Hikes: The Carousel to Beacon Hill

Back in the early decades of the 1900s, and long before the days of LAX, the Grand Central Airport in Glendale was the main airport for Los Angeles. Beacon Hill then served as a lighthouse to pilots flying in and out of the airport as a luminous beacon was placed on top of this hill as a warning of the mountains rising to the west. There is no remaining evidence of the beacon, only the name survives.

Located in the southeast corner of Griffith Park, Beacon Hill is the easternmost summit in the Santa Monica Mountain Range. The 1,001-foot hill towers over the Los Angeles River and provides panoramic views from The San Gabriel Mountains to Santa Monica Bay. On a clear day, Beacon Hill provides a stunning panorama.

View east - Fern Canyon Trail

The hike from the Griffith Park Carousel to Beacon Hill is a moderate one that heads up through Fern Canyon to Fern Canyon Trail. The summit can be reached via a 2.75-mile out and back hike with just under 500 feet of elevation gain. To reach the trailhead, start at the parking lot for the Griffith Park Merry-Go-round. Exit the lot to the fire road. Turn right and walk past the vehicle barricade. In a little over 50 yds, there will be a trail off to the left at an elevation of 515 ft which will lead up through Fern Canyon. In a little over 1/10 of a mile, you will arrive at Fern Canyon Amphitheater.

Continue up the short set of stairs to an elevation of 605 ft to reach the junction of Fern Canyon Trail. The taking trail to the left will take you up to Beacon Hill, the trails to the right will lead to the Old Zoo Picnic Area and Bee Rock. Fern Canyon Trail begins with a fairly steep ascent for the first 1/4 mile, but levels out as it weaves around four creases in the mountainside. Views to the east over Griffith Park, Glendale, and the mountains beyond are continuous all the way to an unmarked 5-way junction, known as the 5 Points, 1.15 miles from the start. Take the trail to the left, and hike another 0.2 miles across a saddle up to the top of Beacon Hill.

Silver Lake and Downtown L.A.

The quality of the view from this summit on a clear day is outstanding. To the south, about 5 miles away (as the crow flies) is the skyline of downtown Los Angeles. In between is Silver Lake Reservoir, the 5 Freeway and the L.A. River. To the west, Santa Monica Bay glistens under the sun.To the west and northwest are the summits of Mount Hollywood and Mount Bell. To the north and east are the cities of Glendale, Eagle Rock, and Burbank, framed by the Verdugo and San Gabriel Mountains, which rise above the urban landscape. Over 60 miles away to the east, Mount Baldy at over 10,000 ft is visible from Beacon Hill. In the winter, it is not uncommon to see these distant peaks covered in snow. It's really quite a sight!

After absorbing the vista, return to the 5 Points. Turn right to retrace your steps for a 2.75-mile out and back hike, or turn left to loop back to the trailhead via Coolidge Trail for a 3.9-mile hike. The trail west from Beacon Hill will lead up to Griffith Park Helipad / Vista View point. Heading up to the helipad and back will add another mile to the hike.

Details - The Carousel to Beacon Hill
Distance: 2.7 mi
Duration: 1.5 hrs
Elevation Range: 515 ft - 1,001 ft
Net Elevation Gain: 486 ft
Total Elevation Gain: 500 ft
Trailhead Coordinates: 34.130878, -118.283513
Description: The 1,001 ft summit provides panoramic views from The San Gabriel Mountains to Santa Monica Bay.