Rattlesnake Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

Rattlesnake Peak

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    • Location: Shoemaker Canyon Road, Angeles National Forest. From the 210 Freeway in Azusa, take Highway 39 north for a total of 11.7 miles. Turn right onto East Fork Road and go 3.3 miles to Shoemaker Canyon Road. Bear left and follow Shoemaker Canyon Road for 1.9 miles to its ending at a large dirt turnout before a yellow metal gate. A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest
    • Distance: 8.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 3,900 feet
    • Suggested time: 6.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: R (Steepness, elevation gain, terrain, distance, trail condition)
    • Best season: November – April (Do not attempt if there has been recent snow or rain)
    • Dogs: Allowed, but strongly discouraged due to the difficult, exposed terrain and steep incline
    • Cell phone reception: None
    • Restrooms: None
    • Water: None
    • Camping/backpacking: Dispersed camping is allowed in the Angeles national Forest but there are few spots on this route that will lend themselves to camping, except perhaps the summit. Keep in mind too that there is no water, so you will have to carry a lot of extra weight, making what is already a difficult hike even harder.
    • Recommended gear: sun hat hiking poles
    • More information: SummitPost page here; Hundred Peaks page here; AllTrails page here
    • Rating: 9

Rattlesnake Peak is about as inviting as its name might lead you to believe. It’s not its height (5,826 feet) but its isolated location, requiring a long, steep slog up a use trail, which has led it to be often called the second most difficult summit in the San Gabriels (after Iron Mountain). However, those who prepare and know what to expect will be rewarded with solitude and excellent views both from the summit and on the way up.

The hike starts off innocently enough with a 1.5 mile stroll that picks up 400 vertical feet along Shoemaker Canyon Road, the doomed “Road to Nowhere” that was built by convict labor in the 1960s as an escape route during the cold war. At mile marker 3.39, approximately 2,700 feet above sea level and shortly before the first tunnel, look for a steep use trail on the left. The short but steep and loose 50-foot scramble is a taste of what’s to come. The use trail meets an abandoned road that briefly heads west, curving around the upper end of the canyon and reaching a saddle, 1.8 miles from the start, altitude approximately 3,000. Now the fun begins.

Look for another steep use trail heading west (left), climbing about 500 feet in 0.4 mile. Once you reach the toe of the ridge, you will see the rest of the route spread out before you to the northwest: an intimidating looking sequence of ridges leading up to the summit. The rest of the hike mixes steep, often loose climbs with brief level stretches – and a few drops, which of course must be made up on the return (going down will require at least 200 additional feet of elevation gain, on tired legs.)

Arguably the most difficult stretch of the hike starts at 2.7 miles. Here, you engage in a climb of about 700 feet in 0.5 mile – and your reward is a difficult traverse along a knife edge (think Devil’s Backbone – but narrower and rockier). After this, you make a short but very steep descent to a saddle where the next item on your agenda is a climb of 300 feet in a quarter mile. The good news is that from here there’s “only” another 800 feet of elevation gain to the summit.

Keep slugging your way up the steep use trail and note that the rounded peak that appears to be the summit is not your destination. Once you reach the top, though, your work is almost done as the trail follows a more or less level stretch of the ridge and makes a final push of about 200 feet to the summit.

Now your efforts are rewarded with dramatic views in all directions. While the taller peaks (Mt. Hawkins to the northwest; Baden-Powell to the north; Iron Mountain and Baldy to the northeast) prevent a true 360-degree panorama, the line of sight to the south is unobstructed and if visibility is good you will see Catalina and Old Saddleback. You also get an outstanding perspective on the deep East Fork canyon of the San Gabriel river; in fact, should you still have gas in the tank you can descend briefly to the north to a vista point on the ridge line and see the Bridge to Nowhere, some 3,000 feet below.

After enjoying the visual fruits of your labors and resting up for the steep descent, it’s time to head back down. Expect to spend almost as much time, perhaps even more – the grades are brutal and the uphill sections, short as they may be, will test your morale. Finally, at the bottom, you can relax on the easy Road to Nowhere stretch and look forward to sharing your accomplishment with others.

Rattlesnake Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA
Use trail leaving the Road to Nowhere
Rattlesnake Peak hike, Angeles National Forest, CA
Heading uphill from the saddle
Rattlesnake Peak, Angeles National Forest
Looking up at the ridge to Rattlesnake Peak
Rattlesnake Peak, Angeles National Forest
View down into the East Fork of the San Gabriel River from the summit
Rattlesnake Peak, Angeles National Forest
Iron Mountain and Mt. Baldy as seen from the summit
Rattlesnake Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA
Southeast view from the summit
Rattlesnake Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA
Looking west from the summit
Rattlesnake Peak, Angeles National Forest, AC
Descending Rattlesnake Peak

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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