Inspiration Point Hike

Echo Mountain and Inspiration Point were made famous by Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, who retired to Pasadena in 1888. Lowe was a self-taught meteorologist who was best known for his advanced theories in the meteorological sciences.

About Echo Mountain

Echo Mountain is located in the lower San Gabriel Mountain Range. With over 100 years of rich history ranging from lavish resorts with tennis courts and bowling alleys to a railway that extended from Rubio Canyon to the Echo Mountain Summit, the hike to Inspiration Point is one you cannot miss.

Echo Mountain’s name originated due to the echoes that carried throughout Rubio Canyon. In the early 1900s, an Echo Phone was installed that allowed visitors to amplify their voices across the canyon. The original echo phone was lost, but the original foundation still remains in front of the new one.

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

History of Echo Mountain and Inspiration Point

Echo Mountain and Inspiration Point were made famous by Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, who retired to Pasadena in 1888. Lowe was a self-taught meteorologist who was best known for his advanced theories in the meteorological sciences. Aside from meteorology, Lowe was also well known for his hot air ballooning adventures and exploits as the U.S. Army’s First Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps. He earned his fortunes from patents on ice making machines and hydrogen gas manufacturing, and after retirement, Lowe built a gas works, ice-making machine company and founded two banks.

Lowe’s bucket list still wasn’t complete, and so he conspired with Engineer David Joseph Macpherson to begin working on the world’s first electric-powered incline railway from Rubio Canyon to the summit of Echo Mountain. Approximately 30 miles of trails were constructed, along with an extended railway with 127 curves and 18 bridges from the Echo Mountain House to Ye Alpine Tavern, another hotel, which is now the location of the Mt. Lowe Campground. The train traveled to Inspiration Point, which is 4,714 feet above sea level.

From 1893 to 1895, Lowe built hotels, pavilions, the Echo Mountain House, a small zoo, an observatory, and the world’s largest searchlight atop what came to be known at The White City. In 1905, tragedy struck. Fire and windstorm destroyed all of the buildings, with the exception of Ye Alpine Tavern, atop Echo Mountain, and Lowe lost ownership of the railway to the Pacific Electric System. Today, visitors can see remnants of the iron track, grade, and abandoned gears near the foundation of the old hotel. Laminated photos and the hotel foundation is all that remains from this time. Hikers can explore the foundation and use the photos to map out the rooms of the hotel. From the hotel, hikers can see Inspiration Point in the saddle to the left.

More than three million people rode the train until the Ye Alpine Tavern burned down in 1936. By 1939, the system was being dismantled, and the Forest Service had destroyed what remained of the Tavern and the powerhouse on Echo Mountain by the early 1960s. While only the ruins remain, the stories and photographs of Echo Mountain still bring in countless visitors.

Photo Courtesy of Water and Power Associates

Parking and Rules and Regulations

Echo Mountain visitors do not need a parking permit for this hike. Street parking is available for all trails, but it is recommended that you arrive early, as this is a popular hike, and you may have to park far away from the trailhead. Hikers should also be courteous of the residents in the parking areas by not using driveways for making U-turns or parking and keeping noise to a minimum while walking to the trailhead.

Echo Mountain visitors are encouraged to follow the rules outlined below, as well as “Leave No Trace” techniques.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people per party.
  • Dogs are allowed, but they must be leashed at all times. Dog owners are required to clean up after their pets.
  • Visitors are required to pack out what they bring in, including garbage, debris, and waste.
  • Smoking is not allowed, except in areas where you are seated and within an area of three feet in diameter in which all flammable debris has been cleared.
  • All campfires must be properly extinguished
  • Visitors must stay on authorized trails at all times.
  • Natural features, such as plants, soil, rocks, etc., may not be removed from the park.

Additional Tips

While dogs are allowed on these trails, all dogs must be kept on a leash. Dog owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets. During warmer months, it’s best to hike with your dog early in the morning or late in the afternoon and pack plenty of water to help prevent dehydration or the possibility of a heat stroke.

Trails to Inspiration Point

Sam Merrill to Echo Mountain

Length: 11.2 Miles Roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 2,800 Feet

Features: Historic Landmarks, Big Vistas, Wildflowers

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley

The Sam Merrill trailhead is marked with information, courtesy of the Altadena Historical Society, about the former Cobb Estate, which belonged to a wealthy lumber tycoon. Before all of the buildings were destroyed in 1959, there were several gold mines and water wells on the property. Shortly after, the Marx brothers purchased the Cobb Estate with intentions to turn the land into a cemetery. Fortunately, this plan fell through, and later, students from John Muir High School purchased the land and donated it to the National Forest Service. The land now houses several miles of equestrian trails, a small botanical garden, and the entrance to Echo Mountain.

The trail itself is well traveled but is in great condition. On most days, the views are hazy, but hikers can still see some of the Channel Islands, like Catalina Island. Hikers will know they’ve reached the halfway point to Inspiration Point when they see powerlines. This is a great spot to take a break before the trek up Castle Canyon to Inspiration Point.

Those interested in learning about the history of the Mt. Lowe Railroad can keep left at the 3.0-mile mark. There, they will find a Plaque from the National Register of Historic Places with a brief history about the railway that carried wealthy tourists up the mountain to the Echo Mountain Hotel over 100 years ago.

If your goal is Inspiration Point, follow the signs to the Castle Canyon Trail to Inspiration Point. This is the shortest and steepest, climbing 900 feet in 0.75 miles, route to Inspiration Point. This route also offers plenty of shade due to the sycamore and oak trees that line the trail. If you are in need of a water source, a small seasonal creek may also be found on this trail.

From Castle Canyon, hikers will arrive at Inspiration Point. Here, there are picnic tables and viewports that help you locate notable Los Angeles Landmarks. If the hike to Inspiration Point wasn’t enough, head southeast for 1.2 miles on the fire road towards Muir Peak, named after the famous John Muir who climbed this peak in 1877. Muir Peak is the highest peak, at 4,688 feet, of what is referred to as southeast ridge and offers panoramic views of Mt. Wilson, Mt. Lowe, Mt. San Gabriel and much of the San Gabriel Mountains. Compared to the trek up Castle Canyon, this side hike is easy.

Photo Courtesy of David Pouliot, Flickr

Mt. Lowe Railway Loop (Echo Mountain Trail) to Inspiration Point

Length: 10.6 Miles Roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 2,744 feet

Features: Historic Landmarks, Big Vistas, Wildflowers

To access the trailhead, park at the Chaney Trail Parking Area. From there, you will walk around the gate on Mt. Lowe Railway Road. The first quarter of this hike is on asphalt. If you’d like to avoid asphalt, take Sunset Ridge trail at the 0.3-mile mark, If you do not take the Sunset Ridge trail, at 1.6 miles you’ll see a steep firebreak trail to the right of Mt. Lowe Motorway. This trail is extremely steep and should not be attempted without class three scrambling experience.

If you stay on the asphalt trail, you’ll eventually meet back up with the Sunset Ridge trail at 2.0 miles, as well as, see the marker for the loop around Inspiration Point, Mt. Lowe Campground, and Echo Mountain. From here, you can complete the loop clockwise or counterclockwise.

The Mt. Lowe Railway trail takes you high above Castle Canyon. There are two notable stops: Sunset Point and the Echo Mountain Observatory. Sunset Point is a great spot for catching the sunset, as indicated by the name. The Echo Mountain Observatory was constructed in 1893 and used until the building was torn apart during windstorm of 1928.

Because this is a loop trail that can be completed in any direction, you will return to the Chaney Trail Parking Area in the same direction upon completing the loop.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

What to Bring

For either of these hikes, the 10 essentials are recommended. They are as follows:

  • Navigation: a map, GPS, compass, or personal locator beacon (PLB)
  • Sun Protection
  • First Aid Kit
  • Knife
  • Shelter
  • Extra Food
  • Extra Water
  • Extra Clothes: Sweat-wicking, non-cotton clothing is recommended.
  • Fire Starter
  • Headlamp

Hikers should also make sure they bring plenty of water. The general rule of thumb is one liter for every five miles, but more may be necessary due to elevation gain and weather.

The hike to Inspiration Point is guaranteed to inspire visitors from all around. When planning your next hike, make sure you consider tackling one of the best hiking trails in the West.

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