- 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.
Great trail! I was out there today and had it all to myself. Thanks for your write-up. I had never even heard of Smith Mountain, but I loved the hike and the views.
Thanks! Glad you were able to experience it. It’s a great one.
Stellar hike! Definitely offers rewarding views and a peaceful moment after the intense climb. Loved.
Glad to hear it! Smith’s certainly a great hike that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Thanks for reading.
I climbed Smith Mountain today and like a previous poster, was the only person on the Mountain. I was looking forward to the scramble to the summit and it didn’t disappoint. Spectacular at the top. Signed the log book. The last person up was back in late August. I was pleasantly surprised that the use trails to the summit were a little better defined than I was expecting.
This hike should be classified as a double rating for difficulty: a PG (at most) for the first three miles and a NC-17 for the last half mile. We spent nearly as much time ascending and descending the last half mile as we did the rest of the trip. And yes, it is a 9. The view is unique since at the top you still can’t see the LA valley/Inland Empire and there are valleys few hikers experience. For those people like myself who are concerned about motorcycle/car noise which can often ruin a hike, we heard some traffic noise, but only on the last scramble to the top. And this was on a Sunday – prime motorcycling cruising day.
I did this trail 11/17/13 with and it was great. We ran into a couple of bear hunters and only a few hikers and really enjoyed the trail. We liked it so much we decided to come back the next weekend and try to push on down to Bear Creek. That trail was a little dicier. There was a wash out about 1/3 of a mile down which we negotiated, and then a little over a mile from the saddle there is a toolbox off the trail and past that the trail was percarious. We made it past by clinging to rotten crumbling rock and roots, but in retrospect probably shouldn’t have. We made it about 3/4 from the creek (according to the distance on the map), but the trail was overgrown and we couldn’t really see how it descended to the creek. That coupled with the fact that we promised our wives we’d be back home at a decent hour and the prospect of the climb back up to the saddle made us turn around. Creeping past the dicey parts is not recommended for a fat old man, but I made it. Alls well that ends well though. Really two enjoyable hikes.
I’d like to reconnoiter the trail a few miles from the other direction from the West Fork just to see if we can make it through and then do the whole 11 mile trail from one end to the other.
I appreciate your review, I probably never would have done it without reading the post, I’ll definitely do it again.
Sounds like quite an adventure! Glad the blog was helpful to you. If you got any pictures feel free to post them on our Facebook page.
thoroughly enjoyed Smith, but we almost didn’t get there. We were stopped on the road and told that because of the repair work from the Madre (Azusa) Fire we might have to wait “an hour or two.” We talked them into letting us go through after 15 mins or so, but then we faced the helicopter staging area right at the trailhead. We parked at the camp ground and walked to the trail head. I don’t think they saw us. On the way back, the helicopter with equipment dangling (pic to folo) was right overhead and one of the workers said “this area is kind of restricted.” So caveat emptor these days on getting to the Smith trailhead. The burn area (devastating and you can still smell the smoke) stops about 1/2 mile before Smith. Next time we hope to do the peak to the north of Smith, which looks pretty doable from the saddle.
Got a chance to knock out this hike before the rains hit tomorrow. First couple of miles are a pleasant gradual climb then you get your money’s worth with the rocky and vegetative final ascent to the peak. Spectacular views! Thanks millions for getting this city dude off the couch and out exploring our local trails!
Glad to hear you enjoyed the hike and also glad to hear that this site has been a good resource for you. Hope you get to do a lot more great hiking in ’16.
Even with an early start we caught the heat last Sunday. The 1/2 mile scramble to the top is a workout in itself. Great views along that section though. Thanks again for a great hiking website!
Thank you! Yes it was one helluva climb up that last stretch….