Lake Hollywood Reservoir Perimeter Trail
Date Hiked: August 8, 2013
Best Season: Autumn Spring Summer Winter
Check Trail Conditions: (323) 463-0830
- Distance: 3.5 Miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 127 feet
- Route Type: Loop
- Trail Type: Paved
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Parking: Free, on Lake Hollywood Road or Weidlake Road
- Locality: Hollywood Hills
- Nearest City: Hollywood, CA
- Kid-Friendly: Yes
- Dog-Friendly: No
One of the things Colleen and I like the most about hiking is getting away from people. We both have jobs that require a lot of social interaction, and so finding a piece of wilderness with nobody else around is a real blessing. Sometimes, though, you just can’t avoid other people. When it is in a place like Eaton Canyon Falls or Sturtevant Falls, you wish you could have that beautiful place to yourself, but it is just too close to civilization to keep the crowds away, and you enjoy the hike despite the hordes of non-hikers. Other times, you just pick a hike right in the middle of town, and accept that a lot of people is part of the character of the hike. One such hike was the hike from the “Bat Caves” to the Hollywood Sign, in Griffith Park. There were a lot of people on the hike, but people watching is almost part of the sport, as you try to determine if that person coming the other way is a celebrity, or just ridiculously good looking, in a Hollywood sort of way. And it is an interesting, iconic hike that takes you up to the top of the Hollywood Sign, featuring great views (on a clear day) of much of Southern California, including–the Lake Hollywood Reservoir!
The Lake Hollywood Reservoir Trail/Road has been partly closed since 2005, when a series of mudslides wiped out the perimeter trail. But $9.5 million and eight years of repairs later, the full trail was re-opened this past spring (April, 2013). $10 million seems like a lot of money to repair a section of trail, but much of the money went to slope stabilization, to prevent the extremely expensive homes on top of the hill from ending up in the reservoir. Regardless, as soon as we saw it was re-opened, we put it on our to-do list. While we have heard that this trail can be very crowded, on the mid-week morning we did this hike there were not nearly as many other people as we had expected for such a centrally located urban hike under the Hollywood Sign.
The Mulholland Dam that created the Lake Hollywood Reservoir was completed in 1924, holding 2.5 billion gallons of water, from a mix of water stolen from the Owens Valley and local wells in the San Gabriel Valley. Named after William Mulholland, the occasion of the opening came with an awesome press release (and I’ve written a lot of awesome press releases myself, so I know!), with my favorite excerpt here:
With the inflexible determination that no Johnstown Disaster should ever overwhelm the City of the Angels, the form of the Dam was, for greater safety, thrust forward upstream against the pressure to come, arching in a vast curve like a colossal bow in order to transmit the approaching future strains as a lateral stress to the wide and ample shoulders of the unyielding walls of the canyon which it spans. So great is the resultant strength engendered by this construction and so vast the margin of safety occasioned thereby that no pressure that can in the course of nature be brought to bear against it can ever overstrain or overcome the resistant qualities of Mulholland Dam. Indeed, it has been reliably calculated that if Lake Hollywood, which it impounds, were filled with molten lead instead of water, the Dam would still stand. This becomes all the more impressive when it is recalled that, bulk for bulk, lead is 11.4 times heavier than water, the weight of a cubic foot of lead being 710 pounds as against 62 ½ pounds for a like volume of water.
And then because not only of its commanding position, dominating the city and the cynosure of all eyes for miles around in its enframing background of circling hills, but also because “a thing of beauty is a job forever,” it was determined to make Mulholland Dam sightly and beautiful, as well as solidly and safely utilitarian. How well, this determination was carried out and the vision realized all who have seen the superb structure can abundantly testify.
It’s location and architecture have made it a favorite for movies and television as well, most famously in Chinatown (where the water district guy was found dead) and Earthquake (where the dam failed), but even as recently as last year’s Seven Psychopaths. It also features a view of a classic house once owned by mobster Bugsy Siegel and later by Madonna.
But you didn’t come here just to hear about the history (if you want more, though, check out the very good historic photos and story here). We had waited a while to go do this hike, largely because they didn’t allow dogs, and regular readers know how much we like to hike with our dog. But for our anniversary this year, we went and saw Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at the Hollywood Bowl, and spent the night at a hotel nearby, which put us almost right across the freeway from the Hollywood Reservoir without our dog the next morning, making it the perfect opportunity to do this urban hike.
Most of the trail write-ups I read in advance seemed to start at the North Gate (also known as “Gate 2″), off Lake Hollywood Drive, and easily accessible from Barham Blvd east of the 101 Fwy. The South Gate seems like it has a nice parking area and puts you right next to the dam, which is the most scenic spot of the hike/walk, but getting there via Weidlake Drive looks a little more convoluted, and it is possible that the little lot gets full on weekends.
We parked near the North Gate right on Lake Hollywood Drive. No danger of not having parking here, as you can park all the way up along the road if necessary. A short walk downhill to the gate led to the beginning of the paved trail in the shade of some very nice trees. At the gate was a selection of signs telling us what we could and couldn’t do (especially NO DOGS!!!), the varying hours of the park (basically sunrise to sunset), and showing a map of the lake trail. There was also a pair of portable toilets there at the trailhead.
But most prominent was all the chain link fencing here. Between the chain link fence on the gate and on your left, and a mix of hillside, and retaining walls on the right, there are many stretches where you can get downright claustrophobic! It also makes it impossible to get lost, so there really is no reason for a compass or a real map on this walk/hike. The entire trail was paved and level, so you also don’t need hiking boots or walking sticks.
The first 1.2 mile stretch between the North Gate and the dam was our favorite. It was largely shaded (or at a minimum, surrounded by trees), and featured regular close-up views of the reservoir and the upper reservoir dam–even if the views are all somewhat obstructed by the fencing.
The highlight of the entire hike is the main dam, that you get to walk across without the damn chain link fencing getting in the way of your views. From here you get an unobstructed view of the lake, the Hollywood Sign, the aforementioned Siegel/Madonna house in the distance, and Los Angeles and Hollywood off the other side of the dam.
You should also check out the face of the dry side of the dam to see the cool architectural features, which I totally forgot to get a picture of, but fortunately this guy Jeremy Sternberg took a cool picture of it which was licensed for public use on Flickr which is here:
Hang out here a while, because the next 1.5 miles of the hike has fewer good views of the lake and seemed less shaded, though it did have the best views of the Hollywood sign, as you walk towards it.
But first you’ll come to the Weidlake/South Gate. There was a small parking area here, right at the end of a residential neighborhood, and is the entrance you should take if you want to see the view from the dam, but don’t really want to hike. You can start the perimeter hike here, too, of course, but it is best suited for those who want the shortcut to the dam.
The next stretch isn’t bad, it just didn’t seem as nice. As you can see in the pictures, there were still trees along the path, and maybe in the afternoon sun this part of the trail would be shaded, but in the morning through noon time when we were there, it felt very exposed. And while there were still some good views of the lake, they were fewer and further between. But even though I’ve lived in Southern California for almost thirty years, I still couldn’t stop myself from taking another picture of the Hollywood Sign every time it popped back into view like some sort of silly tourist!
About 1.5 miles from the dam and the South Gate, you’ll hit the East Gate, located at the entrance to “Lake Hollywood Estates.” It had the least parking opportunities (if any), and symbolized the beginning of the lamest part of the trail. While this is the only dirt part of the path (which I immensely prefer over pavement), it is along an actual road, and unfortunately, they chose to build the trail on the opposite side of the road from the lake and the trees.
I popped back and forth between the actual path and the views of the lake across the street, dodging traffic both ways. It was frustrating, because the views were actually quite nice in this stretch, if you didn’t mind potentially being hit by a car to get it. Really not sure why they haven’t created a pedestrian path on the scenic side of the road, especially since they don’t allow cars to stop or see the scenery, either.
Fortunately it was also the shortest stretch of the trail, at .7 miles. Not too long before the end was a gate leading down to the upper reservoir dam, which clearly used to be publicly accessible with decorative lamps and a nice walkway, which people are no longer allowed to walk on. Why they allow us to walk on the main dam, but not the structure by the upper dam is beyond me, but add that to the list of things LADWP ought to fix.
From there, it was a short walk back to our car, and on to Pink’s Hot Dogs for lunch, which is simultaneously one of the “must do” places in LA and one of the “most over-rated” places in LA. I’ll leave the food reviews to our food blog, The Taste Place, but this hike was a lot like Pink’s in that way. It is a classic LA location with classic LA views and a hike/walk that is accessible to almost anyone, but the chain link fence gave us a caged-in feeling, and the paved road makes it much less of a wilderness feel than we usually prefer, especially in the last section of the hike. We are definitely glad we did it, and would recommend it to others, but will probably never do it again.
To Do List for LADWP and City of LA to make this a great hike/walk (rather than just an interesting one):
1) Leave K-Rail (and no trespassing signs) along trail to keep people out of reservoir, but eliminate chain link fencing so the views can be more fully appreciated. Use motion detector cameras if necessary to police trespassing off the trail.
2) Find a way to move the path (even if just a painted bike lane-style marker) to the reservoir side of the street between the East Gate and the North Gate.
3) Open the road for hikers/walkers down to the structure by the Upper Reservoir. If you can allow people on Mulholland Dam, you should be able to let people on this particular structure.
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