Ernest E. Debs Park: An Intimate Stroll Through a Transitional Wilderness

A transition from lush greenery to dry and desert-like terrain, Ernest E. Debs Park offers an intimate perspective into the rolling hills and busy lifestyle of Los Angeles.

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After a long weekend of stuffing my face with the bountiful cuisine that Los Angeles has to offer, I figure it was high time to burn off those excess calories with yet another hike for the week.

(I really hate going to the gym for these pressing exercise matters.)

Enter Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, a fairly easy hike nestled atop a forested field within the heart of Los Angeles (and it’s just over 7 miles from downtown Los Angeles to be exact).

A Bright Green Beginning

The five-mile (round trip) hike begins in a park that contains several picnic settings, a volleyball court, and a public restroom (those exist in LA)?!

And the first thing I noticed was how green this park was.

Usually Los Angeles is known for being pretty yellow due to the abundance of water we don’t get.

On a side note, the weekends can get pretty crowded here, so this isn’t really the kind of hike for those who are anti-people, fair warning.

The trek starts off rather tame on a slightly steep incline, so this is perfect for beginner hikers.

Because you have to drive a few hundred feet up to the top of a hill to begin the hike, you’re treated to some beautiful views of Los Angeles rather quickly.

I’m a pretty big fan of versatile scenery, so it was refreshing to see a variety of trees other than your standard palm trees.

Less than a quarter of a mile up, the main trailhead forks off into an open expanse with trees that remind me of my hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

(Never been to Milwaukee? Do you like beer? Well, there’s your answer.)

To the left of the open expanse lies a lush pond (those also exist in LA?!) with a small waterfall and plenty of ducks to swim with.

If you choose this path first, note that you’ll quickly loop back from the pond and down to the beginning of the trailhead.

But if you’re not in a hurry, choose the rightmost fork in the road and save the pond for last.

To the right we go!

I pass by a tiny house of some sort during my ascent; Seems fairly habitable, am I right?

The path continues to another fork; To your left are some of the best views of downtown Los Angeles, while the path straight ahead leads essentially to a dead end.

Or does it?

There’s actually a secret off trail within the woods that lie right next to the dead end, which leads to a whole new sector of the hike with an abundance of trails.

But more on that later; For now we’ll focus on those nice downtown Los Angeles views.

Through the Desert-Like Terrain

I fork left onto a fairly leveled path; The trail doesn’t incline too much at all during the entirety of the hike.

The path is less than a quarter of a mile from the main trailhead to the next open expanse.

You feel so close, yet so far from downtown Los Angeles.

You’ll come across this next open expanse with a 360 view of the city, and some much needed park benches after that long, five minute trek.

One of my favorite aspects of the hike was how intimate it felt to LA.

Most other hikes sit high above the city, but since this site only has a peak elevation gain of about 400 feet, you feel close to all of the expensive homes and overly congested traffic.

Turning right from the open expanse leads to a descent of the main trailhead, (that was quick) which winds down to the eastern sector of the hike.

More intimate views of Los Angeles.

About a half a mile through the sidewinders, I eventually loop back to the main road, this time feeling eager to explore the secret off trail within the woods that I briefly mentioned earlier.

Exploring a Super Secret Place

I head to the dead end part of the trail and through the woods to find a narrow trail with yet another transitional change in terrain.

It’s worth noting that there are quite a few tangents that fork off the secret trail, so make sure you have a sharp memory to find your way back!

I’m quickly faced with another decision: A tangent that loops back west toward downtown, or east, away from downtown.

I decide to go left this time.

The trail becomes much more narrow, winding around the side of a hill and through a dry forest.

I soon stumble upon a small cove of some sort with some artsy graffiti plastered upon it (maybe these are the same graffiti artists from the Murphy Ranch Trail in Pacific Palisades)?

I check the cove for some potential treasure, but sadly, I was let down.

A peculiar fort neighbored this cove, draped with silky bed sheets that caught my attention.

I slowly approached the blanketed fort with caution, unveiling the contents within…

Alas, my friends, nothing was inside other than a dead pile of leaves and branches (how anti-climatic).

I continue on the narrow path through the woods, looping around to another peculiar site.

Two wells filled with trash lay before my eyes; Luckily they weren’t too deep in case I accidentally fell in (and with how clumsy I normally am, I’m surprised I walked around it like a normal person).

There was also a tangent trail that forked upwards from a small hill in front of the wells, but I had a feeling it would have led me right back to the beginning of the trail, and I wasn’t ready to call it quits just yet.

I find more treasure to the left of the well, which includes a chair, a 99 cent store basket, unidentifiable junk, and a sleeping bag.

Perfect, I could use a nap right about now.

After spending a small amount of time exploring the wells, I make my way along the path, curious as to where I will end up.

About a half a mile in, the trail eventually loops around to a semi-long string of staircases, located within a quaint neighborhood.

And by semi-long, I mean there were about 7 or 8 staircases total in its entirety.

This was going to be fun going back up…

This staircase led down to a relatively empty street, aka civilization at long last!

I didn’t spend too long exploring the descent below the giant staircase as it led to private property, but this reinforces how intimate and close to the grounds of Los Angeles you really are.

I head back up and fork left to a small sector of some graffiti-plastered ruins (this is becoming a common theme within LA hikes).

If only I was talented enough to produce artwork like this.

Aside from a plethora of trash, there wasn’t too much else to see in this area, so I double back once more towards the very beginning of the secret off-trail.

I notice scraps of caution tape that encompass the sides of the trail; A potential crime scene perhaps?

I loop back past the two wells and cove area to find one final tangent that forked toward the southwestern part of the site.

This part of the secret trail was far more open than the one I just came back from, which felt more enclosed within the woods.

The short trek leads to a rather peculiar hole in a fence, perfect for those looking to trespass at night.

Through the hole in the fence lies the same road that you’ll find upon your descent of the stairwell in the quaint neighborhood.

I realize this is the end of the off-trail exploration, so I decide it’s finally high time to check out that pond from the very beginning of the trail.

To the Pond We Go!

I follow a different trail back to the main road, overlooking the hills to the left of downtown Los Angeles.

Somebody lost a rather nice pair of shoes.

View of the main trail that leads back to the pond.

This is the dead end area that leads to the secret off-trail (I’ve never seen so many park benches in a hike before).

Another picnic-like area on the way back, this seems to be a reoccurring theme during this hike.

The road ascends slightly but still makes for a very easy walk in the park.

This was actually another tangent off the main trailhead, but I was too tired at this point to jump on another adventure-seeking train.

I pass the initial open expanse and make a beeline for the pond, eager to see some much-needed water in California.

This was easily the best part of the entire hike, which seemed to be the primary reason for the park’s popularity.

The pond area inhabited a small waterfall and lush plant life that seemed foreign to the typical Los Angeles terrain.

Ducks flourished upon the reflective waters, while fellow hikers frolicked within the outskirts of the pond.

Some people were even fishing (I knew I should have hauled my rod up here).

Back to the Beginning

I head south towards the beginning of the trailhead as the sun began to set for the day beyond the rolling hills in the distance.

The descent down the final trail was rather steep, but short, and led to a small sector that inhabited a few large palm trees.

The view from the palm tree area; There were quite a few birds that flew close to the hiking grounds.

The sun was almost out of sight for the day as I stop once more to appreciate the beauty of the forest.

You can even see a glimpse of the moon beyond the shadowy trees.

Before heading back to my car, I stumble once more on another tangent of the hike, leading to a fairly small field.

(You’ll have to duck or crawl to get through this one.)

Aside from a small house perched just ahead of the field, there wasn’t too much else to see, so I officially decide to call it a day and head back to my car.

Total time spent on the hike: About three hours (and I actually took my time and stopped many times to take pictures).

So here are my overall thoughts on the Ernest E. Debs Regional Park:

  •  It had more tangents than I expected, some of which lie within a secret forested area that lead to wells and graffiti-plastered ruins.

I explored most of the tangents, except for the one on the way back to the pond.

  • The pond is certainly the biggest draw of this hike.

Sure, some hikes oversee the Pacific Ocean, but only a handful include a pond + a waterfall. (Albeit, this was a small one, but still, give the park some credit).

  • The overall aesthetic of the hike lies within the transition from the dry, desert terrain to the lush environment within the pond and initial park.

Most hikes that I’ve been on only showcase yellow undertones without a spec of greenery.

But this hike certainly encapsulates the essence of mother nature flourishing at its peak.

In other words, yellow terrain + bright green scenery + baby blue skies = Ernest E. Debs Park.

  •  The park is the most intimate hike that I’ve been on, and I’ve trekked through a lot of hikes.

And by that I mean, most hikes offer vantage points from a fairly high elevation gain, so most of the views are from an (almost) aerial perspective.

But this trek is unique because of how close you feel to the surrounding city; You’re above it, but within it at the same time.

  • The hike is easy for beginners

I love hiking, especially through really difficult hills and mountains.

But even an avid hiking enthusiast like myself appreciates a simple stroll through the woods sometimes without feeling like a fried hot dog by the end of a strenuous climb.

With a transitional form of scenery coupled with intimate vantage points of Los Angeles, Ernest E. Debs Park is certainly a hidden gem worth having a picnic in.

Just don’t be like me and go on a busy Sunday afternoon.

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