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: 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: Henninger Flats Fire Station
- Distance: 5.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
- Suggested time: 3 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness)
- Best season: November – June
- USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
- Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
- More information: here
- Rating: 7
This is one of the more popular and challenging hikes in the Angeles National Forest front country. While the grade is steep and the terrain largely exposed, the views are great and navigation is simple. The fire road goes close enough to the edge of the cliff to provide excitement without acrophobia. With an early enough start, and extra water, this hike is doable during the summer.
From the gate at Pinecrest, head downhill into Eaton Canyon (this is also the access point for the popular waterfall.) Across the way, you will see an intimidating looking path leading uphill. Not to worry; this isn’t your route. You head down to a bridge, where a path heads up Eaton Canyon. Head across the bridge, and arrive at a split.
Remember when I told you that you didn’t have to go uphill? I was messing with you. Get ready to climb. The Mt. Wilson Toll Road ascends steadily, winding up alongside the hill. The good news is that the higher you climb, the better the views are, including downtown L.A. and the San Gabriel peaks above. Even the toll road itself is interesting when viewed from the air, with its various twists and turns.
You pass by a junction with a single-track trail that descends back toward Eaton Canyon, and your route continues to switchback up toward Henninger Flats, which soon becomes visible. Several benches allow you to rest and take in the scenic rewards. Finally, at 2.7 miles, you arrive at the Henninger Flats campground.
Under the pine trees, you can rest at one of the picnic tables and enjoy the view, or check out some of the historic buildings here at the site. Hardcore hikers can continue all the way up to Mt. Wilson, but most will probably happy with the accomplishment of having made it this far.