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The Big Parade: Hiking Los Angeles

My hike, like a million other trips each day in Los Angeles, starts with a ride on a rumbling bus.In the heart of Los Angeles, a band of hikers starts a local-trails revolution--one step at a time.

It’s long past sunset when we tackle the final unpaved switchbacks. The route suddenly feels treacherous. We share three flashlights and stay close to each other. Kalee, who’d been floating through the crowd for the entire walk, joins me.

The Hollywood sign is brightly lit, visible to most of Los Angeles. On the actual climb, though, it disappears just as you’re closing in. Reaching the ridgeline, you’re suddenly north of the structure, staring down at the San Fernando Valley. You walk another quarter-mile, then hairpin back to face south, above the landmark. First-time visitors are usually surprised to find that the huge letters are wafer thin.

The vista from the sign is far better than the view of it. To the northeast, you can see 5,700-foot Mt. Wilson, the antenna-topped peak that crowns the vast and rugged San Gabriel Mountains. The city itself spreads out below. Boulevards filled with cars stretch along razor-straight lines. Downtown’s skyscrapers glow alongside the Hollywood Freeway, which cuts a curved and surprisingly graceful path before disappearing into the San Fernando Valley.

What’s most lovely, though, is how all the urban motion comes to an end. The city seems to fold into darkness. Maybe, at first, you’ll think this is merely the horizon. But there’s a sprinkling of lights beyond, and as your eyes adjust, a true edge faintly appears. This empty stillness is the Pacific Ocean.

As breathtaking as the vista is, however, this walk isn’t about the views. It’s about people. It’s about a community making this city, our home, better. And that’s exactly what’s happening right under our feet. The final few miles were the toughest I’ve ever hiked, but now fatigue and joy blend and revive me. For the first time in two days, I feel no need to explain.
I sit down and take a deep breath. I suddenly realize that I haven’t even announced our arrival. I pull my phone out and see that Alissa–recovering at home–has been sending messages as we walk, encouraging us. Her final note had come only seconds earlier: “Trying to watch you on the Hollywood sign webcam. Do something BIG!”

A group of us gathers to wave. But the truth, of course, is that we can’t do anything bigger than we already have.

Dan Koeppel’s most recent book is Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. Big Parade II, held last June, attracted more than 300 participants (

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