Angeles National Forest Overview
If any town in America needs a national forest on its fringes, it is Los Angeles. The San Gabriel Mountains of the Angeles National Forest rise up and out of the LA basin, creating a sanctuary for seekers of solitude and outdoor adventure. No doubt Southern California conjures beaches and bikinis, not rugged mountain hiking, but we're telling you, it's here. Rocky ridges with steep drop-offs like Devil's Backbone ought to put the fear of the devil in you. And check out these elevations: Pine Mountain (9,648 feet), Dawson Peak, (9,575 feet) and San Antonio, also-know-as Mt. Baldy, (10,064 feet). Don't get us wrong, there's easy hiking here as well. We just want you to know that you can test your mettle too.
You can wander through a rare grove of ancient limber pines near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. These small- to medium-sized pine trees bear purple cones and are found only above 7,5000 feet. Some of the specimens are over 2,000 years old. Elsewhere, lodgepole, Jeffrey, and sugar pine predominate. At lower elevations, you will find dense chaparral and oak.
During the months of April, May, and June, the Los Angeles basin is smothered in the gloom and doom of smog and clouds. And yet even when LA is enduring the cloudiest months of the year, the San Gabriel Mountains are all about sun and cobalt skies. The mountains are above the clouds, removed from the city that lies below. It is here, high above the urban chaos, that the city's angels can spread their wings. During the autumn, the Santa Ana winds push dry air from the Mojave Desert through the canyons and mountain passes of the San Gabriels.
Hike to the Summit of Mount Baldy
Experienced hikers seeking the challenge of a strenuous climb can assault the summit of Mount Baldy—at 10,064 feet, it is the highest point in the San Gabriels. The 10-mile round-trip hike from Blue Ridge to Mount San Antonio (aka Mount Baldy) undergoes an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. The trail twists upward along the Devil's Backbone—a narrow and precarious rocky ridge leading to a sparse terrain of stunted trees gnarled by harsh and bitter winter winds. At the summit, raise your arms high over your head and shout—I'm the King of the World!
Descend into Devil's Canyon
The San Gabriel Wilderness offers some extremely rugged terrain including Devil's Canyon—as you descend, the canyon walls gradually creep closer and closer toward one another. The Devil's Canyon Creek flows through the narrow canyon and is shaded by willow and alder trees. The descent ends at a spectacular 20-foot waterfall that drops over a sheer granite cliff.
Mountain Bike Abandoned Trolley Lines
The abandoning of the Mount Lowe Trolley way back in 1938 left behind a gently graded route between Echo Mountain and Ye Alpine Tavern now used by mountain bikers. The forest is also home to an intricate web of dirt fire-roads that provide the mountain biker with lots of exciting terrain to explore.
Pitch a Tent at Little Jimmy
After hiking up to this campsite at an elevation of 7,500 feet, you'll want to pitch your tent and take a snooze at the Little Jimmy Trail Camp. This is a hike-in only campsite with 16 sites. There are over 110 developed campsites located throughout the forest.
Fish the San Gabriel Canyon
If you're an angler after pole-bending action, try the San Gabriel Canyon—renowned for trout, it also offers bass, bluegill, and catfish. The East Fork of the San Gabriel River bears the brunt of the fishing pressure, so we suggest you try the lesser-known North Fork and West Fork. Trout are no slowpokes—a 12-inch trout swims in spurts as fast as 12 feet per second. If bass is your game, drop your hook in Castiac Lake—a 22-pound largemouth bass was caught and released there in 1991. Other fishing sites include Pyramid Lake for striped bass and rainbow trout, Littlerock Reservoir, Elizabeth Lake, and Jackson Lake.
Cruise the Angeles Crest Highway
The 66-mile Angeles Crest Highway (aka California Highway 2) is an asphalt serpent that slithers its way out of the canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains. The highway undergoes an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet until it peaks at 7,901 feet at Dawson Saddle. The highway winds its way through green meadows peppered with wildflowers, chaparral-covered hills, Joshua trees, and ancient pines at timberline. It's worth getting out of the car at Devil's Canyon Overlook—the road stop sits at the edge of the abyss. Hard to believe, but within minutes of one another you will have views of Mount Baldy, the Mojave Desert, and the Channel Islands offshore.
Spot Nelson's Bighorn Sheep
With more than 700 bighorns in the forest, there's always a chance that you will spot a few grazing in the mountains. Other wildlife you may come across include the Mojave green rattlesnake, kangaroo rat, gray fox, mule deer, and the tracks of the elusive mountain lion.
Snowboard above the Mojave Desert
Snowboarders and skiers can carve their way down the mountains in ski areas located at Waterman Mountain and Kratka Ridge. Several thousand feet below, the great expanse of the Mojave Desert rolls forever outward toward the northern horizon. Farther east in the forest, you'll find skiing at Mount Baldy, Mountain High East and West, and Ski Sunrise.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication