A few weeks ago, I decided to CONQUER the Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee. I’ve been eyeing that mountain ever since I first set foot in Los Angeles, and it seemed like as good of a time as any to show that mountain who’s boss.
The normal approach
Getting to the Hollywood sign isn’t too tough if you want to take the touristy approach. It’s a cinch to drive up to within a half mile of it, take some snapshots, and be on your way. I’ve done it a few times before. (If you’re wondering how, just head north on Beachwood Drive from Hollywood, through some windy neighborhood streets, and keep heading up. I believe you have to take a left at some point, but basically head toward the sign and don’t go downhill.)
Here’s a picture I took this past summer from one of the roads near the sign itself:
There are also several well-worn hiking trails that head up the East side of the mountain from Griffith Park. (This Etreking.com page will tell you all about it.)
Technically, you’re not allowed to actually go up to the sign itself. It’s illegal trespassing, and the top of the mountain has a complex (including that famous radio tower) that is protected with tall barbed-wire fences, security guards, and hidden cameras. We’re talking a state-of-the-art security system:
“Panasonic Systems designed, engineered, fabricated and installed a cutting-edge security network comprised of a ten-camera closed circuit television surveillance system (CCTV), external alarms, microwave-triggered motion detectors and a bilingual audio warning system… Full-streaming color video images are now fed by all 10 remote cameras through fiber optic lines to the City of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Security Headquarters, where rangers can monitor all of the cameras simultaneously.”
(Not to mention the pack of vicious bloodhounds, and the cybernetic security guards with rayguns and jetpacks they’ve got up there as well.)
So suffice to say, it’s a bit be a challenge to get up to the sign without getting caught.
Hiking up the back side
But I like challenges! I wasn’t going to heed all those “No Trespassing under penalty of law” signs — I was going to go right up and touch those giant corrugated steel letters, and smile for the cameras.
And I also wasn’t going to pussy out and take the streets or the marked trails to the top of the mountain either. To make things interesting (and perpetually more difficult), I decided to blaze my own trail up the untamed West side of the mountain, to the top of Cahuenga Peak, and then follow the ridge over to the top of Mount Lee. It’s only about three miles total, but considering the steepness, the crumbly rocks and dirt, and the sheer amount of prickly brush in the way, it is no easy hike. It’s one of those ones where you take five steps forward and slide back down four in a little rockslide, meanwhile getting cut to shreds by all the bushes and trees.
I started at the Oakwood Apartments in Burbank, where I lived for a semester when I was in the Ithaca College Los Angeles program. The Oakwoods are home to many things — child actors, porn stars, unheard of levels of infidelity, and the lost soul of “Super Freak” singer Rick James. (In fact, ICLA legend has it that he died in my very apartment at the Oakwoods.)
The Oakwood complex also, conveniently, is right on the back side of Cahuenga Peak. You can literally walk up the back parking lot and just keep going up until you reach the top. Which is exactly what I did.
The first section is really steep, but because of some forest fires two years ago, most of the brush and bushes were burned away. There’s also an access road to reach a bunch of powerlines part way up the hill that I took for a while. You can see it pretty well on the Google satellite image.
Once you get to the other side of the access road, it starts to get tough — it’s a whole lot steeper, and full of brush and rocks like I mentioned before. I can’t give you any advice on how to get up to the top, other than make sure you don’t have anyone beneath you, because they will most certainly get hit by a falling rock… or maybe even you yourself when you fall to your death. I would recommend wearing long pants and sleeves, because you will get cut to pieces. (My legs are still in shreds from that hike, two weeks later.)
From this side of the hill, you get a really nice view of the Hollywood Reservoir, a giant artificial lake that you would not expect to find nestled among the urban sprawl in Hollywood. Unfortunately, it’s tough (and illegal) to get right up to the water, due to some tall fences and security cameras, but at some point, I hope to pay the reservoir a visit as well.
After the grueling, hands-and-knees climb to the top of the ridge, it really levels out, and it’s a relatively flat and easy walk along the ridge over to Mt. Lee. Along the way, you reach the summit of Cahuenga Peak, which is the highest point in the area. I snapped a picture of the Geographical Survey Marker at the top, but I couldn’t make out the elevation because it was too faded.
At the top, I saw a lot of really awesome hawks / condors / eagles. (I’m no good at identifying birds, but they were brown and beige, and had a big wingspan.) I also saw some deer from a distance, further down the hill. And after a little while, I started to get a really good view of the Mt. Lee radio tower and the complex at the top.
When I was within a few hundred yards of the radio tower, I crested a rock and there it was — the back of the Hollywood Sign! It’s a really great view of all of Los Angeles, and you can see everything from Downtown to the ocean.
I also saw the paved access road that leads up the complex at the top and the barbed wire fence. There was a pick-up truck with a worker going up, so I knew to avoid the road. I started cutting down the steep front side of the mountain to the slope in front of the sign itself, so that I could avoid the fenced-in area. The Hollywood sign itself is NOT fenced in, because the fence extends around the back side of the mountain where all of the roads and foot trails lead, but the steep and nearly inaccessible front side of the mountain is open.
I scrambled through the brush and loose dirt on the slope in front of the sign, keeping low to make sure that I wasn’t too conspicuous. There are several very visible security cameras on the letters of the sign themselves, and I did my best to stay low. After a few minutes, though, I figured I would just go for it. I went right up to the letters themselves, waved to one of the cameras, and touched the corrugated steel. There are ladders that go up the scaffolding structure that holds them in place, and I was tempted to climb up, but decided not to press my luck. The letters are huge to be sure — probably around 50 feet tall — though they were actually a bit smaller than I expected.
I had been told that there was an encampment of bums and hippies that lived right under the sign, but I saw no evidence of that. However, there were several beer cans and bottles, and off to the side, the remnants of a campfire, so people had definitely been up there before.
I am absolutely sure that I got filmed by multiple security cameras, but no guards or workers approached me. There was also a helicopter that flew out from the complex on the top of the mountain — right over me — but if they saw me, they didn’t do anything about it. I’ve heard that the police get called when someone is spotted, and then they usually intercept trespassers when they walk down the access road after leaving the sign. I snapped a few more pictures, spent a few more minutes walking the entire length of the sign, and then decided to head on my way.
To avoid getting caught on the access road and trails that loop around the back of the mountain, I opted to go down one of the steep and precarious gulleys down the front side of the peak. The front of the mountain is inaccessible to vehicles, and I figured it was pretty unlikely that a cop or guard was going to chase me down on foot.
This was by far the hardest part of the hike, because the brush was incredibly thick and overgrown here, having not been burned in the fires two years earlier. It was so steep that there were times when I would lose my footing and tumble down quite a ways before I could come to a stop. On several occasions, I would get to a point where I couldn’t make it through a section of brush, and would have to turn back to find another route. Frustrating, to say the least, and my legs and arms got extremely cut up.
Eventually, I came out in some millionaire’s back yard, who had the highest-up house on the front side of the hill. From here, I was able to take the roads and streets back down the hill, toward Burbank. It was more than an hour of walking from that point, but it was along paved roads and very easy. Along the way, I passed by a really cool overflow dam on the edge of the Hollywood Reservoir, that I climbed up. Here’s a picture I took of myself as I climbed up one of the drainage ditches:
All in all, it was a fun hike. I’m glad I finally got around to doing it, two years after I originally came up with the idea. (The Facebook picture alone was worth the hike.)
My Next Adventure
What adventures are in store next in Los Angeles? I’m going to raft down the entire length of the polluted concrete gulch that is the Los Angeles River, of course!
That puppy runs right by my window in Sherman Oaks, and winds 22 miles through LA down to Long Beach, where it empties into the Pacific. Normally it’s only got a trickle of a few inches of water, with the occasional styrofoam cup or Taco Bell wrapper to break the monotony; but when it rains, HOO BOY, does it flow! The normally tame LA River becomes a raging torrent, and the styrofam cups and taco wrappers are instantly replaced with shopping carts, small children and mobile homes. And it is that raging torrent that I’d like to conquer next.
You can view the rest of the photos from my hike in this Flickr photo album.
31 thoughts on “Hiking to the Hollywood Sign”
Good job! the spirit of adventure still lives
amazing pancake 🙂
WOW! I feel so boring. But vicariously living through you is the next best thing! I'm so proud to be able to say I know you 🙂 Keep it up. I can't wait for my..i mean …YOUR next big adventure. So Other than doin illegal stuff what have you been up to Pete?
that's awesome pete. how do you like it out there? are you there by yourself? if you ever need a wardrobe supervisor for a project, don't hesitate to give me a call, plus' by this time next year i'll be a certified wig stylist (fingers crossed). keep up the good work! you are very rad indeed.
dude… taking on the los angeles river when it rains?
hands down the dumbest idea you've ever had… people die in that shit all the time… terrible, terrible idea.
wow i'm honored to see you this weekend : )
ryan, i don't know if i'd say it's his dumbest by far. remember when he crawled through the one hundred yards of underground two foot diameter pipe at IC? and didn't tell anyone? awesome pics pete.
God Bless Peter Berg…. I'll look forward to the next East Coast Edition of Pete's Wild and Wacky Adventures – Canoing down the Susquehanna River from Binghamton, NY to the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland.
Yeah man, good hike. I did it from the top of Beachwood canyon, just following the fireroads and switchbacks. Steep but fun. Post when you do the reservoir!
hey you found my beer bottles from years ago 🙂
god I remember when friends and I use to go up there instead of Mullholand Drive just to hang out…. now they’ve made it virtually impossible to do so 🙁
man if you ever decide to go back up there let me know!
Dont be a puss. I climbed to the top of the sign when i was 14
enjoyed the blog thanks
What a great way to get to the H sign! Entertaining story, and I’m going to go look for the LA river saga now … thanks for the smiles, and the encouragement to explore!
Great post, buddy! I will try to get to the Hollywood sign myself! I love hiking and I like challenges as well!
In fact the letters of the current sign are 45 feet tall as opposed to 50 feet for the original (pre-1978) letters. Nice hike… great photos!
I’m well impressed! Dude your awesome! Cool photos, especially the last one on this page where your looking into the distance thinking of your next adventure. Its a shame that vandals stopped people being able to hang out up there. It’s good to know that there is a way to get close to the sign…someday I may be tracing your steps
This is so cool and fun. Your challenges and adventures are very impressive. I’m so amazed with all those photos you’ve got.
This is so cool and fun. Your challenges and adventures are very impressive. I’m so amazed with all those photos you’ve got.
yeahhh,,., your right
I climbed to the top of the H a couple days ago. I’m a 47-year old from Vancouver, Canada and was in LA for just one day. Climbing the sign was a no brained as far as “things to do” that day. Well worth doing. Took some planning, which involved a disguise, but I’m not the blogger so that’s all I’ll say for now.
I’d be happy to join you for the flooded canal excursion. High payoff with low real risk.
Dude this is a great article and you are awesome for doing this hike. I would love to do this. Thanks for sharing man!
I was born and raised in Hollywood and I’ve hiked that mountain countless times and know every single trail like the back of my hand.
Coming up from Barham & Cahuenga up east on Barham to Lake Hollywood drive all the way to the power line road that runs along the far west side of the mountain and wraps around that back end.
Theres a trail on the west side takes you to the top west of the Hollywood sign.
Anyone familiar with the main access road to the very top Of Mt. Lee BEWARE!!
Security is ultra creepy 1984 big Brother watching and listening to you and they will not like the sight of you at all you are so not welcome on the top of Mt. Lee!
If you are anywhere close to the radio tower facility you will be watched and listened to.
The Mt. Lee Radio Tower Facility and Hollywood Sign Area have many hidden listening devices that are located at and around the Hollywood sign and Radio Tower Facility every letter of the iconic Hollywood Sign has at least one CCTV security camera.
It is not legal to go to the Hollywood Sign at all!
If you get close you will be under heavy surveillance & watched very closely.
If you have ever attempted to go to The Groom Lake Facility in Nevada aka Area 51?
The security on Top of Mt. Lee definitely has that same warm feeling, that place is no joke.
Supposedly The Mt. Lee Radio Tower Facility is owned & Operated by The City Of Los Angeles and perhaps the military as well.
There are many urban legends about Mt. Lee there are many rumors some local residents claim.
( get your aluminum foil hat ready)
Some residence claim to have seen many years ago during the cold war in the 70’s & 80’s 18 wheelers carrying what seems to be very large cylindrical objects covered with tarps they suspect it was….. believe it or not.. a nuclear missile an ICBM and that in fact Mt. Lee is a secret military complex and missile silo and is also possibly a small version similar to The Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado.
What kinda crack are they smoking in those Hollywood Hills?
A top secret base inside Mt. Lee home of The Hollywood Sign??
That is nuts!
That is completely and absolutely one french fry short of a happy meal ludicrous and impossible right?
This is just a simple City radio facility run by the City Of Los Angeles for police Fire and other city departments that use radio to communicate right?!
It must be perfectly normal to have dozens if not hundreds of hidden security cameras as well as hidden highly sensitive microphones and loud speakers where if you are lucky enough a loud voice will actually call you by your name or add to the subject matter of what you and your hiking buddies happen to be discussing just to let you know they are listening to you.
Yes there are many sensors in the ground at and around the Hollywood Sign and Radio Facility that know the difference between a deer and a human also sensors that pick up odors yes smelling sensors too?
Yeppers gotta have at a dozen those right?!
Now back in the day about twenty years ago the City Vehicles that would go in and out of the radio facility had on the doors the standard seal of the City Of Los Angeles but the department was just called “General Services” What does that even mean?
Is that The City’s Department that specializes in “a little bit of this and a little bit of that?”
“General Services” C’mon Los Angeles has Police Fire Water & Power The Coroner’s Building & Safety that all makes sense right? but “General Services”?
Sounds absolutely vague & Miscellaneous right?
Ill say it once again this is absolute fact!
In and around The Mt. Lee and Hollywood Sign Area There are literally dozens of hidden CCTV cameras and microphones as well as sensors in the ground that pick up footsteps.
If you stay clear of those two areas you’ll be fine but get close and things just get weird I kid you not!
When you step back and think about it sandwiched right between Hollywood and The City of Burbank is a Mountain of mystery apparantly Los Angeles might just have it’s very own little Area 51 right behind The Hollywood Sign.
Local residents have made many bizarre speculations as to what they believe might be really going on at the very top of Mt.Lee.
If you make it to the main gate of the Radio facility at the very top of Mt. Lee you will most likely be greeted by very aggressive security police who have a knack for intimidation & interrogation where their job is make sure you have nightmares and will never ever return Mt. Lee or The Hollywood Sign Ever Again this happens all too often to unsuspecting visitors and especially tourists.
The level of security at the Mt. Lee Radio facility can be seen as overkill and can be quite creepy.
One thing for sure even back in the 70’s & 80’s security was that advanced at the Mt. Lee Radio Facility imagine what they have now?
Today every one of the Letters of the Hollywood Sign Have Cameras which was not the case 20 years ago however the hidden Microphones Yes they did exist back then and was very creepy.
The zillion Dollar question is WHY?
Believe me for what ever reason They Don’t want you there especially The Radio Facility BAD BAD BAD You are not welcome there ever!
If you have any interesting Mt. Lee Hollywood Sign Stories please share!
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