Climb Mt. Wilson from Chantry Flat
Los Angeles › Chantry Flats
Added by Michael Wigle
This Mt. Wilson route is the best way to train for longer expeditions. This vigorous mountain hike offering rewarding views. You can add another 4 miles if you return on the wilderness trail.
Mt. Wilson is one of the more difficult mountains in the San Gabriel to hike, making this adventure Intermediate. While 5,700 feet doesn't seem that tall, the mountain has a prominence of almost 5,300 feet, meaning that hike is steeper and longer than some of the other popular mountains that start you near the summit. The trail from Chantry Flat is an old packing trail that carves close to the steep mountain, making for some spectacular views on either side of Mt. Wilson. This also means switchbacks that travel up and down, giving you almost 6,000 feet of climbing do to in the process.
By taking Santa Anita Ave. all the way north to her terminus, you will drive through the Angeles National Forest gate and up the winding canyon road to Chantry Flat. You will need an Adventure Pass, Forestry Pass, or day pass which you can get from the park office just off the 210 Freeway at the Santa Anita Ave. exit. The gate opens at 6 am and closes at 9pm everyday, so make sure you have enough time to hike and get back to your car, otherwise, you'll be spending the night!
The old camping and mule-packing outpost is at the head of the trail. Typically, low clouds in the canyon will be hanging around this elevation. At only 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, this is a surreal moment in the silence of the canyon, and in the shadow of the mountains. It's a great way to decompress from life in the city, and get an authentic backcountry experience. Here, the store is open just about the same hours as the gate (allowing time to arrive and close). You can pick up any missed essentials, including a map, and make some new friends with a wealth of knowledge on this area.
The trail is near the store, and clearly marked "Mt. Wilson" so don't delay and start your hike. The first few miles switch easily around the steep chaparral canyon walls in the cool morning air. There is lots of wildlife to be seen, and in spring, the canyon is lush, green, and full of flowers. In about an hour you will come to the first real switch back. This one sets the pace for the rest of the day, as it climbs 800 ft into a steep alpine forested section. Don't be surprised if you're out of breath, this will help warm you up for the day.
The switchbacks through the forest continue for a few miles at a good pace. There are some downhill sections through areas you couldn't image existing from looking at the mountain from Pasadena. If you've hiked the ridge trail from Sierra Madre, you've missed out on the untouched natural north face of the ridge. Eventually, you will make it out onto the ridge, and into the sun. There is a bench to catch your breath for a moment, as the first section is done. Grab a snack, and head up the ridge, following the "Mt. Wilson" signs.
After passing the radio tower station, it will likely be very hot and dry, so make sure you stay hydrated. The last push to the summit is a long switchback that slowly increases in steepness as it nears the big towers at the top. The views across the ridges are spectacular, so the slow pace is enjoyable. Once you are at the summit, there is a viewing platform with the Cosmic Cafe. During the summer months, you don't need to carry a lunch, just some cash if you want to eat there and take in the views that stretch beyond Catalina Island. On a clear day, you can see forever!
You can then visit the free museum about the observatory, walk the road along the various telescopes until it ends, and stand on the overlook to take in 360º views of the San Gabriel wilderness. Don't spend too long, as you are not only beating the clock to not get shut in, but darkness, which will blanket the northern trail by about 7pm. It's quicker to retrace your steps down the Mt. Wilson Trail, but more of a challenge and scenic, to take the Sturtevant Trail an additional 4 miles, deep into the backside of the valley.
The head of the Sturtevant Trail is right across from the main telescope, and is clearly marked. I recommend having a map for this section, as one wrong turn will take you deep into the San Gabriels, far from cell-reception and Chantry Flat. The descent begins steeply along switchbacks in thick pine forests. There are some sections that are prone to washout, so make sure that you are on the trail, and not wandering off of it. There is a section near a rock gully that can be confusing without a map, so use it!
Toward the bottom of the canyon, there are cabins, and two trail heads to stay off of. The first is the Mt. Zion trail to the right. Within a few hundred feet is the fork for the Gabrieleno Trail. Stay to the right and head deeper down the canyon toward Sturtevant. This section is relaxing after the long day of steep hiking. It's cool in the summer months along the wash which usually isn't dry until late August. There are waterfalls, deciduous trees, and moss. It's a different world as the sun casts a shadow, reminding you to keep a decent pace to the end. There are dozens of picturesque cabins nestled into the rocks, over waterfalls, and it all looks out of a fairy tale.
Toward the end of the Gabrieleno trail is the paved road back up to Chantry. There is another sign marking it. You will switchback up a steep section once more, and on your first trip, it will likely already be dark. Get to your car and head down the road. If you're lucky, you'll be able to fit in an incredible sunset over the San Gabriel Valley, still 1,000 feet above it. It's a fitting end to 12+ hour trek!
On the way back down Santa Anita Ave. off of Huntington Dr. is Matt Denny's Ale House. They serve Bell's Brewery beer from Michigan. I always recommend a Two Hearted Ale to recover from that trip!
- Cotopaxi Luzon Pack
- Plenty of Water
- Pair of Pacemaker Stix
- Cliff Bars
- Good hiking shoes
- Midweight shirt layer
- Petzl Headlamp
- Bug spray (for the morning/evening)
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ReviewsLeave a Review
I'm leaving this review still sore and hungry from this summit, in December 2016. Six friends and I spent the weekend at Sturtevant Camp, about 4 miles of moderately difficult trail up from Chantry Flat. The camp is a rarity in LA: not too busy since all gear and food must be either brought in on your back or via pack mule at 50 cents a pound, and requires reservations for a coveted bed in one of the adorable heated cabins. After spending the night at Sturtevant, having a hearty breakfast cooked in the industrial kitchen, and playing around the camp (badminton, ziplining, frisbee, a giant swing), 6 of us set off with multiple sandwiches each to summit Mt. Wilson around 1 p.m., figuring we'd be back in time for a well-deserved dinner. The 3-ish mike hike up from Sturtevant Camp is basically all steep switchbacks on a narrow trail. As you near the top, the trail gives you peeks of some incredible scenery in all directions: the ocean, greater LA, a slice of the 2 highway near what I am guessing was Switzer Picnic Area, and the gorgeous wilderness to the north/northeast. The trail is loose, narrow, and rocky, and while it's mostly just an uphill slog, there's a bit of variety to keep it interesting. December brought frankly frigid winds on the northeast sides of the mountain, so be prepared for a lot of stops to take jackets on and off. The observatory at the peak is a nice diversion, although the campus is large and walking around might not be exactly what the doctor ordered after 3 miles of huffing and puffing. Make sure to stop at Echo Rock on the east side of the peak, though. The wind was crazy in the mid-afternoon and it was refreshing to howl at the top of our lungs with no one around to care. Descending as the sun went down was exciting and a little scary, knowing how steep and loose the trail was, with somewhat sharp drop offs. Our headlamps barely cut through the darkness, but the trail is very clear and there are basically no points where you could get lost. The way up took about 2.5 hours with an intermediate pace and a lot of breaks, and the way down took about an hour and 20 minutes with a faster pace and few breaks. We were cautious because of the dark, though. Overall it's a bit more exhausting than any map can quite prepare you for. The way up is relentlessly vertical and the trip down is hard on the back, feet, and knees, not to mention that almost everyone in my group lost their footing on the loose ground at least once. It's a fun accomplishment, but there are certainly more enjoyable, scenic, longer hikes in the area that I would recommend for a weekend adventure. I'm ecstatic I did it, but probably won't do it again unless I'm training for something strenuous.
Sierra Intensity, Close To Home
A great all day hike (and I mean all day, 8am to 5pm!). Has the intense elevation gain of the Eastern Sierra, but much closer to home. Folks I know used this hike to train for Mt. Whitney. Fingers crossed you get a clear day at the top, you'll see all the way to the cargo ships in Long Beach. I've seen bobcats on the trail, so keep a lookout!
I went to Mt. Wilson today! This is an incredible hike. Once we got away from the crowds who stick close to the falls trail and the Chantry Flats parking lot, it felt like we were far away from LA. Unfortunately we didn't summit since we hadn't gotten started on the hike until 11 am. We turned around in the rock garden area after realizing that we still had another 1.5ish hours to the top. By that point, it was after 2pm. I am a slow hiker and this trail is STEEP - I had read about a net elevation gain of 3900 feet but that number is misleading, you will climb more than that, descend, and climb again. Coming down was faster, and we made it back to our car just as the sun was going down at about 4:45pm. Can't wait to go again with an earlier start and have time to summit. Make sure you bring a snack or two, a map, plenty of water (2 or 3 liters), and some electrolytes.
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