Text and photography copyright 2011 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: Across from Mt. Wilson Trail Park in Sierra Madre. From I-210, take the Baldwin Ave. exit, head north for 1.5 miles (through downtown) and turn right on Mira Monte. Park on the street across from Mt. Wilson Trail Park.
- Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
- Distance: 7 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Steepness, distance, elevation gain)
- Best season: November-May
- USGS topo map: “Mt. Wilson”
- Recommended gear: hiking poles
- More information: here
- Rating: 8
This is one of the more challenging and enjoyable hikes accessible from the north edge of the San Gabriel Valley. The historic Mt. Wilson trail climbs steeply, quickly moving hikers away from suburbia and into the peacefulness of Little Santa Anita Canyon. The camp was a mountain resort until 1940, and some stone foundations of the buildings are still visible.
From Mira Monte, head uphill on Mt. Wilson Trail Drive and turn left onto the trail. After a quarter mile of steep climbing, head left on a fire road and continue the ascent. The trail continues to go uphill at a steady grade, and soon you are rewarded with great views of the mountains above and the San Gabriel Valley below. Following recent rains, the creek in Little Santa Anita Canyon is flowing, and several waterfalls can be seen from above.
The trail hugs the side of the canyon, and although it never feels too precarious, some hikers may find hiking poles to be helpful. After making a few switchbacks, climbing some stairs and negotiating a short but steep and loose stretch, the trial arrives at a split at 1.5 miles from Sierra Madre. Downhill (right) brings you to First Water, a pleasant stop where the trail meets the creek. The main route continues to the left. At this point, you have already done the majority of the climbing. The trail levels out for a little while, makes a few more ascents and enters a pleasant wooded area.
At three miles, you make a slight descent and reach the creek again, just below Decker Spring. This is a particularly attractive place to take a break, although you are only half a mile from the end. To the left of the trail, notice a small waterfall cascading over a giant fallen tree. After crossing the creek, you make one final ascent and then it’s more or less level hiking into Orchard Camp. The only tricky part is crossing under another huge tree that’s fallen and blocks the trail.
Orchard Camp is located right next to the stream, and makes a peaceful, pleasant setting to enjoy before heading back down to civilization. Die-hard hikers should know that, yes, the trail does continue all the way to Mt. Wilson. If you’re going to make the trip, you can add 7 miles round trip and 2,700 feet of elevation gain to your tab.