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.
San Gabriel Peak
- Location: Angeles National Forest north of La Canada Flintridge. From I-210, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) north for 13.5 miles to Mt. Wilson Red Box Road. Turn right and go 0.4 miles to the Mt. Disappointment service road. Turn right and park in a dirt lot on the right. A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River District
- Distance: 4.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain, trail condition)
- Best season: Year-round (Check on conditions)
- USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat, Mt. Wilson
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
- More information: trip reports here and here
- Rating: 8
Pointy San Gabriel Peak is one of the more recognizable summits in the front range of the Angeles National Forest, usually visible to the west of Mt. Wilson. At 6,161 feet, it’s the second tallest summit in the front country of the San Gabriels, just three feet shorter than Strawberry Peak to the north. The recent re-opening of highway 2 has made this peak accessible to So Cal hikers. San Gabriel Peak played a roll in the history of what I find to be one of the more amusing place names in California, nearby Mt. Disappointment. That summit was given its name in 1875 when surveyors climbed to its peak, lugging some heavy survey equipment. They thought they were climbing to the highest peak in the range, but were “disappointed” when they got to the top and saw taller San Gabriel to the south.
From the dirt turnout on the Mt. Disappointment service road, cross the street and begin a steep ascent. You make a few switchbacks and the trail enters the cover of oaks, with the grade mellowing out a little bit. In half a mile, the trail passes by the service road again and continues its ascent; views to the east, including Baldy, open up at this point. Manzanitas, oaks and pines provide shade (although the trail can still feel hot during summer days).
The climb continues, finally joining the Mt. Disappointment service road for a short stretch. Head left, and when the road makes a hairpin turn, stay left to make the steep final climb to San Gabriel Peak. You walk through a grove of trees that was burned in the Station Fire, make your way up some switchbacks and arrive on the summit. Even if the views of L.A. are covered in smog, you can still enjoy vistas of the surrounding Angeles National Forest summits, and even a little bit of the Santa Monica Mountains.
On the way down, when the trail meets the service road, you can make a side-trip to Mt. Disappointment. The summit is covered with antennas and the views aren’t all that different from San Gabriel, but it’s a pretty easy way to bag another peak, and you’ll burn a few extra calories. You can also look at the summit of San Gabriel and feel what those disappointed surveyors felt all those years ago.
Nice write-up. I was thinking I was going to work my way up to tackling San Gabriel Peak via Sam Merrill or the Mt. Lowe trails, but maybe I’ll do it the easy way, instead.
Thanks! Yeah, the San Gabriel trail is a good one – pretty challenging for such a short trail.
My wife and I tried this hike today. On the very first step of the trail a rattler got upset at me and rattled. Luckily he was scared of me and retreated as fast as I did! Freaked out, we decided to walk up the Mt. Disappointment supply road to Mt. Disappointment.
Being novice hikers, we are not sure how to avoid and prevent snake interactions. While walking up the other trail with so much overgrown brush, what precautions, if any, do you take when it comes to rattlesnakes? Thanks!
Hi Jonathan, thanks for reading. Glad to hear the snake encounter turned out to be no big deal. With rattlers, keep in mind that they generally like the sun, so you’re likely to see them lying in the middle of the trail on exposed areas. Making at least some noise (talking, hitting poles together) can help alert a snake (or other animals) to your presence, so they might leave before you even see them. Also just paying attention to the terrain is important. It’s easy to get lost enjoying the scenery, but keeping an eye on the trail ahead will help you see snakes in advance. A friend I was hikin with almost stepped on a red diamond rattler, and I’ve also come upon a few pretty close up from time to time. Happy hiking and stay safe.
The area that was burned in the station fire (after the saddle) is covered in Turricula, aka Poodle Dog Bush. The bush is stronger than poison oak and treatment can include prednisone because of the weeks/months of itching. We love this trail but right now consider not walking past the saddle – trust me, the itch isn’t worth the view!
Thanks for the heads up – I was fortunate to have avoided this Poodle Dog Bush, but no doubt, hikers should take precautions.