Los Angeles Area Hikes

Mount Baldy (the Hard or Easy Way)
By Ann Marie Brown & Julie Sheer
Page 2 of 4   |  
Key Info
Level : Strenuous or butt-kicker
Total Distance : 6.4 or 13.6 miles round-trip
Hiking Time : 4 or 7 hours
Elevation Gain : 2,200 or 3,500 feet
Summary : An epic trek to the highest summit in the San Gabriel Range and the third highest summit in Southern California.

The Hike
There are those who say that hiking Mount Baldy with the aid of the ski lift is just plain cheating. Although we admire their honorable work ethic, we respectfully submit that the ski lift “handicap” can be just plain fun. Check with your conscience and decide for yourself. You can hike the entire 13.6-mile round-trip to the summit, conquering a 3,500-foot elevation gain, or you can ride the ski lift to Mount Baldy Notch, then hike the remaining 6.4 miles round-trip with a more forgiving 2,200-foot elevation gain. Take your pick—we won’t judge you either way.

To do the trip the long, hard way, start hiking at the junction of Mount Baldy Road and San Antonio Falls Road, 0.3 mile beyond Manker Flats Campground. Park in the dirt pullout by Falls Road and begin hiking on the gated road, which is the ski lift maintenance road. After passing San Antonio Falls at 0.5 mile out (the waterfall is impressive only in spring, a mere dribble by summer), continue three more miles to a trail junction at Baldy Notch, where a restaurant is open on summer weekends. Make a mental note of the menu for your victory dinner on the way back downhill.

At Baldy Notch, views of the desert to the north will inspire you onward. Go left and follow another fire road 1.4 miles, mostly in the shade of stately conifers, to the upper end of the ski lift. At the top of the upper lift, you access the infamous Devil’s Backbone, a steep and jagged ridge. Some hikers find this section of trail, with its sheer drop-offs on both sides into the Lytle Creek Canyon and San Antonio Canyon, to be rather hair-raising. Certainly this is not the place to be after having a few cocktails, but, otherwise, it’s safe enough as long as you watch your footing.

Soon you leave the Jeffrey pines and incense cedars behind for the smaller, more hardy conifers—mostly lodgepole pines. You’ll pass the south side of Mount Harwood at 9,552 feet (really just a high bump on Baldy’s ridge) and then reach a wind-blown saddle between Harwood and Baldy. A few gnarled, wind-sculpted limber pines eke out a living in this barren terrain. From the saddle, it’s only a short tromp to the top, but this is the steepest stretch of the entire day. In the last few hundred yards, you’ll comprehend the aptness of Mount Baldy’s nickname. The mountain’s official name is Mount San Antonio, named for Saint Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan priest and miracle worker. But ask anyone who has been there: the peak’s barren, boulder-strewn summit looks more like a Baldy than a saint. A few windbreaks made of rock provide some shelter from the frequent wind.

What about the summit view? If it’s a clear day, it’s the best vista in the San Gabriel Mountains. Just about everything comes into view—desert, city, ocean, the peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains, even a few high summits of the southern Sierra and Death Valley, 130 miles distant. The earlier in the season you take this hike, the better your chance for good visibility. But there’s a caveat: unless you are an experienced mountaineer, don’t think about making the trip until the Devil’s Backbone is snow and ice free. Although some intrepid hikers head for the summit in the winter and early spring months, proper equipment such as an ice ax and crampons, and the training to use them, are a vital necessity. Most years, Memorial Day is the start of the recreational hiking season on Baldy, although it varies. Check with the Mount Baldy Visitor Center (909/982-2829) before you plan your trip.

If you opt to do the trip the easier way, you simply drive your car a few miles farther to the end of Mount Baldy Road and the parking lot for Mount Baldy Ski Area. The ski lift only operates on weekends and holidays during the summer months, so you must time your trip carefully to take advantage of this convenient hikers’ handicap. If you catch the first lift at 8 A.M. (call 909/981-3344 to confirm current operating times), you’ll likely be on the summit by 10—still early enough to beat the worst of the San Gabriel Valley haze, which obscures much of the view later in the day.

No matter which way you do it, this is arguably the most popular hike in the San Gabriel Mountains, so plan on having plenty of company. Hundreds of hikers sign the summit register every summer weekend. The crowds are justifiable; after all, Mount Baldy is the highest peak in the San Gabriels at 10,064 feet. It’s also one of the three highest peaks in Southern California, one-third of the great triumvirate that also includes 11,502-foot Mount San Gorgonio and 10,834-foot Mount San Jacinto. Climb all three peaks at some point in your career, and you can pat yourself on the back for being a tried-and-true Southern California hiker.

If you’d rather hike to Mount Baldy via an even steeper route than either of those described above, help yourself. The 5.1-mile one-way San Antonio Ski Hut Trail is another possible route. Start at San Antonio Falls Road and, in just shy of a mile, leave the road and turn left on a trail. At 2.4 miles, you reach the San Antonio Ski Hut, owned by the Sierra Club and used in winter by backcountry skiers. From the hut, follow the trail west across Baldy Bowl, then north to Baldy’s summit. Most hikers choose to turn this into a loop, returning via the Backbone Trail/Baldy Notch route for an 8.3-mile round-trip utilizing the ski lift, or an 11.9-mile round-trip entirely on foot.

From I-210 in Upland, take the Mountain Avenue/Mount Baldy exit and drive north for 4.3 miles (Mountain Avenue becomes Shinn Road). At a T junction with Mount Baldy Road, turn right and drive 9.0 miles to San Antonio Falls Road on the left, 0.3 mile past Manker Flats Campround. (If you choose to use the ski lift “handicap,” drive a total of 9.7 miles on Mount Baldy Road to its end at the ski lift parking area.)

Information and Contact
As of 2005, the Mount Baldy ski lift costs $12 per adult. Phone 909/981-3344 or go to www.mtbaldy.com for current operating hours and fees. A national forest adventure pass is required; see page 297 for more information. Dogs are not allowed on the ski lift, but they are allowed on the trail. A trail map of Mount Baldy and the Cucamonga Wilderness is available for a fee from Tom Harrison Maps, 800/265-9090, www.tomharrisonmaps.com. For more information, contact Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel River Ranger District, 110 N. Wabash Avenue, Glendora, CA 91741, 626/335-1251, www.fs.fed.us/r5/angeles. Or contact the Mount Baldy Visitor Center, 909/982-2829.

Published: 2 May 2006 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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