Hollywood Sign and the Bat Cave in Griffith Park
Date Hiked: May 28, 2012 and May 23, 2010
Best Season: Autumn Spring Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Griffith Park (323) 913 4688
- Distance: 7.1 miles round-trip
- Elevation Gain: 1,076 feet
- Route Type: Out and back, with a spur
- Trail Type: Dirt road with paved sections
- Difficulty: Moderate
One of the most iconic symbols of Southern California (and probably the most famous sign in the world) is the Hollywood Sign. Possibly the only thing more Hollywood than the Hollywood Sign is the actual making of movies in Hollywood, and the caves at Bronson Canyon adjacent to the sign have been featured in more than 100 movies and tv shows, including its use as the bat cave in the Batman tv series, the climactic scene of The Searchers with John Wayne, and all five Star Trek TV series, among others. This hike catches both memorable sites!
The only natural site we have gone to that may have appeared in more films is the Alabama Hills along historic Hwy 395, making this a tremendously great hike not just for California natives, but also for those annoying and/or beloved friends and families visiting from out of state for the holidays. Anyone that does this hike will be able to point at the Hollywood sign every time it appears on television or in the movies for the rest of their lives and say, “I was there!”
That doesn’t mean you can drag just anyone up there, however (unless you’re trying to knock them off). While it is an extremely popular/ busy hike that is entirely done on a well maintained dirt/paved road, it is also a 7 mile hike, with over 1,000 feet in elevation gain. So while you don’t have to be a professional mountaineer, and you don’t need expensive hiking boots (many do it in tennis shoes), it may be beyond the fitness level of many couch-bound or elderly people, especially on a hot day, as there is very little shade along the way and it is a steady climb up all the way to the sign.
We’ve now done this hike twice, (bringing a group the second time), and while it is a very busy trail, we’ve been able to park in the lot at the end of Canyon Drive, off of Franklin Avenue each time. It is a part of LA’s amazing Griffith Park, and surprisingly, there are no fees. There are a couple of portable toilets in the parking lot (which were without toilet paper the last time we were there, but “semper paratus” is my guide…), but nothing from this point forward, so be aware.
As you head north up the road/trail from the parking lot, you will come to a junction after about 1,000 feet. Turn to the right and head back southward on this trail/road. After another 1,000 feet or so, you will come to the famous “bat cave” from the old “Batman and Robin” tv show. But while this may be the most famous use, this tunnel and the area around it has been used in more than one hundred movies and television shows, from the climactic scene in John Wayne’s “The Searchers”, to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, to all five Star Trek TV series, Lone Ranger, Dukes of Hazzard, Little House on the Prairie, and many other shows you have almost certainly seen.
You can actually walk all the way through the cave/tunnel, which kids find especially cool, and then check out the quarry site (and the hill John Wayne charged down in The Searchers) at the end before returning back down the trail to the main path up to Mount Lee and the Hollywood Sign, which has itself been featured in countless movies and tv shows.
Fairly shortly thereafter you will pass the parking lot for “Camp Hollywood Land” (HOLLYWOODLAND is what the famous sign originally said) and then encounter a locked vehicle gate, in one of the few shaded sections of the trail. Head on around that, and very shortly, you’ll begin climbing in earnest. You will also leave the shade, for most of the rest of the walk to the top. Keep an eye off to the left of the trail, for occasional glimpses of the Hollywood sign from various vantage points. The trail is typically very busy, and the people watching can be very entertaining, as you try to decide who might be a real celebrity (we did spot at least one group being trailed by photographers), and who just wants to look like one. In the spring, this trail probably has a nice variety of wildflowers along the trail, but most of the year, the vegetation is less than exciting, typical SoCal sage scrub (the occasional cacti may entertain your out of town guests, though).
Roughly a mile from the trailhead, and two miles from the start if you took the diversion to the bat cave, you will come to a junction with another major trail. In fact, this trail is the dirt road section of Mulholland Drive! That may also be an attractant for your visiting tourists (or even allegedly jaded SoCal native you) who’ve seen the movie or just heard the name their entire lives. If you turn right, you’ll head towards the famous Griffith Park Observatory, but we’re heading left towards the sign today. The trail gets even busier from here, and you will likely share the trail with horses (and their… “exhaust”). You can pay for horseback tours of the sign and the park at nearby Sunset Ranch.
The trail levels out for a mile or so here, as it wraps around the hill, providing some very nice views of the LA Basin on a clear day. A little after a half mile on Mulholland, you’ll pass a dirt road that goes down towards the left towards the stables (where all the horsies will likely turn off), and a little less than a half mile after that, you’ll come to a paved trail junction. While you can see the Hollywood Sign off to the left from here, you’ll want to actually turn right (counter-intuitive though it may be).
The trail begins to climb fairly steeply again from here, as it wraps around the back side of Mount Lee. After about a third of a mile, you’ll have some great views of the San Fernando Valley and Forest Lawn Cemetery (where hundreds of celebs, including Michael Jackson are buried) to the north, and a few trees for shade from the sun (if you’re hiking on a hot day).
Roughly a mile from the paved section of the trail, you’ll come to the top of Mount Lee, and the top of the Hollywood sign! There’s a heavy grade chain link fence that makes pictures from the trail less than optimal, and security cameras to keep you from climbing the fence for an unobstructed view, or making one of the famous modifications to the sign that resulted in the camera installations (GO UCLA!). But if you keep going just a bit further, you can scramble up the little hill at the top of the trail and get a great 360 degree view of Southern California, from Downtown LA, to Hollywood, to West LA, Palos Verdes, Burbank’s studios and the San Gabriel Valley and even Catalina Island, on a clear day.
It’s a nice spot for a picnic, but it may be crowded. The view is definitely worth the trip, especially if it isn’t too smoggy, hazy, foggy, etc. Take some time to enjoy your proximity to the Hollywood sign that will allow you to identify the top of your hike every time you see it on television or the movie screen for the rest of your life!
From here, it is a relatively easy three mile hike back downhill, retracing your steps all the way (except for the diversion to the bat cave–you’ll probably want to skip that part on the way back). It can be done year-round, but it is very exposed, so it is best done on a cool, crisp day, or in the morning before it heats up outside. It really is a great hike for a Southern California native looking for a new perspective on an iconic piece of your homeland, but even better as a way to impress your relatively fit friends or family from out of town, who want something a bit different than the standard tourist drive. You can even reward them with a stop at the historic Pink’s Hot Dogs stand afterwards, where your sweaty, stinky self will hardly be noticed in the outdoor line, amidst all the celebrities that allegedly haunt the joint.
NOTE: If you’d like to see the Hollywood Sign, but think this sound like too much work, there is a much easier, level hike near the base of the Hollywood sign at the Hollywood Reservoir–which has also been used in a number of movies over the years.