The Angeles National Forest is a favorite getaway for any Angeleno and offers a wide variety of activities from hiking, to horse riding, to cycling, to skiing and snowboarding, and much, much more. The Angeles National Forest is 700,176 acres large and is part of the San Gabriel Mountain Range (and incorporates most of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument) and the Sierra Pelona Mountain Range, and is located primarily within Los Angeles County in southern California. The forest also extends westward into northeastern Ventura County, in the Lake Piru area. Given its proximity to the ocean, the Angeles National Forest does not have any peak that rises over 11,000 feet, with its tallest peak being Mount San Antonio (10,066 ft), which is better known as Mount Baldy. This makes it a great option for anyone who wants to go into the mountains, but not hassle with the issues of (distant) higher altitude ranges.
Before there was the Angeles National Forest, there was the San Gabriel Forest Reserve and the San Bernardino Forest Reserve, which were established in 1892 and 1893 respectively. In 1908, these two forest reserves were incorporated together to make the Angeles National Forest. In 1925, a portion of the Angeles National Forest and the Cleveland National Forest were detached to re-establish the San Bernardino National Forest.
As is often the case in Southern California, there have been a number of notable fires in the Angeles National Forest. In 1966, there was the Loop Fire that burned 2,028 acres, killed 12 firefighters, and injured 11 more.
In 2009, the Station Fire burned more than 161,000 acres and burned for more than a month. It was fueled by long un-burned brush and to date is the worst fire in Los Angeles County history. The Station Fire burned through about a fourth of the park and displaced wildlife, as well as destroyed 91 homes, cabins and outbuildings and the family-owned Hidden Springs Cafe. The fire also killed two firefighters and though it proved to be a huge threat to the Mount Wilson observatory, the facility survived largely unscathed.
There were also several small fires in 2012 that did not prove to do much damage. Most recently, in 2020, there was the Bobcat Fire that burned 115,796 acres in the central San Gabriel Mountains of the Angeles National Forest.
Notable Peaks include; Mount San Antonio (10066 ft), West Baldy (10003 ft), Pine Mountain (9649 ft), Dawson Peak (9577 ft), Mount Harwood (9537 ft), Mount Baden-Powell (9393 ft), Throop Peak (9134 ft), Mount Burnham (9003 ft), Telegraph Peak (8970 ft), Mount Hawkins (8839 ft), Burnt Peak (5791 ft), Mount Lukens (5062 ft), Mount Gleason (6526 ft), Strawberry Peak (6168 ft), Pacifico Mountain (7126 ft), Mount Williamson (8212 ft), San Gabriel Peak (6155 ft),and Monrovia Peak (5407 ft).
One big thing to note about driving the Angeles National Forest is that the roads are small and windy, but heavily trafficked, especially by sports car and motorcycle enthusiasts who like to drive fast. As such, there are a high number of wrecks on the road going through the forest that can fully shut down sections of the road going into the park, especially along Highway 2. Be sure to drive carefully and check the traffic report before making the trip in. You also need to be aware of Pacific Crest Trail thru hikers walking along parts of Highway 2.
The most prominent entry into the park is Highway 2, which cuts the park in half and connects to Highway 39. Highway 2 connects Interstate 210 on the Los Angeles side and Highway 138 coming off of Interstate 15 to the east.
Smaller roads going through the park on the eastern section include Glendora Ridge Road (connecting Glendora and the larger Azusa and Pomona neighborhoods to the park), which connects to Mount Baldy Road (connecting the San Antonio Heights and Upland neighborhoods to the park) going up to the Ice Canyon and Mount Baldy trailheads.
On the western section of the park Big Tujunga Canyon road connects the Tujunga neighborhood to the park and intersects with the Angeles Forest Highway, Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, and Highway 2 leading further into the park. Little Tujunga Canyon Road enters and exits through the western most edge of the park through Santa Clarita.
For most hikes and camping you will need a permit or an adventure pass. The National Forest Adventure Pass is an interagency pass that can be used for a number of state forests in California. The pass costs $5 a day or $30 for an annual pass. These passes can either be purchased online and delivered to you, or you can buy one at local retailers (such as gas stations) near the park. You can also enter the park on a National Parks pass.
If you want to enter parts of the forest that are designated wilderness zones, such as the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, you will need to acquire a wilderness pass, which is free and can be found at;
110 N. Wabash Ave.
Glendora, CA 91741
(Monday - Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.)
Los Angeles Gateway District
12371 N. Little Tujunga Canyon Rd.
San Fernando, CA 91342
(Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.)
San Gabriel Canyon Gateway Center
1960 N. San Gabriel Canyon Road
Azusa, CA 91702
(Friday, 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.)
(Saturday - Sunday, 7 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.)
If you want to cut fallen wood or collect anything from the Angeles National Forest you will need to purchase a Forest Product/Woodcutting permit, which are for pine are $25.00 a cord and $35.00 per cord for hardwoods. Cutting of live trees in the forest is not permitted.
Event or Commercial permits must be applied for and approved by the forest service and can be filled online.
Campfire permits are required for the use of campfires, charcoal fires or portable gas stoves outside designated recreation sites. These are free and are available at all Forest Service, BLM, or CAL FIRE offices.
Campsites are first come, first served with a maximum 14-day stay at a site, and a total of 30 days stay per year in this Forest. A campsite may be used by a maximum of 8 people and a maximum of 2 vehicles. Where fees are required, checkout time is 11 a.m. unless otherwise specified.
A National Forest Adventure Pass is needed for vehicles parked in non-fee campgrounds on the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests.
Group Campgrounds The Angeles National Forest offer group campgrounds on all three of the ranger districts, some accommodating up to 300 campers. These campgrounds are available on a reservation only basis. Many are at elevations that receive snow during winter months and are subject to closures. Group sites may also be closed at times due to refurbishing. Availability of designated sites can be found on the National Forest Website.
The Angeles National Forest has 132 moderate trails ranging from 0.7 to 27.3 miles and from 964 to 9,389 feet above sea level. It is also home to the famous long distance Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which cuts through the heart of the forest. There is a hiking option for everyone in the Angeles National forest, no matter whether you are out for a family stroll or angling to summit the highest peak in the park.
If you want to get the maximum gain you can in a hike in the Angeles, the Mount Baldy hike will deliver it in spades. Rising from around 5000 feet at the parking lot up to the summit of Mount San Antonio (also known as Mount Baldy), you can either take a long or a short route/loop up to the peak depending on the time of year, your physical fitness, and how much time you have to hike.
To start, you will need a Mount Baldy Adventure Pass to do this hike. They cost $5 for a day pass and you can buy them at either the National Forest Visitors Center or the Mount Baldy Lodge, both located on Mount Baldy Road heading up to the trailhead. These Adventure Passes are often sold out. However, if you get ticketed at the trailhead, the cost is the same as the pass. The trailhead is at the end of Mount Baldy Road.
One of the more popular ways to get up to the peak is to take the 11.5 mile loop option, though you can also take the 14 mile in and out option if you have the time and do not want to negotiate a steep descent. When you leave the parking lot you will take a private road that leads to the fire road going up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Lodge. If you want to take an easier first leg up you can also purchase a lift pass for between $20 and $40 that will get you up to the start of the Devil’s Backbone trail leading up the summit of Mount Harwood (Baldy’s sister peak), and on up to the summit of Mount Baldy. This is a fun option for two reasons, the Devil’s Backbone trail is the most technical section of the summit hike, and the fire road leading up to the ski resort is just that… a fire road, and therefore heavily trafficked and not as interesting as the Devil’s Backbone trail. You also will have to hike up ski routes for a short section of the hike, which during the winter months can be a bit of an annoyance.
Once you get to the Devil’s Backbone trail the real adventure begins. This trail is not for beginners or the faint of heart. It is an at times very narrow trail that follows along the ridgeline to Mount Harwood and Mount Baldy. As such the winds coming from either side of the mountains, whether it is the high desert to the north or the Santa Anas from the south, really whip up once they have made their way up to the ridgeline. This section of the trail should really be done in the summer months as the snow in the winter makes the summit incredibly difficult if not impossible without mountaineering gear. Head up the trail until you get to a fork. From here, depending on time or fitness you can either go right and summit Mount Harwood or keep right and take a lower route. Regardless, these two trails meet as they head up to Mount Baldy. Once you summit you can either take the Devil’s Backbone Trail back down to the ski lodge and the fire road or you can take the Mount San Antonio trail back down, which is faster, but steeper and will take you past the seasonal San Antonio Falls. The falls run with the winter snow melt and are active mostly in the spring. You will have seen these falls on your way up the fire road.
Heading up the route you will see a variety of notable peaks including; Grizzly Peak (177 ft), Elephant Hill (1158 ft), Puente Hills (1427 ft), Hog Back (4977 ft), Sunset Peak (5794 ft), San Pedro Hill (1497 ft), Johnstone Peak (3196 ft) to the south; Golden Ridge (8402 ft), Telegraph Peak (8973 ft), Thunder Mountain (8573 ft), Cucamonga Peak (8865 ft), Bighorn Peak (8448 ft), San Mateo Peak (3593 ft), Margarita Peak (3189 ft), and Ontario Peak (8684 ft) along the opposing ridge line; Sidewinder Mountain (5262 ft), Ord Mountain (6316 ft), East Ord Mountain (6083 ft), Rodman Mountains Highlands (6014 ft), Sunshine Peak (4406 ft), Negro Butte (3547 ft), Ralston Peak (4557 ft), Luna Mountain (5968 ft), The Pinnacles (5738 ft), Delamar Mountain (8379 ft), Butler Peak (8517 ft), Sugarloaf Mountain (9938 ft), Keller Peak (7890 ft), and San Gorgonio Mountain (11490 ft) to the east in the San Bernando National Forest; as well as Dawsons Peak (9577 ft) behind Mount Harwood as you ascend to the summit.
The Bridge to Nowhere hike is an incredibly popular trail with the potential of some extra fun at the bridge. The hike starts at the end of Camp Bonita Road, which branches off of East Fork Road coming off of Highway 39 or Glendora Road. You will need an Adventure Pass for this hike, which is either $5 for a day pass or $30 for a seasonal pass. This 9.5 mile hike is a great day hike with manageable elevation gain. One important thing to note is that there are many water crossings on this hike since it follows the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. As such you will want very breathable shoes rather than waterproof boots.
The trail is a fairly straightforward in and out route. However, since it is so well trodden it can be hard to discern which trail is best to follow at any given point. Luckily, given the trail's popularity you can more or less follow the crowd as they head into the canyon. It is also important to note that this is very much a full day hike for most. While the length of the trail is not terribly long, the water crossings and rugged valley landscape slow down the pace considerably. It is a good idea to pack a lunch to eat at the bridge, where there are really nice pools of water just beyond. As you hike you will see Iron Mountain (7999 ft) in front of you.
Once you get to the bridge you have the option of adding a little extra kick to your hike by bungee jumping off the bridge. It costs about $150 and you get one jump and a t-shirt. Once you have either lounged by the river or bungee jumped over it you can turn around and go back the way you came.
Echo Mountain is a fun day spot with many hiking options. Overlooking downtown Los Angeles, Echo Mountain has both hiking and cycling trails, and historic markers to boot. The area was delineated as part of the Mount Lowe Railway monument area listed by the U.S. Forest Service on the National Register of Historic Places. The ruins of "White City", a resort along the scenic Mount Lowe Railway, can be found at the top of one of the available hikes. From its point and down an incline to its foot in Rubio Canyon was the Great Incline funicular of the Mount Lowe Railway, whose white cars could be seen ascending and descending Echo. The Mount Lowe Railway was the third in a series of scenic mountain railroads in America created as a tourist attraction on Echo Mountain and Mount Lowe (5614 ft), north of Los Angeles, California. The railroad ran from 1893 until its official abandonment in 1938, and had the distinction of being the only scenic mountain, electric traction (overhead electric trolley) railroad ever built in the United States. Echo Mountain is accurately named and when you arrive at “White City” you will see a number of small gramophone-like objects directed at the opposing mountain. You can yell into these and hear the famous echo of Echo Mountain.
To reach Echo mountain you will go to AltaDena near Pasadena. Unlike other hikes in the Angeles National Forest, this hike is very close to a residential neighborhood. If you park near Sam Merrill Trailhead off of East Loma Alta Drive and Lake Avenue you can head up along the Sam Merrill trail to the White City Ruins or you can take the route that goes along the opposing mountainside and ridge line. If you are feeling energetic you can take the 5 and a half mile route through White City across the ridge and up to the peak of Echo Mountain before turning around and taking the loop back down the ridgeline and to the parking lot. This hike fits in about 1700 feet of elevation gain into its less than 10 kilometer distance.
The crown jewel of the Angeles National Forest (as well as much of California) has to be the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the famous 2665 mile interstate trail (and part of the American triple crown of long distance trails that includes the Appalachian and Continental Divide Trails further east) winds from the Mexican to the Canadian border. California Section D (at 105. 6 miles and 21,725 feet of elevation gain) of the PCT call the Angeles National Forest Home. Starting from Highway 15 at Cajon Junction and ending just past the forest at Agua Dulce.
Unfortunately, the Station Fire in the Angeles impacted 37 miles of the trail, which had to be rerouted. The reroute proved a bit of a headache since the trail association and the forest service wanted to minimize the amount of road walking. Most of the road crossings and road walking in the Angeles are along Highway 2 in the high country of the forest.
Among others, the PCT goes over and among Gobblers Knob, Wright Mountain (8510 ft), Blue Ridge, Mount Baden-Powell (9400 ft), Throop Peak (9137 ft), Mount Islip (8261 ft), Mount Williamson (8215 ft), Winston Ridge, Winston Peak (7493 ft), Pacifico Mountain (7129 ft), and Mount Gleason (6529 ft).