Mt. Pinos (Los Padres National Forest)
- Location: North Ventura/south Kern County. From I-5, take exit 205 (Frazier Mtn. Park Road) and head west for 12.1 miles. En route, Frazier Mtn. Park becomes Cuddy Valley Road. Bear left to stay on Cuddy Valley Road (if you find yourself on Mil Potrero Highway you’re in the wrong direction) and follow it 8.5 miles to its end at the Nordic Ski Base. The views along the way are excellent but the road is narrow so exercise caution. A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Mt. Pinos Ranger District
- Distance: 3.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 550 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: June-October
- USGS topo map: Sawmill Mountain
- More information: Trip description here; Map My Hike report here; Hundred Peaks guide here; Summitpost page here
- Rating: 8
Not to be confused with Orange County’s Los Pinos Peak, Mt. Pinos is the highest point in Ventura County at 8,847 feet. It’s also the highest point in the Transverse Ranges west of the Tejon Pass. This makes it a popular recreational spot for skiers, astronomers and during the summer hikers. While an antenna installation prevents the view from the summit to be a true 360 degree panorama, the vistas are still impressive and the tall pines and alpine meadows on the way up are as much a part of this trip’s appeal. The drive through Cuddy Valley and Lake of the Woods is a highlight as well; the high country here is as different as one could imagine from the hot and dry Cajon Pass below, although it’s only 21 miles from I-5 and just over an hour from the San Fernando Valley. The peak is one of the tallest in Southern California that can be reached with a fairly easy hike. The only potential challenge of the 1.8 mile route is its altitude; hikers sensitive to altitude might want to take a few minutes to acclimate themselves before starting.
From the parking area, follow the dirt road (9N24) signed for Mt. Pinos, passing by a metal gate. The trail ascends through an attractive woodland of pines, passing by a large granite boulder at 0.4 miles that brings to mind similar geology near Big Bear Lake.
At 0.9 miles, you leave the woods and enter a wide, pine-dotted meadow which resembles the fields of the high country of the San Bernardino, San Jacinto and Laguna Mountains. While still a fire road, the trail feels more like a single-track. At about 1.2 miles, you get your first glimpse of the antenna on the summit. The trail then dips into another grove of pines before re-emerging with the peak straight ahead.
After entering the pines once more, the trail reaches a split (1.7 miles). Bear right and make the last few steps to the summit where you can enjoy excellent views to the east and north including the Central Valley and the lower Sierras.
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.
M. Pinos is a wonderful place! If one hikes this easy little dirt road in the spring, it is a real treat. The trip, during the time when patches of snow exist, is quiet and peaceful with little chance of running into another soul.
Couple of things I would note: If you walk past the ski hut, towards the camp area, there’s a really nice meadow that sometimes comes completely alive with Iris, right around now.
Also, somewhat counter-intuitively, this trail starts on the near end of the lot. After you park your car,walk back to where you car entered the lot to find the trailhead, on your right.
Hmmm. First hyperlink isn’t working, for some reason. Let me try, again.
again, probably a 3.5. short, nice “meadows” and change in vegetation. I recommend combining it with McGill to make the drive worthwhile. And the signeage is destroyed somewhat. At the first fork – right away, almost, take the left up the slope – seems logical, but ya never know. And when you hit the meadow, also the left fork. There are quite a few herd paths around here. You can also take a herd path directly off the peak, which provides a bit of variety.