Sandberg/Golden Eagle Loop
- Location: Northwestern Los Angeles County, between Castaic and Gorman. From I-5, take the exit for Highway 138 and head east for 4.3 miles. Turn right on the Old Ridge Route and go a total of 2.7 miles to the town site of Sandberg. Park on the side of the road near the historic plaque. 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 Clara & Mojave Rivers Ranger District
- Distance: 4.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain)
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: Liebre Mountain
- Recommended gear: hiking poles
- More information: here (mountain biking site); Everytrail report here
- Rating: 8
Panoramic high desert views, a wide variety of foliage and a little bit of California history are some of what await hikers willing to make the long trek to the northwest corner of the Angeles National Forest for this trip.The town of Sandberg was a once a resort. Its alpine setting (4,200 feet above sea level) made it a popular winter destination, and it was a stop on the Old Ridge Route, one of the first roads to connect L.A. and the Central Valley. It was supposed to be quite a treacherous drive; the speed limit was 15 miles per hour.Across the street from the Sandberg plaque, begin hiking on what is often called the Golden Eagle Trail, which heads uphill into a woodland of manzanitas, pines and oaks. You get nice views of the high desert as well. Stay right at your first junction, and continue past a spur that leads to the road. Now begins what is called the Sandberg Trail on some maps.
Soon, a quarter mile from the start, you come to a split. The Sandberg Trail, which is the return route for this loop, continues to the right. (An alternate route is to take the Sandberg Trail both up and down, resulting in a total distance of 5.4 miles.)
Those who want a challenge, however, can stay left and begin a steep ascent on a trail that is loose in some places (the poles will come in handy here). The good news is that this short stretch – where you gain 700 feet in 0.6 miles – is shaded, and you have great views of the desert and the Tehachapi Mountains as you make your way up.
At 0.9 miles from the start, you meet up again with the Sandberg Trail. The good news is that most of the effort is behind you at this point. Head left and soon you arrive at a flat meadow, where you get nice views in both directions. The meadow itself, dotted with oaks and maples, may remind So Cal hikers of San Diego’s Palomar Mountains, or perhaps the higher country of the Santa Anas.
Soon after, you cross a fire break (stay straight) and two miles from the start, you cross forest road 7n23. A few yards beyond, the trail enters a field where you get some good views to the south. This is the turnaround point, although hikers can continue on the road in either direction.
On the way back, you can descend on the steep route, but for variety, try continuing on the Sandberg Trail, which winds around the western flank of Liebre Mountain for 1.3 miles before returning to the split. Along the way, you get good views of Pyramid Lake and the hills of the Los Padres National Forest. Dusk is a particularly nice time to hike here.
At 4.3 miles, you rejoin the other route. Retrace your steps over the last 0.3 miles back to the Sandberg site.
Although it may seem remote, this hike is actually closer to downtown L.A. (and certainly the Valley) than than Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead. If you get off to an early enough start and beat the traffic, you can get here from the Valley in an hour. The trails of the northwestern Angeles National Forest aren’t as well known as their counterparts closer to L.A. but there’s a lot of great scenery up here that’s different from what one usually sees in So Cal.