- Location: Red Box Picnic Area, Angeles National Forest. From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway northeast for 14 miles and park at the Red Box Picnic Area, at the junction with the road to Mt. Wilson. From the high desert, take the Angeles Forest Highway south to Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Turn left and go 9 miles to the Angeles Crest Highway. Turn right and go 4.3 miles to Red Box, which will be on the left. 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: 7 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
- More information: Trip descriptions (pre-Station Fire) here and here; trip reports both pre-and post-Station Fire here; Hundred Peaks page here; Everytrail report here; video shot from the summit here
- Rating: 9
Strawberry Peak (elevation 6,164 feet) is the tallest summit in the front country of the San Gabriel Mountains, beating San Gabriel Peak by a mere yard. The peak has only recently been opened for legal access following the Station Fire. Thanks to the efforts of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, the trail has been restored. Though poodle dog bush–the plant that causes irritation similar to that of poison oak–can be found in abundance on the trail, it’s not as bad as in some other parts of the Station Fire burn area.
The mountain’s name comes from its resemblance to an upside-down strawberry. On most clear days, Strawberry Peak is visible from the L.A. basin, appearing as a round bump behind San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Wilson. The mountain’s prominence provides hikers with excellent views, but it also requires a very steep climb.
Fortunately the hike starts easily. From Red Box, carefully cross the Angeles Crest Highway and pick up the trail on the opposite side. It ascends gradually, running parallel to the highway for about 0.6 miles. It then veers to the north, entering a pleasant oak woodland. Unfortunately, this short stretch represents more or less all of the shade on the whole hike.
At 0.8 miles, you make a hairpin left turn and head west, back toward Mt. Wilson. You reach a saddle (1.1 miles) where you get an excellent view to the west, including Mt. Lukens, Josephine Peak, the Santa Monica Mountains and more. The trail follows the western slope of Mt. Lawlor for an enjoyable 1.3 miles. If you’ve gotten an early start, the sun will be blocked by the mountain, making your hike pleasantly cool. At about 2 miles, you round a corner and Strawberry Peak’s intimidating contour comes into view. Shortly after, you reach Lawlor Saddle (2.4 miles.)
By now, you’ve done about 2/3 of the distance, but only 1/3 of the elevation gain. Make sure you rest up. Follow the steep trail up the ridge, quickly gaining 150 feet as you reach the top of a knoll. You then have to relinquish about half of that as the trail drops sharply to a saddle. From there, the trail ascends relentlessly, with only a few flat stretches. The good news is that each time you stop to catch your breath, you’ll be treated to excellent views, which now include Mt. Baldy to the east.
Picking your way farther up the trail, you pass by a few Coulter pines that survived the fire. You reach a false summit and follow a ridge line a short distance before finally arriving on the real peak.
Before the Station Fire, pines blocked the view. While you may miss their shade on hot days, their absence means that you can enjoy a true 360-degree panorama. On days of exceptional visibility, you can see Santa Cruz Island and the Topa Topa range near Ojai to the west, San Jacinto to the east and the Palomar Mountains to the southeast. Make sure you rest your legs for the steep descent back to Lawlor Saddle.
On a personal note, my first encounter with Strawberry Peak, pre-Station Fire, was the first true butt-kicking I ever experienced on a trail. While I would go on to many more difficult peaks, Strawberry was the toughest one I’d done at the time, far more difficult than I expected. I had long been looking forward to being able to go back and while I was grateful for the opportunity, I can honestly report that it was as hard as I’d remembered. Thus I give it the “evil” distinction of being hike #666 posted on this site. Nevertheless, despite the challenges it presents, it’s an essential San Gabriel summit with views that are worth the effort.
Text and photography copyright 2015 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.
It’s still not clear to me if the trail from Red Box to Strawberry is officially open. Obviously a lot of people are walking the trail, but when I last went there (June 2014), the trail closure stake was still in the middle of the trail near the start, and the trail was in need of repair at several places. I looked then and have re-looked more recently but have not been able to find a formal announcement from the USFS that this trail is open. I think it’s possible Strawberry can still only legally be approached from the west, via Colby Canyon or Josephine Fire Road. But I have never gotten around to asking a responsible USFS rep if that’s the case or not. I should probably have investigated the trailhead a few weeks ago, when I did some astronomy from Red Box Junction.
There was no closure sign as of yesterday and there were dozens of people on the trail, which is overall in pretty good condition. That said, the USFS information is somewhat confusing and conflicted and it’s not clear whether the order of 5/24/2014 impacted the Strawberry Peak trail. Regardless based on observation I feel confident that the trail can be hiked legally from Red Box.
I was in the area over the weekend and asked the person in the info building at Clear Creek junction. She confirmed you are correct; the trail from Red Box and from Colby Canyon have both been open since May. As I said, however, when I visited the Red Box trailhead in JUNE, there was a “Trail Closed” stake right in the middle of that trail. They really need to get their act together.
Did this hike today from Red Box. It was gorgeous. The trail is in excellent shape. We met 3 hikers at the top who had come in from Colby and said the train there was open as well. Your description was perfect, and we appreciated the detail – so much better than the books (all pre-2009 Station Fire) and other Web sites (AllTrails.com is a disaster). We didn’t think it was unusually difficult for seasoned hikers – certainly not as difficult at Mt. Baldy – at least from Red Box. Frankly, rather short – we were up and back in 4 hours, including a 20 minute lunch break at the top (and we’re in our 70s).
Thank you! Yes, I strive for accuracy and making the info as up-to-date as possible. It’s true that Strawberry Peak is not as hard as some of the other San Gabriel summits such as Baldy, but that last mile is definitely a challenge. Glad to hear you enjoyed the hike!
Redid this hike Friday (1.30.2020) – and it seemed harder this time per your description! We took 4.5 hours this time (with 20 min lunch break). Still well-maintained, and well-used, even on a Friday (ran into 5 hikers up and back). Still one of our favorites – views fantastic – to Catalina Island and beyond – and of the interior of the Angeles.
Yes…Strawberry Peak has kicked my butt both times I’ve done it!
I did this hike this weekend. It was a wonderful hike. Thanks much for your accurate description.
Great, glad you found it helpful. Hope the site helps you find some other good hikes.
Last weekend my daughter and I went to Colby bridge Day Use Area. The Colby Camp manager was there with the gate closed but he opened it for us. He said that it will be opened daily starting in the summer. From the parking lot the trail is very hard to find. Only remnants of it remain so hiking to Strawberry Potrero would be very exploratory. Still the area is beautiful we a running stream and trout there.
Finally knocked this one off – perfect directions, thank you. 3.5 hours, including a break. Small parts of the trail on the Lawlor section are perilously close to being completely eroded. Hope they’ll get shored up soon.
Thank you, glad you found the directions helpful.