Improbably perched above a steep oak-filled canyon in the Puente Hills above Whittier is the nation’s largest Buddhist pagoda, and you can see it on a 2.5-mile partial loop trail in Hellman Park. The street-to-ridgeline climb reveals the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Memorial Columbarium as well as broad views of city and wild canyon.
From Hellman Park Trailhead, Peppergrass Trail—a moderately graded fire road—ascends eastward straight up a barren spur. Unobstructed views of Whittier’s sprawling grid open almost immediately. Stay left at a fork to veer onto Mariposa Trail, a footpath traversing the spur’s shadier, less-trafficked side. You’ll pass under oaks and eucalyptus before rejoining the fire road near the one-mile mark. A short climb to Rattlesnake Ridge reveals the Buddhist pagoda to the north.
Built in 1999, the octagonal columbarium (which can hold 21,000 funeral urns) is a testament to the influx of Asian immigrants to the San Gabriel Valley since the 1980s. Grass lawns visible to the right are part of Rose Hills Memorial Park, which now covers much of Puente Hills—along with the adjoining, now-sealed landfill, set to become a regional park. To return, descend the way you came, or take Peppergrass Trail all the way back for some fresh vistas of adjacent Turnbull Canyon.
TIP: Be sure to protect yourself from the sun; the trail is mostly without shade.
To reach the Hellman Park Trailhead, head to the City of Whittier. From the I-605, exit Beverly Blvd. East and continue for roughly three miles. Turn left onto Greenleaf Avenue. After just two blocks, you’ll find the park entrance at right. Visit the Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority website for official trail maps. Dog-friendly!