains are steep overall and treacherous at times, so they are genuinely challenging in the mildest of conditions. Therefore, we recommend exploring them without the added complications of snow and ice. Summertime, with its added benefit of the most hours of daylight, is ideal. Depending on the snowpack and weather, late spring and early fall may also be decent times.

When the upper reaches of these summits are blanketed with snow and ice, technical gear is strongly recommended and may be required to reach these summits. While it is possible to navigate them during the colder times of the year, the significant number of rescues and fatalities that occur on average each year should be considered fair warning even to a seasoned hiker.

Planning a hike and have questions?

We're here to help:

Ask an Outdoor Guide

Links

There is a wide variety of websites and apps geared towards outdoor recreation. Consulting primary sources, like the websites operated by the park managers themselves, is a must. Referencing secondary sources, like private websites, may also provide valuable insights.

Primary sources: Public parks and government agencies have their own websites that offer valuable information, like Malibu Creek State Park and Leo Carillo State Park near campus. Los Angeles County's Department of Parks and Recreation provides this interactive map of hiking trails throughout the county.

Secondary sources:Alltrails.com and Hikespeak.com are privately-operated websites that list trails, including maps and crowd-sourced reviews. Hikespeak was created and is maintained by a hiking enthusiast based in Los Angeles.