About Mt. Wilson
Mount Wilson is a peak located in the San Gabriel Mountain Range. Although, the peak itself is not easily visible from a distance, it’s easy to identify due to the mass amount of antennae for local tv and radio stations near its summit. Don’t let the antennae discourage you from hiking to the summit. At 5,710 feet above sea level, Mt. Wilson offers unobstructed views of downtown Los Angeles, and on a clear day, you can see the southern Channel Islands, Catalina, and into San Diego County.
Home to the Mt. Wilson Observatory, visitors can experience both the wonders of nature and science while visiting the Mt. Wilson Summit. At the observatory, you can take a guided tour of telescopes and explore the observatory responsible for the most detailed photos of Mars. If you don’t have time to tour the observatory, or you’re just there to enjoy a hike, make sure you take a break at the Comic Cafe to enjoy homemade potato chips. Hikers should make note that the observatory has road access, so don’t be alarmed if a minivan arrives at the same time you do.
Mt. Wilson is the first of the six southern California summits in the 6-Pack of Peaks Bundle. Hikers hoping to summit Mt. Whitney or Half Dome use these trails to train and prepare for higher peaks. Each peak offers higher altitude, respectable distance and vertical elevation gain.
History of Mt. Wilson
Mt. Wilson is named after General Patton’s Grandfather, Benjamin “Don Benito” Davis Wilson, who performed the first recorded exploration of the mountain. Wilson ran a winery and was hoping the mountain would provide suitable wood for his casks. Following an established Native American route, he built a trail that would later become known at the Mt. Wilson Trail. He built a cabin named the “Halfway House,” and the trail soon became a popular weekend trip pastime for locals.
Although Mt. Wilson may have received its official name in approximately 1852, its rich history dates back to the Tongva tribe who inhabited southern California approximately 3,500 years ago. The Tongva people lived in the low-lying valleys of Mt. Wilson.
There are many private cabins along the Chantry Flat trail to Mt. Wilson. They were built between 1910 and 1920 per encouragement by the U.S. Forest Service. Supplies used to build these cabins were carried up the mountain by mules, and to this day, Adams Pack Station uses this method to bring up supplies for cabin visitors. While many of the cabins have been destroyed by mother nature, there are some remaining at Sturtevant Camp. For more information about the cabins or information on lodging, check out the Sturtevant Camp website.
History can still be observed while hiking to the Mt. Wilson Summit. Along the way, hikers can see the dams built in the 1960s intended to prevent sand and rocks from traveling downstream to the larger Big Santa Anita Dam and reservoir. Paved roads on trails were used to bring up cranes and other construction equipment needed to create the dams. While most big dams have a smaller dam which is used to protect the foundation of the larger dam upstream, some smaller dams have been blown out by nature.
Trails to Mt. Wilson Summit
While seven trails ascend Mt. Wilson, there are three main trails used by hikers to get to the summit.
Length: 14.5 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 4,600 Feet
Highest Elevation: 5, 712 Feet
Features: Panoramic Views, Local Flora, Creeks
The Chantry Flat trail is located in the Angeles National Forest and features panoramic views of Los Angeles. Although hikers will gain over 4,000 feet in elevation, the trail features a gentle climb and is great for beginners. The trailhead features bathrooms and a trailhead store.
Parking for the Chantry Flat trail is limited, and hikers should arrive before 6 a.m., if possible, to find a spot at the trailhead at Santa Anita Canyon. If parking in unavailable, there is additional parking at the Adam’s Pack Station, and hikers can walk to the trailhead from there. A parking permit, like the California Adventure Pass or America the Beautiful National Parks Pass, is needed for the trailhead parking lot. If you’re interested in public transportation, there is a weekend shuttle available.
Dogs are allowed on this trail; however, according to local laws, they must be leashed at all times. Mt. Wilson is known for receiving snow during colder months and the occasional thunderstorm, so hikers should always check the local weather before heading out on trail.
Mt. Wilson Toll Road
Length: 18.2 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 4,500 Feet
Highest Elevation: 5,647 Feet
Features: Panoramic VIews, Local Flora
The Mt. Wilson Toll Road was used from 1891 to 1936 to transport gear to the observatory. The road is still used today by hikers who want to summit Mt. Wilson. While the toll road trail may not be as exciting as the Chantry Flats trail or the Sierra Madre, it still offers amazing views of the Los Angeles Basin and the San Gabriel frontcountry. It also has minimal steep inclines making it an excellent training hike or hike for most beginners.
The trailhead is located on the corner of Bowring and Pinecrest. Follow Pinecrest and keep left at the gate. Hikers should note that the gate closes daily at sunset, and if you plan to hike after sunset, you must hike down to the nature center and back up to Altadena Drive, then back to Pinecrest.
If you choose the Mt. Wilson Tollroad as your trail to the Mt. Wilson Summit, make sure to allow time to check out Henninger Flats, which is approximately 3.0 miles from the trailhead. There are picnic tables and a water fountain available at the flats making it a great place to take a break on the long trek to and from the summit.
Mt. Wilson Trail to Mt. Wilson Observatory via Sierra Madre
Length: 14 Miles
Elevation Gain: 5,334 Feet
Features: Panoramic Views, Local Flora, Big Vistas
Mt. Wilson Trail to Mt. Wilson Observatory via Sierra Madre is a lightly trafficked trail that offers more solitude and physical challenges than the other mentioned trails. This trail has a unique history, as they were used to transport timber down the mountain in 1771 for the construction of the San Gabriel Mission.
The trailhead for the Mt. Wilson Trail is right next to the historic Lizzie’s Trail Inn, which originated as a food stand operated by Lizzie McElwain from 1925 to 1935. Here, hikers could dine on fried chicken, ravioli, and distilled spirits right in the middle of prohibition. While the stand is no longer in business, it has been preserved as a museum open to the public.
Parking for the Mt. Wilson Trail is available on the street close to the trailhead. Hikers should bear in mind that the trailhead is in a residential area and should be courteous to residents by keeping noise to a minimum.
The Mt. Wilson Trail is extremely hot during the summer, so hikers are advised to plan to hike early in the morning or later in the afternoon with the proper gear. The trail is accessible year round. During warmer months, bugs are more active, so bug spray or a face net might be useful for keeping them at bay.
As for the trail itself, there are some narrow and rocky sections, but otherwise, the trail is well marked and in great condition. On this trail, hikers can expect to see a variety of trees and plants, including some rare madrone trees. However, hikers should be aware that poison oak is abundant on this trail.
Additional Information and Tips
Mt. Wilson is part of the Angeles National Forest, which has some rules and regulations in which hikers are required to follow. These include but are not limited to:
- 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.
- Visitors must stay on authorized trails at all times.
- Natural features, such as plants, soil, rocks, etc. may not be removed from the park.
Camping is available in designated areas.
It’s important that hikers are bear aware while hiking in the San Gorgonio WIlderness. Bear-human encounters have occurred. Hikers are encouraged to keep their packs with them at all times, as bears are more likely to approach an abandoned pack. Park staff requires that you hang all food, garbage, and smelly items, such as shampoo or chapstick, at least 10 feet from the ground and 5 feet from the tree trunk and 100 yards from your campsite.
What to Bring
For all of the trails mentioned, you will need basic hiking gear. We recommend the 10 essentials and bug repellant.
- Navigation: a map, GPS, compass, or personal locator beacon (PLB)
- Sun Protection – a hat or sunscreen
- First Aid Kit
- Extra Food
- Extra Water
- Extra Clothes: Sweat-wicking, non-cotton clothing is recommended.
- Fire Starter
Hiking to Mt. Wilson is a great way to get out and explore nature near downtown Los Angeles. With trails ranging in difficulty, Mt. Wilson is a great way to train for more strenuous, high elevation hikes.