Saddleback Butte State Park


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Looking northeast from Saddleback Butte
Looking northeast from Saddleback Butte
Looking southwest from Saddleback Butte
Looking southwest from Saddleback Butte

Saddleback Butte State Park

  • Location: High desert east of Lancaster and north of Pearblossom and Valyermo.  From L.A., take the 14 Freeway to the Pearblossom Highway exit.  Merge onto Sierra Highway and follow it 0.8 miles to Pearblossom Highway. Go 4.5 miles and continue onto Avenue T.  Go 11 miles and turn left on 170th St. East.  Go 9.4 miles and turn right into the park, then left into the campground.  Park by the information board near the Saddleback Butte Trailhead.  Parking is $6 per vehicle.  From Lancaster and the high desert, take Highway 14 to Avenue J.  Head east on Avenue J for 19 miles and turn right on 170th St. East, and follow the directions to the park.
  • Agency: Saddleback Butte State Park
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, terrain)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map:  Hi Vista
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun block; sun hat
  • More information: Trip description (slightly different route) here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead near the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)
0:00 – Trailhead near the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Located in the high desert east of Lancaster and Palmdale, Saddleback Butte State Park is like a mini Joshua Tree National Park.  While it doesn’t have nearly as many trails as the larger park, the climb to Saddleback Butte (elevation 3,651) is a worthwhile addition to any hiker’s resume.  Ideally, pick a cool, clear day when you can enjoy the panoramic view from the top of the peak.  You approach the peak from the west, so if you get off to an early start, you will have shade.

The hike starts easily enough, climbing only about 250 feet during the first mile. You pass by several tall Joshua trees, with the peak of Saddleback Butte dominating the foreground. After a mile, stay straight as another trail comes in from the left. Now the work begins as the grade increases. The trail bends southeast and briefly levels out, reaching a saddle where you get an excellent view of the north slope of the San Gabriels.

0:25 - Junction with the trail from the picnic area (times are approximate)
0:25 – Junction with the trail from the picnic area (times are approximate)

From here, you head northeast, climbing about 300 feet in the last quarter mile. There is a little boulder scrambling, though nothing requiring any special skills (still, parents with small kids might want to exercise caution). The trail is never too difficult to find; ducks and arrows made from pebbles or scratched in the dirt help show the way.

After a last bit of scrambling, you arrive on the summit. Here you can sit on the boulders and enjoy an unobstructed view: the San Gabriels, the Tehachapis and possibly the San Bernardino range are all visible. You also get a nice pseudo-aerial perspective on the streets running through the desert more than a thousand feet below.

0:51 - View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the saddle
0:51 – View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the saddle

When you’ve had your fill of the view retrace your steps. Exercise extra caution on the descent; your legs will likely be tired and the route down might not seem as obvious as the route up. Keeping the saddle as a focal point will be helpful if you’re worried about losing the trail.

1:00 - View from the summit
1:00 – View from the summit

Text and photography copyright 2014 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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