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On Top of the World in Heart of L.A.

February 11, 2001|JOHN McKINNEY

From a distance, the Baldwin Hills appear to hold little attraction for the hiker. Oil wells work on slopes that have been scarred by roads and bulldozers. But the hillsides are being ecologically rehabilitated, and parkland is being created.

Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area which is located in the west-central part of Los Angeles, at the crest of the hills between La Brea and La Cienega Boulevards. It was named for the late, longtime Los Angeles County supervisor and is operated by the county. The clean, well-kept, developed part of the park is no secret to nearby residents, who enjoy weekend picnics and barbecues on its expansive lawns. But many people in the Southland, including hikers, aren't familiar with the park.

Two walks in the park beckon hikers. A new trail leads through the park's undeveloped La Brea Extension, a former oil drilling site on slopes along La Brea Boulevard. Master trail-builder Ron Webster and a crew of Sierra Club volunteers built connector trails and linked existing dirt roads to create a two-mile loop.

Another loop leads through the park's Olympic Forest, which includes at least one tree for each of the 140 nations that participated in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Stop to admire sea hibiscus from the Seychelles, oleander from Algeria, sweet bay from Greece. When Los Angeles hosted the Olympics in 1932, the athletes' Olympic Village stood on the Baldwin Hills park site.

The Baldwin Hills are only 500 feet high, but the park's summits offer the hiker dramatic, clear-day vistas of the Santa Monica Mountains, the whole sweep of Santa Monica Bay, the San Gabriel Mountains and much of the metropolis.

Directions to trail head: From the Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10) in Los Angeles, exit on La Cienega Boulevard and drive south a few miles to Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. Follow the park access road to the lot at the top of the park.

The hike: From the south end of the parking lot, join the service road as it leads over a grassy hilltop. Tables are positioned to offer picnickers marvelous views north and east. Vistas of the city's Westside and the ocean are framed by working oil wells.

The old road bends east, descends gradually toward La Brea, then turns north, paralleling the boulevard. Your route travels terrain that's partly landscaped and partly native brush to the park's north boundary.

Join an old paved road on a moderately steep ascent north past the beige-colored Los Angeles Department of Water and Power chlorinating station and continue to the top of the park. What was once the east bank of the Baldwin Hills Reservoir is now the perimeter of a grassy field. To complete this loop, turn left and walk south 100 yards back to the parking area.

For an intriguing second loop, stroll over to the road coming up from the developed park. Join a paved path, which parallels this road, and descend a landscaped hillside to the main park picnic area. Improvise a route past a pond, a bubbling brook and picnic grounds toward the Olympic Forest. From the interpretive displays posted at the edge of the parking lot, take the path into the Olympic Forest. The forest is divided into a half-dozen habitats, including desert, tropical and temperate environments. Look for the paper mulberry from Tonga, the carob from Cyprus, the date palm from Egypt.

After your around-the-world tree tour, ascend a path leading to a landscaped oasis where a waterfall cascades into a little grotto. Continue your ascent on the trail and the dirt road to a pine grove and a picnic area perched on the hilltop.

The view from the summit includes the Wilshire corridor, Century City, Westwood and the Hollywood sign. Look for sailboats tacking this way and that as they head out to sea from Marina del Rey and get an air traffic controller's view of the amazing number of jets zooming in and out of LAX.

A dirt road crosses the hilltop plateau and passes more picnic areas. Enjoy the striking views of Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island. The road follows a fence beside some power lines.

La Brea, Baldwin Hills Trails

WHERE: Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area

DISTANCE: La Brea loop is 2 miles round trip with 200-foot elevation gain; main park loop is 3 miles round trip with 300-foot elevation gain.

TERRAIN: Parkland and former oil fields of the Baldwin Hills.

HIGHLIGHTS: New Trail, Olympic Forest, metropolitan panoramas.


FOR MORE INFORMATION: Kenneth Hahn State recreation Area (County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation); tel. (323) 298-3660.

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