When people think of Los Angeles, they think of Hollywood. They think of The Lakers. They think of a vast sea of urban sprawl.

What they don’t think of is hiking. And neither did Jason Bazalar, when he moved to the City of Angels.

Soon enough, however, Bazalar founded the LA Trail Hikers, an hiking organization that’s helping to introduce Angelenos to the wide range of trails found in and around the Los Angeles basin.

“I was at a fruit stand with a friend in 2008 and we met a guy who said he was going hiking,” says Bazalar. “I said, ‘Hey, I like hiking,’ and we ended up joining him on a hike to Sturtevant Falls that day.”

Having discovered LA was more than movie stars and gridlock, Bazalar, a web programmer for KCET television, started exploring the Southland’s wealth of hiking trails with a couple of friends. They hit the trails on weekends and hiked evenings in Griffith Park, LA’s 4,310-acre patch of semi-wilderness. Soon, their hikes grew to included more people, friends and friends of friends. In the summer of 2009, Bazalar decided to formalize the group, dubbing it LA Trail Hikers, with the goal of getting more people in LA hiking.

Deploying his web expertise, Bazalar launched a website, LATrailHikers.com, and set up social media channels, Facebook.com/latrailhikers and Twitter.com/latrailhikers. Word spread and the group has grown steadily. Bazalar led all the hikes at first, but now there are 12 hiking leads for trips all over LA County and further afield.

They’ve continued the tradition of evening hikes in Griffith Park, attracting anywhere from 20 to 70 hikers every Wednesday after work. In summer, when the days are long, they include a second evening hike on Thursday nights.

LA Trail hikers in LA's Griffith Park
LA Trail hikers in LA’s Griffith Park

On Saturdays and Sundays, the group’s trips go further afield, exploring places such as Parker Mesa Overlook in Topanga State Park and Monrovia Canyon Park in Monrovia.

“We try to include as many beginner trips as possible, to get people started hiking,” says Bazalar. “There are other hiking groups, but we do it our way. We want to be the gateway hiking group, helping people visit parks, get active and do it for free.”

Not that the group doesn’t tackle more difficult hikes. To help people gauge which of the outings is appropriate for their fitness level, LA Trail Hikers rates its hikes on a one to ten scale, a level one hike being the easiest and level 10 the most advanced. The hiking schedule posted on the website includes trips two months out.

The hikes attracts a lot of people in their mid-20s, but participants range in age from kids to retirees. “People hear ‘hiking’ and think they’ve got to put on their big boots,” Bazalar says. “But it can be a lot easier than that.”