Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

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Descending the Castle Canyon Trail from Inspiration Point

Descending the Castle Canyon Trail from Inspiration Point

Sun through the trees on the Castle Canyon Trail

Sun through the trees on the Castle Canyon Trail

Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

  • Location: Altadena (North of Pasadena), on the corner of Lake Avenue and Loma Alta Drive.  From I-210 in Pasadena, take the Lake Avenue exit and head north (left if you are coming from the west, right if from the east) and go 3.6 miles to where Lake Avenue meets Loma Alta Drive.  Park on the corner.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 11.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 6 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Mt. Wilson, Pasadena
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; Meetup description here; Wikipedia article about the history of the Mt. Lowe Railway here
  • Rating: 9
Sam Merrill Trail Head, Echo Mountain, Altadena, CA

0:00 – Sam Merrill trail head at the Cobb Estate (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

It might not be well known today, but in its time, the Mt. Lowe Railway was one of Los Angeles’s most popular and impressive tourist attractions. The railway didn’t survive the Great Depression and was quickly forgotten as Disneyland and Universal Studios became more famous, but intrepid hikers can still experience some of the history of it, enjoying the same panoramic views of the passengers.

View from the Sam Merrill Trail near Echo Mountain, Altadena, CA

1:05 – View from near the junction with the Echo Mountain Trail (times are approximate)

There are several ways to visit the sites of the Mt. Lowe Railway. This post describes the most common route: a 2.5 mile climb on the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain (the Mt. Lowe Railway’s lower terminus and a popular and worthwhile hiking destination in its own right), followed by a loop of about six miles, tracing the route of the railway on the ascent and descending via Castle Canyon – highlighted by the outstanding views at Inspiration Point. The hike is a strenuous workout but navigation and terrain are easy and the mix of history and scenic variety makes it very enjoyable.

Plaque describing the history of the Mt. Lowe Railroad, Echo Mountain Trail, Altadena, CA

1:19 – Interpretive plaque

From Lake Avenue, follow the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain, steadily climbing a series of tight switchbacks with dramatic views of the L.A. basin especially on clear days. Near the top of the ridge the trail levels out and you reach a junction. If you haven’t already been to Echo Mountain, head straight for a short distance where you can enjoy some great views and see equipment from the railroad. (Echo Mountain was the top end of the Great Incline segment of the train and the start of the Mt. Lowe Railway).

Sentinel Rock, Echo Mountain Trail, Mt. Lowe Railway site, Altadena, CA

1:25 – Sentinel Rock

To follow the railway’s course, take a hard left on the Echo Mountain Trail. It continues uphill at a more moderate grade, heading northwest. Soon you pass the first of several interpretive plaques describing the history of the railroad, including vintage photographs. Continuing past “Sentinel Rock” you soon reach a junction known as the Cape of Good Hope.

Millard Canyon from the Sunset Ridge Fire Road above the Cape of Good Hope, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:30 – View of Millard Canyon from the Sunset Ridge Fire Road above the Cape of Good Hope

Turn right onto the Sunset Ridge Fire Road, which soon provides you with excellent views of Millard Canyon. Continue up the fire road, passing a tight horseshoe curve that the railroad had to negotiate and the site of the circular bridge, one of the technical and visual high-lights of the trip. The trail traverses a pleasant north-facing slope, shaded by pines and black oaks, reaching the site of Ye Alpine Tavern (now the Mt. Lowe Trail Camp.) Though it was hoped that the railway would reach what was then called Oak Mountain – now Mt. Lowe – this was the highest it ever got.

Fall colors on the Echo Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:30 – Fall colors shortly before the Ye Alpine Tavern site

The trail makes a hairpin right turn and heads south to a four-way junction. Take the middle of the forks (the right fork is the upper end of the Sam Merrill Trail which also leads back to Echo Mountain; the left fork leads to Mt. Lowe). Soon you reach Inspiration Point, where you can enjoy the best view of the trip: the Santa Ana, Santa Monica and Verdugo Mountains, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, downtown L.A., Catalina Island and if visibility is good, Santa Barbara Island. Viewing tubes help you pinpoint certain locations.

View from a saddle between Echo Mountain, Mt. Lowe and Mt. Wilson, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:35 – View from the four way junction at the saddle

From here, take the single-track Castle Canyon Trail downhill. The trail is steep and loose in some places, although not too difficult. You drop into the pleasant shade of the canyon’s upper reaches, cross a seasonal stream and take in a few more views to the southeast before the trail levels out, returning to the ridge of Echo Mountain. Turn right and retrace your steps down the Sam Merrill Trail.

View of the Los Angeles Basin from Inspiration Point, Angeles National Forest

3:00 – Panoramic view from Inspiration Point

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View from the Castle Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles County, CA

4:00 – Looking southeast from the Castle Canyon Trail, shortly before rejoining the Echo Mountain Trail

Dawn Mine

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Rocks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

Rocks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

Oaks in Millard Canyon near Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest, CA

Oaks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

Dawn Mine

  • Location: Angeles National Forest above Pasadena. From the 210 Freeway, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn right on W. Loma Alta Drive, go 0.6 miles and turn left on to Cheney Trail. Follow it 1.2 miles to a junction with Mt. Lowe Road (also known as the Sunset Ridge Fire Road). A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (trail condition, navigation, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: Pasadena
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
Sunset Ridge Fire Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Sunset Ridge Fire Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This perennial favorite of L.A. hikers has recently re-opened following the Station Fire. Unfortunately, the devastation that the fire wrought on the canyon has made the hike to Dawn Mine more challenging than it was before. Expect to have to negotiate fallen trees, jumbled boulders and washed out sections of the trail and unless you’re experienced at navigating rough canyons, consider going with someone who’s already done the hike. The good news is that the rugged conditions make the hike feel particularly wild and isolated considering its proximity to civilization. In addition to the historic mine, the hike provides an aerial view of Millard Canyon Falls (still closed from below as of this writing) and an opportunity for a side-trip to Saucer Branch Falls.

Sunset Ridge Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:08 – Turnoff for the Sunset Ridge Trail (times are approximate)

It used to be possible to make the hike into a loop and perhaps it still is, but due to poor trail conditions, the best and “easiest” way to see the mine is heading straight up through the canyon. From the parking area, follow the Sunset Ridge Fire Road for about 0.3 miles to a junction with the Sunset Ridge Trail, a single-track. Follow it around the south rim of Millard Canyon, getting some dramatic views, including the waterfall.

Trail descending to Millard Canyon in the Angeles National Forest, CA

0:20 – The left fork descends to Millard Canyon

At about a mile from the start, you reach a Y-fork. The Sunset Ridge Trail continues upward to the right, eventually rejoining the fire road. To get to Dawn Mine, bear left and follow the trail as it descends past a cabin, soon reaching the bottom of the canyon.

Now the challenge begins. You make your way slowly up the canyon, crossing the stream bed several times. Navigation can be tricky, but there are many trail ducks that help point the way. In some places a semblance of the trail or evidence of hikers before you can help; the route usually sticks pretty close to the banks of the canyon.

Heavy growth in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest

0:35 – Through the bushes at the junction with the Saucer Branch

At about 1.4 miles from the start, a tributary, Saucer Branch, joins Millard Canyon from the left. If you’re up for a side trip, a short but difficult scramble up this fork (keep an eye out for poison oak) brings you to a modest-sized two tier waterfall. The route to Dawn Mine branches off to the right, ducking through some bushes and crossing the two forks of the stream before emerging on the other side.

Jumbled boulders in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:00 – Climbing through the rocks

More wading in and out of the creek and negotiating fallen trees brings you to the most strenuous part of the hike: climbing a wash of boulders. The exact route may vary, but the easiest way up is to stick to the left side of the canyon and to hoist yourself between the rocks. A large root of a fallen tree makes an obstacle but it can be ducked under or climbed carefully over. From here, make your way up a steep and loose slope between more rocks before following a trail that clings to the rocks on the left side of the canyon–and negotiating more fallen trees.

After this, the going gets somewhat easier. At about 2 miles from the start, you’re rewarded for your efforts as the canyon enters an attractive oak woodland. The trail can still be a little tough to follow and there are still boulders to climb, but by now the toughest of the climbing is behind you.

Oak woodlands in Millard Canyon near Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:17 – Oak woodlands after the rock scramble

Shortly after crossing under a rusted metal pipe, look for a path branching off to the left and heading down into the canyon. Some fairly easy rock scrambling brings you to a short spur trail leading uphill to the mine. Look for some metal equipment lodged in the left side of the canyon and soon after that is the entrance.

Path through the woods to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:27 – Path leading toward the mine

Though many people have done it, entering the mine is not advisable; think of it as the Angeles National Forest’s version of Russian Roulette. Instead, consider taking a glimpse inside and then enjoying the pleasant quiet of the canyon before retracing your steps.

In case you were wondering, Dawn Mine was named after Dawn Ehrenfeld, the daughter of a friend of one of the first miners who prospected the area. Although gold was first discovered here in 1895 and would continue to be found in bits and pieces, the results were disappointing and the mine was shut down in the 1950s.

Entrance to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:30 – Dawn Mine entrance

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.


Altadena Crest Loop

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View of L.A. from the Altadena Crest Trail

View of L.A. from the Altadena Crest Trail

Hugging the hill side on the Altadena Crest Trail

Hugging the hill side on the Altadena Crest Trail

Altadena Crest Loop

  • Location: 2260 Pinecrest Drive, Altadena.  From the 210 Freeway, take the Altadena Drive exit and go north for 2.7 miles.  Turn right on Crescent and make another quick right onto Pinecrest Drive.  From the Inland Empire, take the 210 Freeway to Rosemead  Blvd.  Go north on Rosemead for 0.7 miles and turn right on Sierra Madre Villa Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and stay straight to go onto New York Drive.  Go 1.3 miles and turn right on Altadena Drive.  In 1.2 miles, turn right on Crescent.  Note: Weekend parking is not allowed on Pine Crest by the trail head, and week day parking is limited to 2 hours.   To avoid these restrictions, follow Pinecrest up to the intersection of Bowring, where you can park.
  • Agency: Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information:  Arroyos & Foothills page here; Everytrail report here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trail head on Pinecrest (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head on Pinecrest (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Altadena Crest Trail is a pleasant surprise for hikers who think that they’ve seen it all when it comes to the San Gabriel Valley and foothills.  As suburban trails go, it’s on the challenging side and despite its proximity to the residential neighborhoods of Altadena, it often feels quite rugged.  On clear days the views include the entire L.A. basin, in particular the downtown skyline, the Verdugo Mountains, the San Rafael Hills and the Hollywood Hills.

0:05 - Turnoff for the Altadena Crest Trail (times are approximate)

0:05 – Turnoff for the Altadena Crest Trail (times are approximate)

As of this writing the Altadena Crest Trail is non-contiguous. Several different routes in various configurations are possible. The trip described here is a loop featuring the southeastern 2.3 miles of the trail and 1.2 miles on city streets. Assuming you start on Pinecrest, you begin by walking through a metal gate and descending a paved road toward the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. Just before the bridge, turn left on the signed Altadena Crest Trail and begin ascending switchbacks on the single-track. The trail climbs quickly, gaining 300 feet in less than half a mile. Views to the south, east and west open up as you hug the side of the hill.

0:28 - Fire fighters' memorial

0:36 – Fire fighters’ memorial

At about 0.8 miles, the trail brushes up against a fire break at a spot where you get excellent views of L.A.; a nice place to catch your breath before taking a hard right and continuing up the hill.  At 1.1 miles, you reach one of the two high points on the trail (just under 1,800 feet). You descend into a canyon, past a memorial honoring two firefighters and reach a T-junction. Turn right (the left fork leads to private property) and enter a very narrow canyon where no signs of civilization can be seen (save for some power lines high overhead).

0:31 - Into the narrow canyon

0:41 – Into the narrow canyon

The trail switchbacks out of the canyon, once again reaching 1,800 feet at 1.9 miles from the start. Turn right on a paved road, passing by a private residence at the end of Zane Grey Terrace. The trail becomes dirt again and makes a few switchbacks down into another canyon, this one pleasantly wooded. Stay straight as a makeshift trail branches off to the right, reaching a spur off of Zane Grey Terrace at 2.3 miles.

1:00 - Switchbacks heading down into the canyon past the private home at the end of Zane Grey

1:00 – Switchbacks heading down into the canyon past the private home at the end of Zane Grey

The remainder of the hike is on city streets. Turn right on Zane Grey and follow it 0.1 miles to East Loma Alta. Turn left and begin the last leg of the loop, heading east on Loma Alta. At 3.2 miles, Loma Alta merges with Pinecrest. Follow Pinecrest back your car.

1:08 - Wooded canyon just before the trail emerges onto Zane Grey Terrace

1:08 – Wooded canyon just before the trail emerges onto Zane Grey Terrace

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box

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View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box

    • Location: Angeles National Forest near Mt. Wilson.  From I-210 in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 10 miles to the road for the Switzer Picnic Area (mile marker 34.19).  Drive downhill to the picnic area.  The hike begins at the eastern end of the lot, by an information board and a vault toilet.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
    • Distance: 8.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,500 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 4 hours
    • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo maps: Condor Peak, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Everytrail report (descent only) here; description of the trail as a mountain bike route here; description of the whole trail (scroll down for this section) here
    • Rating: 7

Linking two major stops on the Gabrielino Trail, the Switzer Picnic Area and Red Box, this hike can be done as a moderate day trip, as part of a backpacking trip or with a short car shuttle, as a point to point. The beginning of the hike suffers somewhat from freeway noise as it travels through an area heavily burned in the Station Fire, but the payoff comes higher up as you travel through shaded woodlands while taking in great aerial views of the upper Arroyo Seco and the surrounding hills. The area gets hot in the summer but there’s a decent amount of shade, and the steep walls of the canyon help block out the sun, so the hike can be done in the summer months with appropriate preparation. Keep an eye out for poison oak, no matter what season, however.

0:00 - Trail beginning at the east end of the Switzer Picnic Area

0:00 – Trail beginning at the east end of the Switzer Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From the eastern end of the parking lot, follow the trail past the picnic area, crossing the stream on a concrete walkway. You pick up the trail on the south side of the canyon, passing a yellow sign warning of the dangers of hiking through a burn area.

0:03 - Picking up the trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

0:03 – Picking up the trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

After a little more than a mile, during which the trail parallels the freeway, progress is blocked by a big fallen tree. Bypass it by following a rough path to the left into the creek bed, following the creek bed for a few yards and almost immediately heading out and back to the trail.

0:30 - Turn left before the fallen tree and into the creek bed

0:30 – Turn left before the fallen tree and into the creek bed

The trail continues its ascent on the south side of the canyon, with the views getting better and better as you ascend. At about 1.7 miles you enter a big S-curve, briefly heading northwest before continuing south and then east.

1:10 - Looking east toward Red Box from the switchbacks

1:10 – Looking east toward Red Box from the switchbacks

At 2.4 miles, a giant pine tree welcomes you to the upper reaches of the trail, and you enjoy some shade as you cross a tributary canyon of the Arroyo Seco. You continue on to another S-curve with more wide-ranging views before the last stretch of the trail brings you to the Red Box area. This makes a good turnaround point (4.1 miles), but if you’ve got more gas in the tank, you can continue downhill on the Gabrielino Trail toward Valley Forge, or up Mt. Wilson Road a short distance to the San Gabriel Peak Trail.

1:20 - Into the pines

1:20 – Into the pines

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

2:00 - Red Box parking area

2:00 – Red Box parking area

Rubio Canyon to Moss Grotto & Ribbon Rock Falls

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Rubio Canyon Falls

Ribbon Rock and Moss Grotto Falls, Rubio Canyon

Dusk in Rubio Canyon

Dusk in Rubio Canyon

Rubio Canyon to Moss Grotto & Ribbon Rock Falls

      • Location: Altadena, on the corner of Pleasantrdge Drive and Rubio Vista Drive.  From I-210, take the Lake Avenue exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east, left if from the west) and go 3 miles.  Turn right on Dolores, go 0.3 miles and merge onto Maiden Lane.  In 0.1 miles, bear right on Rubio Canyon Road.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Rubio Crest Drive.  Go 0.1 miles and turn right on Rubio Vista Drive.  Park on the corner of Rubio Vista and Pleasantridge, and look for the trail leading into the forest, next to the private residence.
      • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
      • Distance: 1.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 450 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 1 hour
      • Best season: November – May
      • USGS topo map:  Mt. Wilson
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
      • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
      • More information:  here; Everytrail report here; waterfall video here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head on Rubio Vista and Pleasantridge (click thumbnails to see full sized pictures)

0:00 – Trail head on Rubio Vista and Pleasantridge (click thumbnails to see full sized pictures)

This short, but varied – and surprisingly challenging – hike has a little bit of everything: mountains, canyons, forest, city views and history, leading up to a modest-sized pair of waterfalls, among the most easily accessible in the L.A. area. Unlike nearby Sturtevant Falls, no parking pass is required to visit Rubio Canyon; just make sure you’re respectful of the neighborhood residents whose homes border the trail head. Be prepared, too, to use your hands as much as your feet, and keep an eye out for some key navigational markers.

0:10 - Approaching the pavilion foundation (times are approximate)

0:10 – Approaching the pavilion foundation (times are approximate)

From the corner of Rubio Vista and Pleasantridge, follow the single track heading into the canyon on the left side of the house. The first 0.4 miles is easy going; there are a few tricky spots where you may have to climb some rocks but nothing too arduous. The trail hugs the west rim of the canyon, taking in nice views of the mountains above and of the L.A. basin to the south.

0:12 - Crossing the ruins (be careful)

0:12 – Crossing the ruins (be careful)

At about 0.4 miles, the canyon narrows and you can see the foundations of the old Rubio Pavilion, a terminus of the historic Mt. Lowe Railroad. Carefully walk through the ruins and pick up the trail, keeping the thick copper pipes on your left until you cross under them. At a fork, head right and downhill, soon reaching the creek bed.

0:14 - Follow the pipes

0:14 – Follow the pipes

Here, you turn left and head uphill, climbing over some rocks and following a semblance of a trail, generally staying on the east (right) side of the canyon. At 0.6 miles, you make a definite climb out of the canyon, soon reaching a split. To the left, you will see your destination: Ribbon Rock Falls (bottom) and Moss Grotto Falls (top). A little bushwhacking will get you to the bottom of Ribbon Rock Falls, where you can sit by a small pool and enjoy the scenery. Even though the falls usually only get going with a lot of rain, it’s still a nice place to escape from suburbia.

0:22 - Crossing the Rubio Canyon stream bed

0:22 – Crossing the Rubio Canyon stream bed

There are several other waterfalls higher up in the canyon, but they are best left to those with mountaineering and rock climbing experience. For most hikers, the waterfall is a good turnaround point.

0:30 - Close up of Ribbon Rock Falls, lower of the two tiers

0:30 – Close up of Ribbon Rock Falls, lower of the two tiers

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

El Prieto Canyon

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On the Brown Mountain Fire Road

Stream in El Prieto Canyon

El Prieto Canyon

    • Location: Altadena.  From I-210, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for two miles.  Turn left on Canyon Crest Road, go a total of 1.2 miles and turn left on Cloverhill.  Take the first right on to El Prieto Road and park near the end of the street.  From the west, take I-210 to the Arroyo Blvd/Windsor Ave. exit and turn left.  Cross the freeway and go right on Woodbury.  Go 0.5 miles and turn left on Lincoln and go 1.4 miles to Canyon Crest, then follow Canyon Crest to Cloverhill and El Prieto.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 3.3 miles
    • Elevation gain: 550 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
    • Best season: Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • Recommended gear: sun hat
    • USGS topo map:  Pasadena
    • More information: here (slightly different route described); Every Trail report here
    • Rating: 7

This short, but surprisingly varied and scenic hike, visits a secluded canyon that feels quite isolated, despite its proximity to the residential neighborhoods of Altadena. You also get nice views of Brown Mountain (named for Owen and Jason Brown, sons of Civil War abolitionist John Brown) and several other front-range peaks of the Angeles National Forest, and given clear weather, you can also see the Hollywood Hills and Verdugo Mountains.

From the end of El Prieto Road, head past a gate on the pavement. You climb quickly, soon reaching a single-track trail that branches off to the left. Follow it uphill and join another paved road at 0.8 miles. Bear left and continue to the Brown Mountain Truck Trail. You get a nice view down into the canyon, the bottom of which you’ll be exploring later on this route.

At 1.2 miles, look for the Fern Truck Trail branching off to the left. Follow it to the back of a tributary canyon, where you will cross a seasonal stream. At 1.5 miles, head left and downhill on the El Prieto Canyon Trail.

You make a few switchbacks and soon arrive at the bottom of the canyon, beneath the shade of some oaks. The Station Fire damage in this area is obvious, but there’s still a decent amount of shade. Here, you are virtually isolated from any kind of civilization; even the check dams seem to blend in nicely. Stay left as two trails branch off to the right, cross the bottom of the canyon and make a brief ascent.

Take a sharp right turn at a junction (the route ahead rejoins the Brown Mountain Truck Trail), and descend back to the canyon’s bottom. You come to another split; both trails soon meet again at a clearing, where there is a picnic table (2.2 miles). This is a nice place to take a break.

Continuing south down the canyon, you travel through a landscape of oaks, a trickling stream and steep walls, typical of the Arroyo Seco region. At three miles from the start, head uphill (left) at another junction. You pass through a meadow, slip through a fence and end up on El Prieto Road. Complete the loop by heading left and walking back uphill to your starting point.

Note: as you enter the driveway, you may notice a “private property” sign.  According to a 2006 court decision, non-motorized traffic is allowed on the land.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mt. Wilson Loop (via Sturtevant and Winter Creek Trails)

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View from Echo Rock near Mt. Wilson’s summit


San Gabriel Peak from Mt. Wilson

Mt. Wilson Loop (via Sturtevant and Winter Creek Trails)

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest north of Arcadia.  From Interstate 210, head north on Santa Anita Avenue (right if you are coming from the east, left if you are coming from the west).  After passing through a residential area, you reach a vehicle gate.   The road starts climbing up into the mountains, and arrives at the Chantry Flats parking lot after about 3 miles.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 14  miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Suggested time: 8.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Wilson”
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Trip report here; Everytrail guide here
  • Rating: 9

Even if you’ve never hiked before, if you live in Los Angeles, chances are Mt. Wilson plays a role in your life. Many L.A. radio and television stations broadcast from the 5,710-foot summit; the observatory and telescopes are also a popular tourist destination up here. You can drive to the summit, but what fun would that be?

For hikers, there are many different routes to the summit. Some hikers use the difficult Mt. Wilson trail from Sierra Madre; some continue up the toll road from Henninger Flats in Pasadena. Another popular starting point is Chantry Flats, which is described here. There are two viable routes to the top from Chantry, and this route uses them both to make a loop.

As with the Mt. Zion Loop, head downhill on the paved road as if you were going to Sturtevant Falls. The Winter Creek Trail branches off at the bottom of the hill; stay straight and head up into the canyon. Where the trail to Sturtevant Falls branches off to the right, bear left onto the Top of the Waterfall trail. (The longer trail, accessible with a hard left, is an alternative designed for horses.) The trail climbs up the side of the canyon, occasionally requiring scrambling over rocks and getting pretty close to the edge of the cliff. You get a nice view of Sturtevant Falls from above.

The two trails rejoin at Falling Sign Junction, and you continue to the right, passing the Cascade Picnic Area in 2.8 miles and the Spruce Grove Trail Camp in 3.5 miles; a good place to stop and rest.

Shortly beyond Spruce Grove, the Gabrielino Trail branches off to the right. Stay straight and take a left just before the sign to Sturtevant Camp. Carefully cross the top of a check dam, and stay right at the next junction, where the trail to Mt. Zion branches off.

At this point, Mt. Wilson is only three miles, but over 2,000 feet of elevation, away. The trail climbs steeply through the woods, still almost entirely shaded. “Halfway Rest” (really just a sign at a switchback) marks the halfway point between Sturtevant Camp and the summit. Shortly afterward, the grade becomes a little less steep, and your efforts are rewarded with glimpses of the L.A. basin below. You work you way through some manzanitas and chapparal, and finally you’ll see a metal railing above. This is Echo Rock, a large outcrop on the mountain’s east edge.

At 6.8 miles, you arrive at the Mt. Wilson summit. You can enjoy a great view from Echo Rock by walking along a fenced-in trail. At the end, you can see San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, the Saddleback, Catalina Island and more.

After taking in the view, you can walk across the summit on the road, passing by the white dome of the observatory and the telescopes. From April to October, the Cosmic Cafe is open. There’s also a short nature trail you can visit.

To continue with this loop, however, head east, past the Rim Trail, along the paved road. It leads to a big parking lot, where you can get nice views of San Gabriel Peak and points west.

From the south corner of the lot, take a trail signed for Sierra Madre and head downhill. When it joins the dirt road, take a left and continue your descent. As you go downhill, you’ll get nice views to the east.

After half a mile, look for the Mt. Wilson trail branching off to the left; the dirt road continues all the way down to Henninger Flats and Altadena. In another half mile, you come to a junction where the Mt. Wilson Trail heads left down toward Sierra Madre. There’s a bench where you can sit and enjoy the views before beginning a steep descent.

Head left on the Winter Creek Trail, which drops over 2,000 feet in the next two and a half miles. There are a few fire breaks which criss-cross the trail, but the main route descends in switchbacks. (If you end up on a fire break, odds are you’ll rejoin the trail soon). You pass by a few buildings, and soon you arrive at the junction with the trail ascending from Hoegees (on the Winter Creek Loop). You’re now three miles from Chantry Flats. Head briefly uphill (the last climbing of the trip), and follow the Winter Creek Trail to its end at the service road. Take a left and walk a half mile down the hill, back to the parking lot.

As with other famous hikes in the San Gabriels such as Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baden-Powell, climbing Mt. Wilson is a rite of passage for L.A. hikers. It’s a nice feeling to see the antennas on the peak from the L.A. basin and know that you’ve not only been there, but done it the hard way.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.