A Park a Day: Paramount Ranch, Agoura Hills

July is National Parks & Recreation Month, and all month long LAist will be featuring a hand-selected park a day to showcase just a few of the wonderful recreation spaces—big or small—in the Los Angeles area.

A trip to Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains transports visitors to another time—enabling people to walk in the footsteps of actors like Cary Grant, Bob Hope and Mae West. From the permanent Western Town set to the rugged trails, hiking through the park is a calorie-burning way to explore movie-making history.

The ranch got its start in 1927, when Paramount Pictures purchased 2,700 acres for production purposes. They shot at least 10 movies on the land in that year alone. In the decades that followed, it served as the setting for more than 100 films. According to the book Three Magical Miles by Brian Rooney, one of the largest productions filmed at the ranch was The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938) starring Gary Cooper. It featured "herds of elephants and 2,000 fully costumed horses."

Starting in the '50s, ownership of the land changed hands a few times. For 18 months, a portion of the ranch even served as one of the nation's most challenging racetracks. Then in the early '80s, the National Park Service purchased 700 acres and opened it to the public.

The land's ties to the film and television industry have remained strong. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman made Paramount Ranch its home during the '90s. Over the last decade, productions such as Firefly, Weeds, Van Helsing and Carnivàle have filmed in the park.

For those planning a visit: The Western Town near the ranger station is certainly a highlight and a great photo excursion (amateur photography is permitted though professional shoots require a permit).

The park's trails—most of which start behind the town—are fun for hikers as well as for equestrians. The terrain varies, and at various points one may encounter a stretch of the old racetrack, paved roads, dirt roads and official trails.

In addition to setting the stage for Westerns, the land along these trails has impersonated locations such as China, the African grasslands and various locations in Europe. The Backdrop Trail, for instance, was so named because it could stand in for many places around the world due to its lack of distinctive features.

Some hiking advice: Don't forget the SPF, make way for horses, keep dogs on the trail to avoid ticks, and be sure to pick up a map at the ranger station. The best hiking time during summer months is in the morning, when snakes are less likely to be sunning themselves.

Paramount Ranch hosts a number of events throughout the year. Some upcoming activities include "From Set to Screen" tours of the ranch on Aug. 20 and Sept. 18, and a screening of the Paramount Ranch-shot film Beau Geste on Sept. 10.

Paramount Ranch is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk, and parking and admission are free.

Special thanks to National Park Service Ranger Mike Malone for his photo assistance.