Tag Archives: Winter Creek

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.

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Mt. Zion Loop in Big Santa Anita Canyon


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Spruce Grove Trail Camp

View from Mt. Zion

Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mt. Zion Loop in Big Santa Anita Canyon

  • 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: 9.4  miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, trail condition, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Wilson”
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here; trip reports here.
  • Rating: 8

If you enjoyed the Winter Creek Loop and want a little more of a challenge, don’t miss this longer hike in Big Santa Anita Canyon.  It shares the first 0.6 and last 2 1/2 miles with the Winter Creek Loop, but also visits some lesser-traveled areas in the canyon and reaches the summit of Mt. Zion.  You can even take a short side-trip to Sturtevant Falls if you want.

From the Chantry Flats parking lot, head down the paved road.  At the junction at the bottom of the hill where trails branch off to Hermit Falls and Winter Creek, stay straight as if you were headed to Sturtevant Falls.  Soon you come to a split where the right trail heads to the waterfall, and the left fork is a horse-trail.  The middle trail is your route, which may be a little treacherous for some, involving some pretty close calls with the cliffs on the right.  (The horse trail will lead to the same spot, so you can take that route as an alternative).   If you are very careful, you can get an aerial view of Sturtevant Falls.

The trail continues its climb, following Big Santa Anita Canyon.  You meet the horse trail at Falling Sign Junction, and head right, soon arriving at the Cascade Picnic Area.   Less than half a mile later you come to the Spruce Grove Campground (3.5 miles from the start), a nice spot for lunch in the shade of some gigantic Douglas Fir trees.

Shortly after Spruce Grove, the Gabrielino Trail splits to the right and heads up to Newcomb Pass while your route heads left.  Take another quick left onto the Sturtevant Trail and a third left onto the Mt. Zion Trail.

The Mt. Zion trail ascends steadily without being too steep, and nice views of the canyon open up as you climb.  After a mile and a quarter, the trail starts to dip and a short spur heads left toward the summit (elevation 3,575 feet).   From the summit, on a clear day, you can get nice views of the canyon below.

After the summit, the trail switchbacks steeply down to Hoegees Camp, losing 1,000 feet in a mile and a half.  When you join the Winter Creek trail, head right and then take a left at the next junction, on the Upper Winter Creek trail.  From here, you follow the trail 2 1/2 miles back to the parking lot (take a left when you get to the fire road a quarter mile from the end).

If you want to make your trip even more challenging, you can continue to add more mileage by heading up to Newcomb Pass on the Gabrielino Trail or Mt. Wilson on the Sturtevant Trail.   Most hikers, however, will probably find this loop to be more than adequate a workout.

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