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.
- 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: 5.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 3 hours
- Best season: September – June
- USGS topo map: Pasadena
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- More information: Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here
- Rating: 8
There aren’t that many hikes that give you great views of L.A., Orange County, the Hollywood Hills and sometimes the ocean and San Jacinto range–and allow a chance to visit some So Cal history–but the trip to Echo Mountain via the Sam Merrill trail does. Before Disneyland and Universal Studios, the Mt. Lowe Railroad was one of the L.A. area’s top tourist attractions, and you can still see traces of it at the top of Echo Mountain. Few places that are so conveniently located give the panoramic views that Echo Mountain does. It’s a very popular trail, and no matter when you hike it, expect some company.
From the corner of Loma Alta Drive and Lake Avenue, follow the trail east. A driveway branches off to the left but you head straight and descend slightly before picking up the Sam Merrill Trail. This trail begins switchbacking steadily up the hill, taking in wider and wider views as it climbs. If you have a fear of heights, this might not be the best hike for you; some of the switchbacks are pretty abrupt and the trail gets quite close to the edge of the canyon.
At about 1.3 miles the trail swings over to the east side of the ridge, allowing a nice view down into the canyon. You continue under some power lines, ascending the switchbacks. After a little over two miles of ascent, you get a nice bit of shade from some chaparral as you traverse the west side of the ridge.
At 2.5 miles, the Sam Merrill trail branches off. Stay straight and make your way to the Echo Mountain summit. Here you can see old railroad gear, read information on plaques describing the history of the area, and of course take in the great views.
If you have time and energy, you can continue farther, retracing the route of the Mt. Lowe railroad. However, most hikers will probably find the trip to Echo Mountain itself to be quite the workout. However far you go, it’s definitely an enjoyable way to burn some calories.