Descending Mt. Emma, Angeles National Forest

Old Mt. Emma

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View from Mt. Emma, Angeles National Forest
View of the San Gabriels from Mt. Emma
Old Mt. Emma, Angeles National Forest
View of the high desert from Old Mt. Emma

Old Mt. Emma

  • Location: Mt. Emma Road, northwestern San Gabriel Mountains. From the 14 Freeway, take exit 30 (Sierra Highway/Angeles Forest Highway). Take Sierra Highway northeast for 2.2 miles (it becomes Pearblossom Highway on the way) to Barrel Springs Road. Turn right and go 2.5 miles to 47 St. E. Turn right and go 1.3 miles to Mt. Emma Road. Turn right and follow Mt. Emma Road 3.8 miles to a dirt turnout on the right. The trail head coordinates are N 34 28.017, W 118 04.771. 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/Santa Clara & Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: “Pacifico Mountain”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hatsun screen
  • More information: Summit Post page here; Hundred Peaks page here; video about the hike here; Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 8
Mt. Emma Trail Head, Angeles National Forest, CA
0:00 – The trail head as seen from the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This adventurous hike offers excellent views of the high desert and the north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains. With one major steep ascent and several smaller (and also steep) climbs in both directions, it’s quite a workout too. It’s also completely exposed, so plan accordingly. The destination of the hike is Old Mt. Emma (elevation 5,063), so named when it was discovered that the ridge had a taller summit southwest. That point (elevation 5,273) became today’s Mt. Emma. The peaks and ridge are named after Emma Pallett, daughter of a local rancher.

Climbing to Mt. Emma, Angeles National Forest, CA
0:07 – Merging with the ridge (times are approximate)

From the parking area, cross Mt. Emma Road and begin ascending the signed trail. Loose in spots but easy to follow, the trail passes by small cacti, yuccas and skeletal trees burned in the Station Fire and other wildfires as it ascends steeply up to a ridge (0.2 miles). Here it merges with a fire road and continues the stiff climb. Keep track of this spot on the return as it is not well marked. As you grind up the west side of Mt. Emma Ridge, logging one thousand feet of elevation gain in less than a mile, you are rewarded with increasingly panoramic vistas.

Mt. Emma Ridge, Angeles National Forest, CA
0:32 – Heading northeast along the ridge to Old Mt. Emma

At 0.9 miles you reach the flat summit of Mt. Emma, where you can enjoy a 360-degree view, extending west to the Sierra Pelona range. If you’ve had enough at this point, you can return via the same route, but to continue to Old Mt. Emma, follow the clearly defined trail leading northeast along the ridge. Despite being lower than Mt. Emma, adding Old Mt. Emma doubles the total elevation gain of the hike, due to the ascents and descents along the ridge. The terrain is often loose and rocky; in some spots you may be able to get better traction in the dirt at the side of the trail.

Mt. Emma Ridge, Angeles National Forest, CA
0:58 – Climbing the bump on the ridge with Old Mt. Emma in the background

The ridge drops sharply to a saddle (1.4 miles) and climbs to a bump (1.9 miles). Here, you get a good view of the juniper-dotted slope of Old Mt. Emma. One more steep descent and climb brings you to the peak. Just below, bear left on a use trail branching off from the ridge and climb to the top of Old Mt. Emma, marked by a rock cairn and a ragged flag. Relax and enjoy the views, including the distant Tehachapi  Mountains and southern Sierras, while charging your batteries for the return. The steep ascents and descents on the way back should not be taken lightly.

View from Old Mt. Emma, Angeles National Forest, CA
1:25 – Northwest view from Old Mt. Emma

Text and photography copyright 2016 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.


    1. Unfortunately I haven’t seemed to be able to come across any info about the status of this area. As far as I know it’s still open but I’m not sure what the effects of recent fires are. I believe that Mt. Emma was outside the burn area of both the fire above Burbank recently and the ones in Santa Clarita last year.

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