Added by Michael Wigle
Experience alpine snow hiking in Southern California and see the San Gabriel Mountains in a new light. This hike can be done by beginners, but is also great for getting acclimated for bigger winter adventures. The trailhead is located 90 minutes from downtown LA.
When you hear the report about snow in the San Gabriels, it's time to plan this hike!
Only a short 90 minute drive is all that separates nearly a third of California's population from high-altitude snowy adventures. This isn't about Yosemite, but Southern California's very own San Gabriel Mountains. About a dozen times a season snow falls on the peaks of this range to stay for a few days which is just long enough to safely explore it. Due to the possibility of a sudden whiteout, it is highly recommended to get a map and a compass. Thankfully, this are is enclosed by two roads within a relatively short distance. If you stray, take either road back east to find your car.
Less than a mile west on Angeles Crest Highway from Big Pines is a gate that is typically closed when snow is falling. If on the off-chance that it is open, you can drive an extra mile to the parking lot at Inspiration Point and the trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail. More than likely, you'll need to pull off and park to the right of the road at the gate. This is where you can begin the walk to Inspiration Point. Make sure you use the sides of the road instead of the more slippery center.
After two bends in the road, two parking lots appear with shelters and buildings. The lot to the left is Inspiration Point, which is a great place to soak in long views out past Long Beach and the ocean. The lot on the right is the trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail, and where you will begin your ascent to the thunderbolt marked Lightening Ridge. The trail switchbacks a couple times heading west. Even under heavier snow, the cut in the hill can be seen, and there are markers and benches within sight.
After 500 feet at the first bench, you can choose to continue on the trail, or take a right at the split and go up Lightening Ridge. There are a few game paths cut by both Bighorn Sheep and hikers who summit this shorter peak to catch dramatic views down Vincent Gap to the south, or into the Mojave Desert. The paths meander to and from the summit, in-between frozen brush and rocks. Head up the hill to the summit where the trees are completely void, and it rounds off. Under snow and ice, the trees twist into frozen forms in the landscape, while ice forms strings as the moisture is forced from the air.
Looking down the hill where you were headed, you should be able to make out a path that runs straight back down into the trail with signs, and a bench on the other side. Continuing on the Pacific Crest Trail will take you to Grassy Hollow, the halfway point of the hike. From here if you are lost because of visibility, remember that the Angeles Crest Highway is always south of you. Depending on conditions you can take either the road back east to the gate, or you can take the Pacific Crest Trail back up and over. This will give you 5 miles of hiking at an altitude of over 7,000 feet. It's a great way to start hiking at altitude in the snow. Hold off on the hike, if weather conditions are predicted to be poor.
After you've made it back to the car, you can cruise down the road past Big Pines to Wrightwood and the Wrightwood Inn. You're at elevation, so watch how much you drink. This is a great place to meet a few locals and learn about other hikes into the snowy wonderland high above the palm tree paradise.
- Tire Chains (CalTrans will make you put them on at a checkpoint)
- Cramp-ons if snowfall has been heavy
- Angeles National Forest Map
- Outdoor Research Mitts
- Outdoor Research Iceland Jacket
- Winter hiking boots
- Marmot Spike Hat
- Tetonsports Oasis 1100 hydration pack
- Zeal Optics Sunglasses
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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
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