A toyon Christmas.
'Tis the season when the rich green crown of the toyon bush is aglow with a mass of red berries. At a time when most members of the chaparral community have donned their winter gray, the toyon--also known variously as Christmas berry or California holly--is the most festive of flora.
This holly-day hike to Mt. Hollywood, highest peak in Griffith Park, offers fine clear-day views of the Los Angeles basin, framed by the Christmas berry bushes growing alongside the trail. It's believed that masses of this California native shrub growing on the hills above Hollywood gave the community its name.
Botanically speaking, the 6-to-25-foot high evergreen shrub is in no sense a holly, but its timely appearance is a delight to the holiday hiker and something to point to when friends from colder climes claim that "there's nothing Christmasy about Southern California." (It might seem inviting to deck your halls with boughs of California holly, but collection is strictly forbidden by state law.)
Two-thirds of 4,107-acre Griffith Park, one of the world's largest municipal parks, is mountain country. Fifty-three miles of trail give hikers access to the call of the mourning dove, the joys of our native chaparral and sycamore communities, and to a host of exotic plants imported from faraway lands. The trail to Mt. Hollywood offers a fine tour of the wild side of the park.
Directions to trailhead: Griffith Park, with its central location, is accessible by numerous freeways and surface streets. One good way to reach the trailhead to Mount Hollywood is via the Los Feliz Boulevard entrance, turning onto Griffith Park Drive. Follow the signs to the merry-go-round and park in the lot off Griffith Park Drive. The trail begins across the Drive from the parking lot.
You can pick up a trail map at the Ranger Station in the park center, located on the Drive. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Hike: Three trails embark from the road opposite the parking lot. The lowermost trail leaves for Five Points, the hike's first destination; the middle path is the Fern Canyon Nature Trail, a pleasant and educational experience; but the uppermost trail, marked Bridle Trail, is our departure point today for Mt. Hollywood. This trail almost immediately forks, and you'll veer left. The trail climbs high above lush Fern Canyon and offers fine views over the Christmas berries of the San Fernando Valley. Soon you'll arrive at Five Points, a place where five trails converge.
From Five Points, take the trail to your right (southwest). You'll cross Vista del Valle Drive, continuing your ascent as the sparkling observatory comes into view. The trail grows more rugged as it nears Dante's View.
How did Dante's View get its name? Some hikers, climbing to Dante's during a smog alert, look out over a smoky metropolis, and conclude that the viewpoint must have been named for the 14th-Century Florentine Dante Alighieri and his vision of The Inferno. Actually, Dante's View was named for 20th-Century artist-writer Dante Orgolini. Orgolini, an immigrant of Italian descent, was a mural painter during the Depression. In his later years, he put his artistic energies into planting a two-acre retreat of pine, palm and pepper trees high on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood.
From Dante's, continue the short distance to the top of Mt. Hollywood. By now you've figured out that Mt. Hollywood is not the mountain crowned by the historic Hollywood sign. You can, however, see the sign quite well as you near the summit of Mt. Hollywood (elevation 1,625 feet). Wonderful sunsets can be observed from the peak, and on clear days the entire basin is spread out before you from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes Mounts San Gorgonio, Baldy and San Jacinto can be seen.
Return the same way or take one of the several trails leading about one mile to the Griffith Park Planetarium, then return.
Mt. Hollywood Trail ---- Merry-go-round to Mt. Hollywood: six miles round trip; 800-foot elevation gain.