With an inspired name and inspiring view, Vital Link Trail presents a rewarding hike in the Verdugo Mountains near Burbank. The trail delivers a good workout too, ascending 1,275 feet in a mile and a half, with opportunities to hike even farther. The steep single track looks out over the east end of the San Fernando Valley toward the Santa Monica Mountains and the skyscraper skyline of downtown Los Angeles. At the top of the trail, you’ll earn an overview of the Verdugo Mountains with new views north toward the San Gabriels. Vital Link Trail joins Verdugo Motorway, the main trail running east to west across the dominant ridgeline in the Verdugo Mountains. If the views at the top of Vital Link Trail aren’t enough, you can carry on hiking in both directions on Verdugo Motorway, including bagging the summit of nearby Verdugo Peak.
Vital Link Trail begins in Wildwood Canyon Park, which is nestled in the bottom of a wooded canyon between steep ridges at the base of the Verdugo Mountains on the edge of Burbank. There are actually four ways to begin this hike from Wildwood Canyon Park. The most direct trail begins from the top of Wildwood Canyon Road. From here it is a half-mile hike up a wide service road to reach a sign for Vital Link Trail, a dirt single track that will take you the rest of the way up the mountain. There are three other trailheads, staggered along the west side of Wildwood Canyon that explore the ridge below Vital Link Trail. These trails can be used to lengthen the start of this hike. From the trailhead at the bottom of the ridge, at the entrance of Wildwood Canyon Park, it is a one-mile hike to the junction at the start of Vital Link Trail. Beginning there will add an extra mile round trip and another 275 feet of elevation gain to this hike.
Starting from the turnaround at the top of Wildwood Canyon Road, take the wide dirt trail that continues up the canyon. In less than a quarter mile, you will come to a hairpin turn to the left where the trail leaves the canyon bottom and begins up the ridge to the west. As you ascend, there will be widening views down Wildwood Canyon and out over Burbank. After passing a dirt turnout on the left, the trail will turn downhill temporarily and come to a junction on the right with a big yellow sign for Vital Link Trail. Turn right here to begin hiking up this steep track (the trail straight ahead is the alternate route and travels down the ridge to return to Wildwood Canyon Park).
Over the next mile, you’ll gain 1,025 feet on Vital Link Trail. The trail basically runs right up the end of the ridge, with a few tight switchbacks to tackle the steepest sections of terrain. The views get bigger as you ascend too. When you need to catch your breath, look back down the ridge and across Burbank toward the Griffith Park end of the Santa Monica Mountains and the jigsaw-cut skyline of downtown Los Angeles.
After 0.3 miles on Vital Link Trail, you will come to a split. A direct path continues up the ridge to the left, while what appears to be the main trail takes a switchback to the right. The two paths come back together quite quickly, so take either route and continue up the ridge. The more gradual route is to the right, where the trail cuts temporarily back into Wildwood Canyon.
As you continue up the steep track, you’ll get ever closer to the radio towers and structures at the top of the ridge. You will see farther over the ridges to the east and west and, as you look along the main ridgeline to the east, be able to spot the communications towers at the apex of Verdugo Peak.
Keep up the thigh-burning climb until you reach the top of Vital Link Trail, where a reclined bench has been installed to facilitate a well-deserved break. Vital Link Trail delivers a good workout in a short distance and is a good training hike for longer ascents.
At the top, Vital Link Trail meets a wide dirt service road that connects Verdugo Motorway (Verdugo Fire Road) with the radio towers on the small summit to your right. If you’re not ready to turn around immediately after reaching the top of the trail, there’s plenty to explore among the tops of the Verdugo Mountains. Turn right and walk less than a tenth of a mile to the nearby summit with a couple communications buildings on it, gaining another 25 feet of elevation. You may also want to turn left at the top of Vital Link Trail and take the trail and a footpath a tenth of a mile west to an undeveloped crest on the ridge that offers undisturbed panoramic views.
In addition to views over Burbank, the Santa Monica Mountains, and downtown LA, the area around the top of Vital Link Trail offers sweeping views north, east, and west over the Verdugo Mountains. The most impressive views are probably to the north where the San Gabriel Mountains rise up in an imposing wall.
Those with energy left in their legs may continue hiking for 1.25 miles to the 3,126-foot summit of Verdugo Peak, the highest point in this small mountain range. Turn left at the top of Vital Link Trail, walk 0.15 miles along the dirt service road to Verdugo Motorway, turn right and take the wide trail east to the communications towers at the range’s highest summit.
The base length for Vital Link Trail is 3 miles round trip with 1,275 feet of elevation gain, traveling from the top of Wildwood Canyon Road to the top of the trail near Verdugo Motorway (and back). At the top, you’ll probably at least want to check out the nearby high spots on the ridgeline, adding another 0.4 miles and 25 feet of elevation to the hike (3.4 miles and 1,300 feet). There are three alternate trailheads along Wildwood Canyon Road. Starting at the lowest trailhead will add another half mile to the hike round trip (3.9 miles and 1,575 feet). Hiking to the top of Verudgo Peak and back from the top of Vital Link Trail (1.5 miles up Vital Link Trail and 1.25 miles to the peak) will give you a 4.5-mile round trip hike with 1,525 feet of elevation gain. For something longer still, you can hike farther on Verdugo Motorway or explore one of the other side trails.
When you’re ready to head back, simply return the way you came down Vital Link Trail. There will be non-stop views facing out from the ridge as you descend! Dogs are welcome, but bikes are not permitted on Vital Link Trail. Wildwood Canyon Park is open from dawn till dusk. No fee or permit is required to hike in Wildwood Canyon Park or the Verudgo Mountains, so get out and enjoy! For more hiking in the area, check out Skyline Motorway, a couple ridges to the east, and Stough Canyon, a couple canyons to the west.
To get to the trailhead: Take the 5 Freeway to Burbank Boulevard (Exit 146B). Drive two blocks north on Burbank Boulevard to Third Street. Turn right and make the next left onto Harvard Road. Drive 1.5 miles and turn right onto Wildwood Canyon Road at the park entrance. Drive half a mile up Wildwood Canyon Road through the park, passing picnic areas and the three other trailheads. There will be parking just below the turnaround at the top of the road. Hike through the gate up the dirt trail that continues from the end of the road.
Trailhead address: 1701 Wildwood Canyon Road, Burbank, CA 91501
Trailhead coordinates: 34.209427, -118.291724 (34° 12′ 33.93″N 118° 17′ 30.20″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Los Angeles trails and campgrounds.
|Old Youth Camp Loop in Stough Canyon|
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This 6.1 to 6.6-mile hike (or more) ascends an abandoned fire road in the Verdugo Mountains with expansive views that include the skyline of downtown Los Angeles.
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