Will Thrall Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

Will Thrall Peak from Buckhorn Campground


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Will Thrall Peak from Buckhorn Campground

    • Location: Buckhorn Campground, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) northeast for 34.5 miles to the turnout for the Buckhorn Campground (not the day use area just before it.) When the campground is open for the season, drive into the campground and follow the signs for day use/the Burkhart Trail. Park where available in the day use area. If the gate is closed or there is no parking available in the day use area, you can park outside the gate, adding a total of 1.6 miles and 300 feet of elevation gain. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Santa Clarita and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
    • Distance: 11.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 3,300 feet
    • Suggested time: 6 hours
    • Difficulty rating: R (Elevation gain, distance, steepness, terrain, altitude)
    • Best season: May – November
    • Dogs: Allowed, assuming they are used to long hikes; also be aware that rocky terrain may be rough on their paws
    • Cell phone reception: None for first five miles; weak from Burkhart Saddle to the summit
    • Restrooms: Vault toilets at trail head
    • Water: Several creeks may be flowing year round, providing water that can be filtered
    • Camping/backpacking: At Buckhorn Campground. Dispersed camping may also be an option; there are several spots on the route that would work, including Burkhart Saddle.
    • Recommended gear: sun hat hiking poles sun block
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hiking Los Angeles
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here
    • Rating: 9

This strenuous and very scenic hike not only explores some of the best high country of the Angeles National Forest but it visits one of the more isolated summits in the San Gabriels. Will Thrall Peak (elevation 7,848) isn’t exactly a secret among L.A. hikers but it doesn’t get nearly the attention of Mt. Baldy or Mt. Baden-Powell. Hikers who are up for the challenge – including a very steep climb from the saddle to the summit and almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain required on the return route – won’t want to miss this adventure. The formidable distance and elevation gain will probably be plenty for most hikers, but those with even more energy can add side trips to Cooper Canyon Falls, Buckhorn Falls and Pallett Mountain.

Begin with an attractive descent through cedars and pines along the Burkhart Trail, catching occasional glimpses of the high desert peaks ahead. Just past the one mile marker, the trail makes a sharp right turn and enters the dense shade of Cooper Canyon. You cross Buckhorn Creek (a scramble up this creek brings you to Buckhorn Falls) and merge with the Pacific Crest Trail at 1.3 miles. Continue east, soon passing over the top of Cooper Canyon Falls and a steep use trail leading down to it. After crossing Little Rock Creek (1.7 miles) the P.C.T. branches off to the right. This section (known as the Rattlesnake Trail) of the P.C.T. has been closed since 2005 to protect the endangered yellow leg frog and has since fallen into disrepair.

The Burkhart Trail continues north, leaving the wooded canyon and climbing along exposed, rocky slopes. The vegetation reflects the merging of high desert and mountain climates with yucca, black oaks and pines. The trail is in good condition, except for a few fallen trees and a washed-out section just after the 3 mile marker that will require some caution. After negotiating this stretch the trail drops down to cross a tributary of Little Rock Creek and then resumes the steady ascent, arriving at Burkhart Saddle five miles from the start, between Pallett Mountain (east) and Will Thrall Peak (west). Enjoy a view of the high desert to the north and the Angeles National Forest to the south before beginning the difficult ascent.

Find an unmarked but fairly easy to follow use trail. After a particularly brutal climb, gaining about 650 feet in 0.4 mile, you are given a reprieve when the trail reaches a ridge on Will Thrall Peak’s east shoulder. Another short climb brings you to the summit. Here, you can reap your rewards with a nearly 360-degree view (blocked only by a slightly taller, unnamed summit to the northwest) of the high desert, Pleasant View Ridge, Mt. Waterman, Winston Peak and more. On days when the marine layer cuts down on visibility, seeing the taller peaks poking through it underscores the remoteness of this spot. A small monument honors Will Thrall (1873-1963), a local writer who was a strong advocate for hiking and the San Gabriel Mountains.

Burkhart Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA
Start of the Burkhart Trail
Buckhorn Creek, Angeles National Forest, CA
Crossing Buckhorn Creek
Burkhart Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA
Black oaks on the Burkhart Trail
Will Thrall Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA
Monument to Will Thrall
Will Thrall Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA
Looking southeast from Will Thrall Peak
Will Thrall Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA
View of the high desert from Will Thrall Peak
Will Thrall Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA
Making the steep descent back to the saddle
Burkhart Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA
Sunset on the Burkhart Trail

Text and photography copyright 2017 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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2 thoughts on “Will Thrall Peak from Buckhorn Campground

  1. Hi David – we did a version of this hike yesterday, 10.23.18. Your instructions are great, and I wish I had read them first (the last time we went to the Saddle, you hadn’t written a post on it) – I didn’t know about accessing those 2 waterfalls. We went to the saddle and headed east to Pallett Mt. It has a steep ascent somewhat like (but not as bad as) Will Thrall, but it’s shorter (about 800′ up and maybe 1/2 to 3/4 mile); we didn’t have to use our “fifth limb” on the way down. That completed for us Pleasant View Ridge, since on previous hikes we had climbed Will Thrall and the peak beyond (sometimes known as Pallett II) and the ridge from Mount Williamson to Pallett. The views from the quite long and flat top of Pallett are marvelous. We’ve been to Burkhart Saddle (once from the desert) four times now and it’s never less than spectacular and no one is on it. We clocked the trek from Buckhorn CG to Pallett at 3,000′ and about 11-1/2 miles; from Buckhorn CG to Will Thrall and beyond to Pallett II at 3660′ and 12.6 miles. You are right (still) about the sketchy spots beyond mile 3. Someone really should harden and widen the path there; it’s treacherous in those few spots, and if one makes a misstep, one is surely dead – it’s straight fine rock scree hundreds of yard to the canyon bottom below. One suggestion (or two) – if the CG is closed, the route from the exit road is shorter and less steep – so one should park near that road. Also, it doesn’t seem like there would be parking when one sees the narrow roads marked “To Burkhart Trail”; they look like signs to the trailhead only, but indeed follow them and one comes to a nice sized day parking area at the end. (No cueing the chopper on this trek.)

    1. Glad you enjoyed the hike and that you found the write-up helpful (and it is fun to see people use my lingo such as “fifth limb.” Still haven’t done Will Thrall/Pallet from the desert, or Pleasant View Ridge – both are on the list. Glad there was no chopper this time!

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