Bear Ridge to Mt. Baldy

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    • Location: Mt. Baldy Visitor Center. From I-210, take Mountain Avenue north (it becomes Shinn Road on the way) until it ends at a T-junction with Mt. Baldy Road.  Take a right and go 5 miles to Mt. Baldy Village. Park next to the visitor’s center. A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for a year) is required. Click here to purchase. (You can also reach the visitor center by taking I-210 to Baseline Road, heading east on Baseline, taking a quick right on Padua and following it to Mt. Baldy Road where you bear to the right and follow it to the village). If the gate to the visitor center is closed, park head-in outside, across from the Mt. Baldy Lodge. (Note that no parking is allowed on the private road in back of the visitor center).
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel River Ranger District
    • Distance: 12.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 5,800 feet
    • Suggested time: 9 hours
    • Difficulty rating: NC-17 (Elevation gain, steepness, distance, altitude, terrain)
    • Best season: June – October
    • Dogs: Allowed but not recommended due to the strenuous nature of the hike
    • Cell phone reception: None for most of the route; weak in some spots
    • Restrooms: Vault toilets in back of the visitor center (closed during off hours)
    • Water: None (Bear Creek may have water, but there is no other water source above Bear Flat)
    • Camping/backpacking: Bear Flat has a small trail camp. For information about permits, fire restrictions and more, check the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center’s website. There are a few spots higher up on the trail that may work as dispersed campsites. Keep in mind that there is no water source above Bear Flat. For information on Angeles National Forest fire restrictions, click here.
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; clothes appropriate for elevations ranging from 4,260 to 10,064 feet (even during the summer, the peak may be very windy)
    • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here; Yelp page here
    • Rating: 10

Thank you readers for your loyalty to this website. It’s always nice to hear that people are enjoying it, finding it useful and learning about new places to hike. It’s been a lot of fun to bring NHLA from its creation seven and half years ago to today, when I bring you hike #1000: Mt. Baldy from Bear Ridge.

Any of the approaches to Mt. Baldy are memorable and challenging hikes but some of them are more memorable and challenging than others. The Bear Canyon Trail up Bear Ridge on the mountain’s south face, also known as the Old Baldy Trail because it predates the Ski Hut route, is memorable and it is very challenging. This is a hike ideal for those who have already climbed Baldy from the Notch or via the Ski Hut Trail. Because it is more strenuous, it attracts fewer hikers, although it does get regular visitation. (As of this writing, there has been virtually no rain this season, so without snow, the mountain is still accessible without specialized equipment or expertise.) The trail starts in Mt. Baldy Village and ascends for more than six very long, steep miles to arrive at the summit, well over a vertical mile higher. The views are incredible the whole way up – but they don’t come easily.

From the visitor center, the signed trail leads to a private residential road where a steep ascent brings you to the start of the official trail. The first segment of the trail, to Bear Flat, a meadow at the headwaters of Bear Creek (elevation 5,530) is covered in greater detail here. While the hike to Bear Flat is vigorous, with 1,300 feet of elevation gain in less than two miles, the remainder of the trail is harder.

Immediately after leaving Bear Flat, the trail makes a series of steep, tight switchbacks up the eastern-facing slope of Bear Ridge. The visual rewards include a dramatic view of San Antonio Canyon and Icehouse Canyon far below; in the distance are Icehouse Saddle and the Three Ts. At about 6,700 feet in elevation you enter the shade of some pines. At 7,155 feet you reach a pair of jagged granite rocks known as the Three Mile Boulders. The views here are excellent. This spot marks the approximate halfway point both in distance and elevation gain, but the remaining portion of the hike is at higher altitude, meaning you will likely feel the effects.

From the rocks, the trail continues its relentless climb, picking up about 1,200 feet in the next mile. One of your visual rewards is an outstanding view into Cattle Canyon, nearly a vertical mile below. Farther west are Mt. Wilson, Strawberry Peak and if visibility is good, downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

At about 9,000 feet, you reach “The Narrows” – a knife edge similar to the Devil’s Backbone on the mountain’s eastern slope. Like the Devil’s Backbone, this stretch of trail may test the nerves of some hikers, but if the weather is good, it’s easy enough to traverse. Exercise appropriate caution if there is wind. (Hiking poles will be helpful). By this point, most of the difficult hiking is behind you and you will see the summit, as well as neighboring West Baldy and Mt. Harwood. You will also see Mt. Baldy Notch far below to the east. Off in the distance are the other “saints” – San Gorgonio and San Jacinto.

The trail then narrowly cuts across a west-facing slope (be careful as it is washed out in some spots), crosses under West Baldy and then makes its final assault on the summit. The views from Baldy are, it goes without saying, exceptional, ranging from L.A. and the ocean to the Tehachapis and Sierras to the north, the San Bernardinos, San Jacnitos and Santa Rosas to the east and southeast, the Santa Anas and Palomars to the south and everything in between.

After enjoying the views and resting your legs, the steep, grueling descent awaits. Other options besides retracing your steps include descending via the Devil’s Backbone to the notch, taking the ski lift down and then getting a ride back to the visitor center, or taking the Ski Hut trail to Manker Flats and getting a ride from there (or leaving a car). Another option – perhaps not for everyone – is the “Fool’s Traverse.”

Regardless of how you get down from the summit, climbing Bear Ridge to Baldy is a major achievement and a hike that will not soon be forgotten.

Old Mt. Baldy Trail
Start of the hike at the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center
Old Mt. Baldy Trail
Steep ascent above Bear Flat
Icehouse Canyon from the Old Mt. Baldy Trail
Icehouse Canyon from above Bear Flat
Old Mt. Baldy Trail
Looking south toward San Antonio Canyon
Old Mt. Baldy Trail, Three Mile Boulders
Three Mile Boulders
Old Mt. Baldy Trail
View of Cattle Canyon from about 8,400 feet elevation
Old Mt. Baldy Trail
The Narrows, elevation about 9,000 feet
Old Mt. Baldy Trail
Ascent after the Narrows
Summit of Mt. Baldy, CA
Looking east from the summit
Summit of Mt. Baldy, Angeles National Forest
Northwest view from the summit
Summit of Mt. Baldy, CA
Looking northeast from the summit
Old Mt. Baldy Trail
Dusk on the Bear Canyon 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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