Griffith Park trails, U.S. Forest campgrounds closed. Here's which Southern California parks are safe to visit

Christopher Reynolds, Mary Forgione
Los Angeles closed Griffith Park's trail network on Wednesday, but many hikers, walkers and cyclists remained on roads and grass Thursday, including these LAPD officers on patrol.  (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Southern Californians can still walk, hike and bike outdoors this weekend without violating Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home order, but options are narrowing as public agencies move to stop many activities, including hiking in Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Mountains, golf, court sports, and parking at many beaches and state parks.

The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday closed campgrounds, picnic areas and other developed recreation sites in its forests statewide, including Cleveland, Angeles, San Bernardino and Los Padres forests, which cover a large swath of Southern California.

Later Thursday, in his daily pandemic address, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti told Angelenos that starting Friday, "the parks will remain open for walking or jogging, but we will close all park amenities, including skate parks and tennis courts."

Since Wednesday, Griffith Park's trail network -- about 53 miles of paths -- and the trails in Runyon Canyon Park have been closed.

In the eastern San Diego County backcountry of Cleveland National Forest over the weekend, authorities closed two trails amid overcrowding and arrested several hikers for sneaking in and running from law enforcement.

Here's an update on what's happening where.

If you do got outside for a walk, remember these tips for keeping safe. Local and state officials stress the need to take greater care in maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet from others.


Los Angeles city parks and beaches

Besides the closure of city tennis courts and skate parks, the Venice pier and trails in Griffith Park and Runyon Canyon Park, virtually all other park facilities have already been shut down, including golf courses, pools and playgrounds.

As the weekend draws near, the precise rules regarding city parks are unclear. On Thursday evening and Friday morning, the city Recreation and Parks Department posted a web notice saying that "all recreational activities and hiking trails are closed until further notice" -- a more severe policy than Garcetti outlined Thursday night. A department spokeswoman said she was checking into the apparent conflict.

On Thursday at Griffith Park, only a smattering of bicyclists, joggers and dog-walkers continued to walk on the grass and along paved roads. Two of the four tennis courts near the visitor center were in use -- an activity the mayor banned a few hours later.

At about noon, LAPD Sgt. Michael Guttilla cycled toward the park's ranger headquarters in a group of 10 police.

"Just checking the trails," Guttilla said. "From Mount Lee into Griffith Park, I think we saw three people."

Guttilla said he gave no citations and was unaware of any ticketed hikers. Recreations and Parks officials said the same.

Nearby, bicycle traffic was steady on the path next to the Los Angeles River, and the Spoke Bicycle Cafe was serving meals to go and doing bike repairs, but bike rentals have been discontinued.

Santa Monica beaches

The city of Santa Monica on Sunday closed its beach parking lots, citing the risks posed by the many people who had gathered at the beach over the weekend.

City officials advised residents and visitors to "avoid the beach, beach bike path, and Palisades Park today and in the days to come to protect themselves and others." (Santa Monica residents with parking permits will still be able to use them, officials noted.)

Los Angeles County trails

L.A. County Parks tweeted Friday morning that all county trails are closed, but that regional parks remain open, with social distancing required.

The county's Parks department on Monday had announced temporary closure of the county's multi-use trail system, a network of more than 220 miles that includes the Eaton Canyon Trail (famed for its waterfall and often gridlocked on weekends); all interior trails at Vasquez Rocks; all interior trails at Placerita Canyon; the Loop Trail, Devil's Chair and South Fork Trail at Devil's Punchbowl; the San Dimas Nature Trail; the Schabarum-Skyline Trail in the San Gabriel mountains; and dozens of other popular routes.

"We have recently had a surge of park guests/hiker and are not able to keep social distances," said spokesperson Katie Martel in a statement. Michelle O'Connor, trails planning section head for the county, said the network is used by millions of hikers yearly.

Los Angeles County beaches

In Hermosa Beach, city officials said they will close the beach and beachfront walkway (The Strand) beginning at 6 a.m. Saturday. Officials said they made the move to "prevent a repetition of last weekend, when groups of people congregated on the beach and Strand." City Manager Suja Lowenthal said in a prepared statement that “we understand the desire to be outside and in nature is more powerful than ever and being out in nature is permitted if people avoid crowds and maintain six feet of distance from non-household members."

In Redondo Beach, city officials closed the pier and boardwalk, except for restaurant employees and customers picking up food to go at city-designated locations. The city also closed the Esplanade area; Veteran's Park and nearby parking areas; all public walkways, stairways, ramps, and paths to the beach; and a coastal bluff trail between Knob Hill Avenue and George Freeth Way.


State parks in L.A. County

State officials on Monday closed parking lots of more than three-dozen state parks including nine in Los Angeles County: Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook; El Matador State Beach; Leo Carrillo State Park; Malibu Creek State Park; Malibu Lagoon State Beach; Point Dume State Beach; Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach; Topanga State Park; and Will Rogers State Historic Park. Officials said the list "is dynamic and will be updated regularly."


Santa Monica Mountains

At the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, rangers said Tuesday they were closing all parking areas to vehicles and would stop issuing permits and leading public programs.

These moves follow closures of Solstice Canyon in Malibu, the Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas and Satwiwa Native American Culture Center in Newbury Park.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the park did remain open to day-use walkers, hikers and bicyclists.

Meanwhile the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority has closed all of its parklands, trail and facilities -- close to 75,000 acres of parkland, including all parks owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

The authority's busiest parks, now closed, include Wilacre Park in Studio City; Temescal Gateway Park in Pacific Palisades; Franklin Canyon Park off Mulholland Drive, Beverly Hills; Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon, the Santa Clarita Valley; all the overlooks on Mulholland Drive; Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve at the west end of Victory Boulevard; and Escondido Canyon Park in Malibu.

"All of these parks were crazy yesterday," said authority spokesperson Dash Stolarz on Monday. "This is a total heartbreaker for us. We would not do this if it were not necessary."

Orange County Beaches and Parks

Orange County on Wednesday closed parking lots at all county beaches, regional and wilderness parks; parking spaces at all trailheads; parking lots at Irvine Lake; parking along Black Star Canyon Road; pedestrian access points at Thousand Steps, Table Rock, West, Camel Point and Treasure Island beaches; restrooms; playgrounds; exercise equipment; shelters and trailheads. Passive walk-through pedestrian, cycling, and equestrian activity is permitted.

Orange County last Wednesday banned vehicular traffic to Carbon Canyon, Clark, Craig, Irvine, Laguna Niguel, Mason, Mile Square, Tri-City and Yorba regional parks. Pedestrians, bicyclists and equestrians were permitted.

Among individual Orange County cities, Huntington Beach Wednesday closed its beach parking lots. Its pier was already closed.

Laguna Beach has closed all city beaches, all basketball, volleyball and tennis courts; all playgrounds; its community pool; parking lots at Aliso Beach; and three beach-adjacent city parks: Main Beach city park, Heisler city park, and Treasure Island city park. All other city parks remained open Wednesday afternoon, including the Dog Park in Laguna Canyon.

Newport Beach on Wednesday closed its beachfront parking lots and piers.

San Clemente on Wednesday closed its city-owned beach parking lots and municipal pier.

Seal Beach has closed all of its park amenities, including restrooms, playgrounds, hiking trails, athletic fields, tennis courts, volleyball courts, basketball courts, handball courts, dog park, picnic areas and community centers. But green space within its parks remains accessible, with social distancing required.

Throughout Los Angeles County

The latest "Safer at Home" order from Los Angeles County Public Health officials, issued March 21, prohibits all public and private group events and gatherings through April 19. It also says that individuals and families are not prohibited from "hiking, walking, biking or shopping at [e]ssential [b]usinesses," so long as they keep their distance from others.

The order also notes that if local entities (like municipal governments) choose to impose stricter limits, the county order does not supersede them.

Los Angeles County has closed all indoor and outdoor playgrounds, along with indoor shopping centers and all swap meets and flea markets (though farmers markets and produce stand are still permitted).

National Forests in California

The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday closed campgrounds, picnic areas, bathrooms and other developed recreation sites in its California forests through April 30, but left trailheads alone, saying that "the general [f]orest area including the extensive trail system will remain open."

As for the status of parking areas at trailheads in Southern California's four national forests, "that is a question with each individual forest," said Jonathan Groveman, Pacific Southwest Region media officers for the Forest Service.T "We pass that decision-making down to the individual forest level."

At the San Bernardino National Forest, whose 680,000 acres, includes four mountain ranges in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, a spokesman said parking areas at trailheads will remain open.

In Angeles National Forest, which covers more than 650,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains, a spokesman was not immediately available.

In Los Padres National Forest, which includes roughly 1.95 million acres reaching north from Ventura County into Central California, spokesman Andrew Madsen said trailhead parking and trails remain open, as do dispersed camp sites in the backcountry.

"We may need to reassess if the public doesn’t follow the 'Pack it in, pack it out' principles and create unhealthy conditions especially with regard to trash," Madsen said in an email.

In Cleveland National Forest, which reaches into San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties, the list of sites closed through April 30 is long.

In the forest's Trabuco ranger district, a spokesperson said closures include: El Cariso north/south picnic area; Hot Springs trailhead; San Juan loop trailhead; Tenaja trailhead; Trabuco creek picnic area; Wildomar staging area; Maple Springs day use area.

In the forest's Descanso Ranger District, closures include Agua Dulce; Bear Valley OHV (off-highway vehicle) area; and Corral Canyon.

In the forest's Palomar Ranger District, closures include: Crestline; Henshaw scenic vista; Inaja Memorial; Kica Mik Overlook; Palomar Mountain Interpretive Station; San Luis Rey Picnic Area; Fry Creek Trailhead; Observatory Trailhead; Barker Valley Trailhead; Three Sisters Falls; and Cedar Creek Falls.

In fact, the popular Cedar Creek Falls and Three Sisters Falls trails have been closed since Saturday night for health and safety reasons.

“We had about 5x the normal amount of people, and the bottom of both trails is very tight,” wrote Cleveland National Forest spokesperson Olivia Walker in an email Tuesday morning. “On Sunday, we turned away as many as 100 people who showed up to hike the closed trails, and several hikers were arrested for sneaking through and running from our law enforcement officer to hike the trail.”

The suspects were ticketed, given a court date and released, Walker said.

A sign limits foot traffic at the Spoke Bicycle Cafe in Atwater, which is open for take-out orders and bike repairs, but no bike rentals.  (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Throughout California

Newsom's order said: "Everyone in California is required to stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary healthcare, or go to an essential job."

But the governor also said: “We’re going to keep the grocery stores open. ... We’re going to make sure that you’re getting critical medical supplies. You can still take your kids outside, practicing common sense and social distancing. You can still walk your dog.”

On March 18, California's state parks system had closed all campgrounds. Yosemite National Park closed on Friday and many national parks have dramatically cut back access, closing parking areas and roads.