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Looking north from the summit of Smith Mountain

On the approach to Smith Saddle

Smith Mountain

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in Azusa, take the Azusa Ave. exit (highway 39) and head north for a total of 18 miles.  (At 1.8 miles north of the freeway, the road bears left and becomes San Gabriel Canyon Road.)  The trail head is a quarter mile south of the Coldbrook Campground, and 5.5 miles past the turnoff for East Fork Road.  Park in the lot on the left side of the road at mile marker 32.2.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel River Ranger District
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,900 feet
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Steepness, terrain, elevation gain, distance)
  • Best season: October – June (depending on conditions)
  • USGS topo map: Crystal Lake
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9

This 5,111-foot summit may not have the most inspiring name, but the views from the top, and along the way, are exceptional. While it’s not as well known as some of the other peaks in the Angeles National Forest, Smith Mountain is a must-do for any serious L.A. hiker. Just know that the last half mile is quite a challenge, even for veterans.

From Highway 39, ascend the trail signed for the San Gabriel Wilderness. Off to the southwest, Smith’s pointy summit lurks. As you ascend toward the saddle, taking in nice views of the San Gabriel Canyon and the higher summits to the east, you may notice the steep route up the side of the mountain.  The trail is almost entirely exposed, although you do cross a couple of creeks and have some brief moments of shade.

After three enjoyable miles, you arrive at Smith Saddle (elevation 4,290). Here, the trail descends past the San Gabriel Wilderness boundary. This is a good turnaround point for those who are doubtful about making the summit–which will, from here, require over 800 feet of elevation gain in a half mile. Those who want to continue will be well served to rest and charge their batteries here–with views that include Baldy to the east, and Mt. Wilson and other front-country summits to the west.

When ready, ascend the steep fire break, heading south. The climbing becomes steeper, and undoubtedly you will be using your hands as much as your feet as you make your way through the rocks. The route is never too hard to follow, and as steep as it is, there are plenty of hand-holds. About half way between the saddle and the summit, you can take a break at a large flat rock and enjoy a panoramic view.

Continuing along the ridge, you arrive at a false summit, and afterward, your going gets slightly easier. A short flat stretch leads to one last push to the real summit, where you get great views of the L.A. basin, the Santa Anas, the Puente Hills and the higher San Gabriel summits to the north. While the view doesn’t quite have the 360-degree effect of a Mt. Baldy or a Baden-Powell, it’s still quite dramatic, well worth the effort.

Of course, your work is not done yet. The descent requires extreme caution (the hiking poles will be helpful, but you will probably be using your hands as well–and perhaps what I like to refer to as the “fifth limb.”) Be careful of the small tree roots poking out from the rocks. Fortunately, once you make it back to the saddle, the three miles back to the car are easy pickings. Most hikers who make the trip to this relatively lightly visited mountain will agree that it’s worth the effort.

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.  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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