Will Thrall Peak from Buckhorn Campground
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 hike. 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.
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.