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A photo posted by Kristy Woodward (@thisoneshortlife) on

In a region known for its miles of concrete, newcomers, and even residents, may be surprised to find a healthy tapestry of accessible wilderness areas in the mountains overlooking Los Angeles. Beginning in the Pacific Palisades with Will Rogers State Park and running north to Point Mugu, one of my favorite areas is the patchwork of state parks and wilderness areas which collectively comprise the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

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Topanga State Park lies on the southern edge of the Recreation Area and was the first California State Park I visited after moving to Los Angeles back in 2008. The 17-square-mile wilderness area has more than 36 miles of hiking trails traversing the diverse topography of grasslands, groves of chaparral, and rocky canyons. The park also offers some of the most spectacular views of the Santa Monica Bay, downtown Los Angeles, and the Palos Verdes peninsula. On top of all that, the park lies within the Los Angeles city limits, making it the largest urban wilderness area in the United States. And they call LA the concrete jungle.

I lived in England for six years before coming to LA and was completely stoked on the opportunity to get out and explore the easily-accessible, arid backcountry just a short drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. Open space. I’ve since taken numerous trips to Topanga over the years and on more than one occasion, the visits lasted well into the evening. For some reason, however, I had yet to explore the park at the break of dawn.

It’s not that I was opposed to getting up early to go hiking. In fact, I’ve done so countless times on trips in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. I just hadn’t been out that early closer to home. And so this fall, I went on my very own dawn patrol to watch the sunrise and see what was moving in the a.m. up there.

Topanga State Park is home to Eagle Rock, a massive 1,957-foot high stone monolith jutting out over the chaparal. Eagle Rock is only two miles from the Trippet Ranch Trailhead. While predominantly uphill, it was a distance I knew I could easily cover in a short amount of time and be in prime position to enjoy a spectacular view of the sunrise and if I was lucky, Catalina Island, protruding majestically from the great Pacific Ocean.

Sunrise was predicted to be just after 7:00 that morning and I arrived at the Trippet Ranch entrance around 6:30 am. It was still dark and the gates were closed, but a line of vehicles was parked along the road just outside the park. This is a common sight at all times of the day and I normally view the vehicles parked outside the park with a sense of disdain, believing they have parked there and walked in to avoid paying the parking fee to use the park. On this occasion, however, I was right there with them. I didn’t feel guilty about it. After all, I had renewed my annual pass earlier in the year. And so I laced up my boots, clicked on my head lamp and hit the trail.

The mountains called. So I went. 😁 muddy after rain hikes are fun. I hope you did something you love this weekend!

A photo posted by Jorge De La Jungla (@jorge_the_curious_) on

Like many other early morning outdoor pursuits, grumpy people do not get up early to go on a hike to watch the sunrise. It just doesn’t happen. In my experience, you can meet some of the healthiest and happiest people on the planet when you get up to pursue and early morning activity. Sure enough, it was not long before I encountered another friendly hiker on the trail up to the summit. “Good morning,” I called out as I approached. “Hey there,” a voice replied. “You heading to Eagle Rock?” Indeed I was.

As I expected, the park was alive with human activity. Not that we were tripping over each other on the trails, but there was a healthy level of visitors committed to enjoying the great outdoors at the start of the day. There was the small groups of neon clad women and the young couples out for an “early” date. My favorite bunch was the group of Iranian immigrants who have driven up from the valley every Saturday morning for the past 17 years to hike and watch the sunrise in the park. “Every Saturday morning we are here,” I was told as they perched on top of Eagle Rock clustered in warmth of the rising sun. We were all patrolling the dawn that morning.

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