Descanso Trail gets overlooked by its showy neighbor, Descanso Gardens, but if you’re looking for a quick-fix hike and a cardio challenge, opt for the 3-mile loop trail. It’s a hidden gem near the busy 210 and 2 freeways, just west of the garden entrance, that offers 1,000 feet of quickly earned elevation gain.
After parking on the street (or in the gardens lot if you plan to visit there as well), begin on the paved path that shortly veers right and turns to dirt as it cuts through green grass under the shade of towering oaks. Find your center in this peaceful portion before you ascend a series of challenging switchbacks. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a flat path overlooking the gardens to your left and the San Gabriel Mountains directly behind you. You’ll soon also get a good vista of the Glendale and San Fernando Freeway confluence, with the Verdugo Mountains looming above to the west, and, eventually, clear-day views of the downtown skyline.
At the halfway point (1.5 miles), you’ll begin your knee-buckling descent toward a marked intersection. Stay left to complete the loop (marked Forest Hill Exit), passing by a water tank and a small bench overlooking a network of dirt paths and green hills. You’ll soon reach another junction choice that should delight the perennially indecisive. Choose left for a slightly longer, narrow path (Conservancy Trail) or stay right to continue on the Forest Hill fire road. Both eventually join a peaceful residential street (Forest Hill Drive) dotted with oaks and pines, charming houses, and local joggers and bikers. Turn right at Padres Trail followed by an immediate left back onto Descanso Drive, and presto: workout over!
From CA-2 just south of the I-210, take the Verdugo Blvd. exit and turn right onto Verdugo Blvd. Take the second right onto Descanso Dr. The trailhead is on your right just before the Descanso Gardens entrance. Dog-friendly!