Access & Cautions
Like our beaches and mountains, the Los Angeles River can be a safe and wonderful place to enjoy a variety of recreational opportunities. It’s 52 miles long, at times unpatrolled and, despite its concrete coating, always wild. It’s an unpredictable place where Mother Nature and urban crime can sometimes conspire to cause accidents and scares. So when you visit the River, be smart and be cautious.
Advice For Taking Families
Though most of the activities described here are off-the-water, kids are naturally drawn to the water. Going down to the channel to play in the LA River is no-no. As in no, don’t do it. The river is dangerous and playing in the water is not permitted. Even older kids, good swimmers who may have adequate knowledge of water safety, are at risk at the River. Proper supervision is required at all times. There are no lifeguards on the LA River. There are, however, plenty of obstacles and risks, so be a responsible parent and keep the kids out of the water.
While a recent water quality study shows the water in the river isn’t as polluted as many believe, visitors -- children, in particular -- should not make contact with the water. The water does contain some pollutants which could be harmful. Needless to say, don’t drink the water. Ever.
Take especial care on the rocks and concrete surfaces near the water, as they can become quite slippery thanks to a thin layer of algae that grows on them. Take special care on the paths and other uneven surfaces near the water. A fall or a sprain can ruin a perfect outing.
The LA River and its tributaries give adults a great opportunity to teach kids how to observe, how to appreciate and interact with nature while also protecting its habitat. Please make sure that our local bird and fish and wildlife populations are not harassed.
Accessing the River
The concrete channel of the LA River, built by the Army Corps of Engineering, is designed both to keep water safely moving along its length, and to keep people safely away from the channel. As a result, much of the river is lined with chain link fences. The Corps didn’t build public gates, walkways, bike paths, parking lots or amenities. And when the railroad companies built tracks along a substantial portion of the river, they too assumed that only rail cars would be permitted to cross their tracks.
In the last couple of decades, a concerted effort by LA’s city and county officials has opened access to river in places where previously it has been prohibited. While some parts of the LA River remain officially off-limits to the public, other’s are people-friendly, with existing bike, pedestrian and horse trails, and more on the way. Every day more visitors are using more sections of the river, fishing its waters, watching its wildlife and enjoying its sights and solitude.
Among the challenges slowing progress in opening the river to the public are the multiple overlapping jurisdictions among federal, state, county, and city agencies. Though obtaining the proper permissions to build gates and paths, set up patrols and other safety measures has proven costly and time-consuming, officials are working steadily to make all sections of the river accessible and safe.
In the meantime, here are several cautions to observe:
- Stick to established paths along the top of the channel.
- Avoid going into the channel
- Observe "No Trespassing" signs. Public areas are generally well-used by bicyclists, joggers, and walkers, so keeping your activity to these areas will you keep you safe and out of trouble. There are plenty of safe and approved points of access.
- Avoid obviously illegal access points, such as holes in fences or short cuts across active railroad tracks or private property.
- Use common sense. Be cautious. Avoid homeless encampments. Be careful on wet and slippery concrete and boulders. Be aware of your surroundings. Always leave the river before sunset.
- Avoid going to the LA River at night. Except for a few sections, including the Sepulveda Basin and the recently opened Elysian Valley bike path, the river is not lighted at night. It is not well-patrolled.
- Always check local conditions.
- Know your limitations.
- Be cautious and alert.
River Water Cautions
In the summer months, nearly all the water in the river comes from two treatment plants in the San Fernando Valley. Though this water has been processed and approved for sending into the ocean, it may still contain unhealthy bacteria, trash, and pollutants from street runoff. Read more about the water quality here.
In winter, after seasonal rains, our shallow and slow-moving river can rapidly fill with a much higher percentage of street runoff and pollution. In the blink of an eye, it can become a raging torrent that can – and does – kill. During nearly every big downpour, people and animals are swept up by a raging current more than 10 feet deep that races along at up to 35 miles per hour. The sides of the LA River channel become get impossibly slippery and extremely treacherous. For those who find themselves trapped in the river’s depths, neither swimming nor climbing to safety is possible. Death, or a costly and perilous emergency rescues is the usual outcome.
Never drink the LA River water
- Avoid touching the water with your hands or bare feet.
- Children, in particular, should not play in the water.
- During periods of rain or right afterward, do not go anywhere near the water. The rights-of-way, river banks, and concrete channel should be avoided.
If you want to see what the LA River looks like in high-water times, observe it from one of the bridges.
Dogs on the River
- Be a responsible dog owner: always carry bags for picking up dog feces.
- Keep your dog under control at all times.
- Do not allow dogs to go near the water when it is raining.
The river is a major wildlife flyway and habitat corridor. It supports numerous species of wildlife: birds, fish, and mammals, particularly in the soft-bottom sections.
- Treat the wildlife with respect. Watch them from afar
- Do not feed the wildlife.
- Never throw rocks or disturb wildlife in any way.
- Never pollute, disturb or remove wildlife habitat.
- Fishing requires a license for all adults. There are restrictions on some of the fish species.
- Do not leave fishing lines behind. Birds have had their beaks or webbed feet mangled by fishing lines left on the banks or in the water.
With notable exceptions, there are very few parking lots along the LA River. As a result, users of the river must park on public streets. In downtown LA and in downstream commercial and industrial sections, this is generally not a problem. In the San Fernando Valley and Glendale Narrows, however, there are several river access points where the sole is in residential neighborhoods. This has caused some complaints from the local residents, so:
- Be considerate. Respect the neighborhood. Never obstruct driveways or park entrances.
- Never park in places that are marked No Parking
- Be safe: lock your car. Prevent break-ins – don’t leave valuables visible.
Public transportation to the river via bus and subway is available. You might also use out guide to plot a bike route from your home or office.
Unfortunately, at this time there are very few bathrooms situated along many stretches of the river. Our maps will show you where they are.
- Never urinate or defecate anywhere along the LA River.
- Treat the River like your front yard, not a back alley.
Except in the adjacent parks, there are no trash cans along the river.
If you are picnicking, carry out your trash. Better yet, leave the river cleaner than you found it and pick up any trash that you find.
Some sections of the River, particularly in downtown, have long housed homeless encampments.
- Use common sense and caution when you approach homeless people around the river
Graffiti and tagging
While there are sections of the river with long-standing graffiti, it remains illegal to tag or add additional graffiti to the river banks, bridges or supports. We are trying to beautify the river for everyone, so don’t add graffiti to the river.
Reporting Crimes, Accidents or Problems
- For all emergencies: dial 911
- For non-emergency police: dial LAPD (877) 275-5273 or the General Services Police (323) 913-7390
- For maintenance issues between Egret Park to the 134 Fwy/Los Feliz Boulevard: The Los Angeles River Keepers 323-224-2550
- For issues in the small pocket parks along the Glendale Narrows section of the River, call the Mountain Conservancy Ranger Services (310) 456-7049
- For Los Angeles Parks, call Park Ranger Hotline: (323) 644-6661 or the General Services Police (323) 913-7390
- For Homeless encampment problems: call the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority 213-225-6581 or 213-683-3333
- For Fishing Abuses: contact the Department of Fish and Game (858) 467-4201
- For wildlife habitat abuses, call the Animal Services Department of the City of Los Angeles at (888) 452-7381