This post is dedicated in memory of the 19 firefighters who died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, June 2013. To donate to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, click here.
- Location: Angeles National Forest. From I-210 in La Canada, take Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) northeast for 23.3 miles. Turn left into the signed Charlton Flats Picnic Area. Quickly turn right and head toward the picnic area. The signed Vetter Mountain trail begins on the left side of the road, half a mile down (before a metal gate.) No parking is allowed immediately next to the trail, but you can park a few dozen yards before it. The entire picnic area may be closed during the winter, requiring hikers to park on the highway itself; check the links below for updated information. 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/Los Angeles River Ranger District
- Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation gain: 700 feet
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG
- Best season: Year-round (depending on conditions)
- USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat
- Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
- More information: here and here
- Rating: 7
Vetter Mountain is perhaps best known for its historic lookout tower which, sadly, was lost in the 2009 Station Fire. Still, the peak’s unique vantage point which made it ideal for a tower location provides some great views from the summit. On clear days, you can see not only the neighboring peaks of the Angeles – Baldy, Wilson, Strawberry and Markham to name a few – but San Jacinto, Catalina Island, Old Saddleback and the Palomars of San Diego.
There are several possible routes to the top. The Vetter Mountain Trail itself, as of this writing, is very overgrown and is difficult to navigate; the trail also presents the problem of poodle dog bush, a plant that grows in burned areas and can potentially create poison oak-like symptoms if one were to come in contact with it. Therefore, the advisable route to the top is via the Silver Moccasin Trail, a paved service road and a fire road.
From the parking area, follow the signed Vetter Mountain Trail across a stream bed, doing what you can to avoid the large quantities of the poodle dog bush, and hike 0.1 miles to a junction. Take a hairpin left turn on the Silver Moccasin Trail and begin a gentle climb through woodlands still showing signs of the Station Fire. At another junction, take a hard right and soon you will arrive at a service road. The trail continues on the other side of the road and soon meets up with it again at a saddle, where there are some nice views of Mt. Wilson.
Turn right, passing by a sign indicating 1.2 miles to the lookout site. You pass an outhouse and picnic table. Continuing, you reach a Y-junction where you head uphill on the left fork, which becomes a dirt road. As you approach the summit, you will notice a portable shade structure that has been set up.
A staircase leads you to the top, where you can sit on the stone foundation of the lookout tower and enjoy the view. While the Vetter lookout was certainly a sad loss for the Angeles National Forest, hikers can take some consolation in being able to once again have access to the summit and its panoramic vistas. The hike serves too as a potent reminder of the danger of wildfire.
Text and photography copyright 2013 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.
Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles Dogs allowed Rating: 7-8 San Gabriel Mountains Season: All year Adventure Angeles National Forest Charlton Flats family Fitness Health hiking nature Outdoor park Recreation San Gabriels southern california sports Travel vacation Vetter Mountain Vetter Mountain Lookout walking wellness