Urban Hiking at Its Best: Casey Schreiner Logs the Trails of Los Angeles

Casey Schreiner’s post-graduate move was far from unique. He jumped from the East Coast to the hazy, star-studded city of Los Angeles to get involved in the entertainment industry.

Los Angeles did not immediately capture Casey’s heart, but the mountain ranges in the L.A. area converted him into a lover of the outdoors. Gaming enthusiasts may recognize Casey from G4’s MMO Report. He is also a writer at Attack of the Show!

Out of the office, Casey proves that urbanites can enjoy some of the best trails in the world. His explorations of the L.A. trails are recorded on his blog, Modern Hiker.

Casey, tell me a bit about yourself – a little background, how did you get to L.A., why you enjoy it, etc.

I moved to Los Angeles from New England in 2003, just after graduating from college.  I went to school for television writing and moved out to L.A. for the same reason almost everyone does – to try to get into the entertainment industry.  No matter where you come from, moving to L.A. is a huge culture shock – but especially when you’re used to the compact cities on the east coast.  Initially I really hated it here, but now I respect that L.A.’s a city that really makes you work to like it.  It doesn’t have the instant charm of San Francisco or the constant bustle of New York – but there really is something for everyone here – you just have to look for it.

When and why did you start hiking in Los Angeles?
I wasn’t much of an outdoorsy person growing up – but the mountains out here did it for me.  When I spent a few months out here interning I remember falling in love with the jagged coastal peaks – but it was only after I’d been living here for a year or two that the haze cleared enough for me to see the not-too-distant San Gabriels – and that’s the thing that really made me fall in love with L.A.  I drove into the Angeles National Forest on a whim, went for a hike – and that was that.  I’ve been hiking those trails ever since.

What made you decide to start the blog?
Initially I was just writing for a personal blog and used a few entries to recount my newfound love of the outdoors.  Eventually I found that people had stumbled onto my blog looking for trails around L.A.  The hiking blogosphere at that time – back in 2005 – was almost nonexistent.  There were are few hiker-bloggers up in Northern California and a few hobbyists in Southern California, but there wasn’t really anyone doing what I was looking for when I started hiking – highlighting the trails in and around L.A. with directions, GPS tracks, tons of photos, and a personal narrative touch.  I decided to spin-off the hiking posts onto their own web site, registered modernhiker.com and the rest is history.

Icehouse Canyon in the Angeles National Forest

I stumbled onto your site while researching “urban hiking.” And I love the title “Modern Hiker.” What makes “modern hiking” different from simple “hiking”?
Ha – well, for one, it was an available domain name … but for me it was also a bit more personal. I write for a very tech-savvy network and was already really into the gearhead side of hiking – GPS, gadgets, mapping tech, etc.  For me, Modern Hiker read as being both for the gadget junkies and the hikers who spent their weekdays surviving in a giant city, but still wanted to get off the grid on the weekend.  The original tagline was “60% geek, 40% granola.”  While I think the site has matured a bit beyond that, the phrase still captures the kind of people I’m trying to get outside – those who maybe wouldn’t consider themselves hikers – but once they got out onto a trail would absolutely fall in love with hiking.

What kind of feedback have your received?
Aside from a slightly negative review of an insanely popular trail, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.  Hikers are generally really great people to begin with, so that’s not surprising.  I never really advertised the site, so it was really great to watch the word-of-mouth recommendations bloom into calls and emails from bigger companies and other writers in the hiking world.  A few times, I’ve even had my own site recommended to me from friends who didn’t know I was the guy behind it!

Along the Mishe Mokwa Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains

What is your favorite hike in L.A.?
There are a lot of really, really wonderful trails out here – so it’s hard to pick one.  But the one trail I always find myself drawn back to is the Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.  It’s got a little bit of everything I love about hiking in the West – scrub and brush, strange sandstone formations, oak glens, and fantastic views of the Pacific coast.  It’s also not that tough of a hike, so it’s been my go-to trail to introduce new hikers into the wide world of California trails.

For beginners interested in hiking in L.A., where and how should they start?
There are a few very easy trails that are inside the city boundaries that could be great stepping off points for new hikers – although most “experienced” hikers wouldn’t really consider them trails.  Runyon Canyon is an insanely popular trail that can give you a bit of a workout if you want it to – and it’s fun for dogs, too. If you’re not up for the crowds, nearby Fryman Canyon is a much less crowded option.  Griffith Park is one of the largest city parks in the country.  Although it’s easy to get to and popular with locals, it can get surprisingly rugged.  And out in the Santa Monica Mountains, Temescal Canyon and Solstice Canyon offer fun, shaded trails, too.

Any tips for first time hikers?
Be aware of your surroundings – but don’t be intimidated.  One of the biggest turn-offs for new hikers is the gear.  You think you need $200 boots, a $150 daypack, merino wool socks, wicking everything, etc. before you even get near a trail.  The dirty secret of hiking is it’s basically just walking around outside.  All that gear does make a difference and you’ll definitely appreciate it when you have it – but you don’t need a full-on Hikers’ Suit to get started.  Grab a few friends and hit a trail in a nearby park at first .  It’s not that tough!

The beautiful Pacific coastline from the Los Liones Trail

What other major cities are good for hikers?
Coming from the east coast, I’m constantly stunned by the amount of remaining wilderness and open space in the west. You’d be hard-pressed to find a city west of the Rockies without some good hiking nearby.  For L.A., ‘needing’ a car is a mixed blessing because it allows you to take easier day trips a few hundred miles away from home, but San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland all have excellent hikes in and around the city limits.

What/where is your dream hike?
There’s still a lot of the U.S. that I’d like to hike in – I haven’t spent much time in the Rocky Mountains and I’m dying to put some miles on my boots there. I spent a few weeks in New Zealand a few years back and I wouldn’t mind doing another long-distance trek down there. Otherwise, Iceland and the Alps are at the top of my list right now.

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3 Comments

  1. Jordan
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I’m a lifelong angelino and didn’t get into hiking until my thirties. “Modern hiker” has been great at showing me there’s so much to explore right here in my own backyard. Now the San Gabriels have become my own backyard wilderness and I have a long list of trails to hike thanks to the blog. Cheers
    .

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