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Pasadena, California, United States

Mt. Wilson via Chantry Flats

A strenuous day hike through a beautiful section of the San Gabriel mountains with a 50 ft. waterfall.

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 (13 votes, 8 reviews)
Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 12.6 miles / 20 km
Duration: Full day
Dog Friendly
 
Overview: Standing prominently above Pasadena, Mount Wilson is a Southern California landmark. The 5,710 foot summit is home for an observatory responsible for the most detailed photos of Mars as well a vast array of antennae for local LA radio and television stations. While the summit is steeped in astronomical wonder and tremendous views of Los Angeles, the trails are the real beauty of this hike.

There are several trails you can take to the top of Mt. Wilson, but this challenging 13 mile loop is the most beautiful. It starts at the Chantry Flats trailhead above Arcadia, and includes a one mile detour to view the beautiful Sturtevant Falls before climbing 4,200' to the top of Mt. Wilson.

This is the first of six southern California summits in the 6-Pack of Peaks bundle. Done in sequence, they provide great training anyone preparing for bigger hikes such as Mt. Whitney or Half Dome. Each hike in the 6-Pack is progressively higher in altitude, and all have respectable distance and vertical elevation gain.


Tips: Parking requires a National Forest Adventure Pass. You can purchase a pass at the pack station. This is a popular trailhead and the parking fills up quickly, often by 7:00 AM. Plan to start early or you may end up parking quite far from the trailhead.

The segment to Sturtevant Falls is family-friendly, but does include a few boulder-hopping stream crossings. Trekking poles come in handy, as do shoes with good tread.

Some sections of these trails are shared with horses and mountain bikes. Be alert and courteous.

When you get back to the trailhead, stop by the general store at the pack station for a cold drink and a snack. Sometimes on the weekends they fire up the BBQ!

Points of Interest

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Trailhead to Sturtevant Falls

The first .5 miles is a paved trail that descends down Santa Anita Canyon. You'll find the trailhead just down the stairs to the right of the restroom next to the parking lot.
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Bridge over Winter Creek

Once you cross this bridge, your initial downhill comes to and end and you begin the gentle climb to Sturtevant Falls.
Junction
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[JCT] Junction with the Gabrielino Trail

The Gabrielino trail has two branches that head up the hill. Make a note of this junction, as you will return here after visiting the Sturtevant Falls. When you do, you'll take the more scenic Lower Gabrieleno Trail.
Viewpoint
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Sturtevant Falls

This 50 foot waterfall is worth the brief detour. It makes a perfect spot to take photos and gives your legs a chance to warm up for the climb to Mt. Wilson.
Campground
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Spruce Grove Campground

There are chemical toilets here, and a few backpacker campsites. This makes a good spot for a breather.
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Switchbacks

This final climb is a steep one, but it's made a little easier by a multitude of switchbacks. As you get closer, the views over Santa Anita and beyond begin to unfold.
Water
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Water

There is tap water available here near the footbridge. The only chance to refill your water bottles!
Mountain
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Mt. Wilson

The "summit" of Mt. Wilson is rather anti-climatic. It's a broad area with no well-defined peak. There are several telescopes and a large number of television and radio antennae. Really I would describe this as more of the Mt. Wilson "complex," complete with roads, cars, and buildings.

It can be tricky to find your way through the complex. Follow the road that dissects the facility, heading west. You'll find the old visitor center and the broad gravel lot where the real trail resumes.
Building
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Mt. Wilson Visitors Center

The visitors center is currently closed (including the restrooms), but there is a covered area with picnic tables that make a good spot for a lunch break. There are plans to construct a new-and-improved visitor center, so expect some construction and potential detours through this area.
Junction
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Trailhead

Pick up the trail back down and the far west side of the gravel lot. As of May 2010, this area was fenced off, but you can hike around the perimeter to the trailhead.
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Old Toll Road

You'll join a gravel road known as the Old Toll Road and follow it downhill for about .5 miles. Your next trail junction will be on your left.
Junction
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[JCT] Watch for the sign for Winter Creek

This trail head left away from the gravel road. Watch for the sign -- it is weathered and you could miss it if you're not paying attention!
Junction
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[JCT] Upper Winter Creek Trail

At this junction, you bear to the left for Hoegee Camp and the scenic Winter Creek.

As an option, you can take the Upper Winter Creek trail back to the parking lot. It's about a mile longer, but downhill all the way.
Campground
map

Hoegee Campground

Another backpacker's campground. Not an ideal getaway, as it's right off the trail, but might be a nice introduction to backpacking for someone new.

It's worth noting that there are bears in the San Gabriel mountains.
Junction
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[JCT] Across Winter Creek

You'll recognize this bridge. It's the same one you crossed earlier today. Now you hike back up the paved trail to your cars. Be sure to stop in at the general store at Adams Pack Station before you leave and enjoy a treat. You earned it!
Restroom
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Restroom

The facilities at the trailhead get a lot of use. There are cleaner toilets just up the hill in the middle of the picnic area.
Parking
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Parking

A National Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking. This lot fills up early, often by 7am. Overflow parking is available at the Chantry Flats Pack Station for a fee.
Pictures in this guide taken by: jeffhester, kylehayes, evergiron
Reviews
AFAdams
Incredible hike!
I did this loop, started at Chantry Flat, came back via the Manzanita Trail. So it was counter-clockwise. The way up is rough, lots of elevation climbing, and you actually start out in a canyon. So it might be colder at the beginning.

But definitely worth the trip. Hardly anyone there, even on a warm beautiful day.

Grab a printed map at the Chantry Flat store first. And get some chili on the way back. They also have some great cabins for rent in the canyon, info at the store.

Visited on Dec 15, 2013

by AFAdams on Dec 16, 2013
therealmac
Great day, temps in mid 70s. We had the place virtually to ourselves. We didn't see anyone after the Falls until we got to past Hoegee Camp on the descent. Really beautiful trails and the Mt Wilson Observatory is really interesting. The switchbacks on the way up can get brutal in spots but worth it. The views were fantastic and there was a lot of wildlife. We saw a few deer and lots of birds and lizards.
Visited on Sep 27, 2013

by therealmac on Sep 28, 2013
arch_deacon
Any hike where you ascend to a summit is usually a excellent hike well worth the effort. Mount Wilson is no exception. I started at the uppertrail of chantry flat and by the time I made it to the ridge I was still feeling good. Note that once you come to the ridge you should see a lot of sunlight from the other side of the bushes on your left. At any point here you should be able to cross the bushes and find another path where tall grass surrounds you and you can follow this path along the ridge instead of behind the mountain and have beautiful re energizing sights for the next mile and a half or so. Also note that once you come back to the toll road and you should stay to your right side of the path as you might miss the path that leads to the summit and instead descend the mountain toward alta dena. After you hit the summit you can have lunch from your pack or at the cosmic cafe if you went on a weekend and even take a tour of the observatory, which by the way makes this hike very special because you will feel like a little kid on a field trip once summiting and a mountain and seeing these really cool telescopes and stuff! After that you can go back or descend the mountain via the stourtevant falls trail which is also an excellent trail. I recommend coming up that way though. all in all this hike took me 5 hours with a 30 minute lunch break. and left me begging for more but sore as hell. add an extra mile to your already 14 mile hike to check out stourtevant falls if you have the energy.
Visited on Feb 18, 2013

by arch_deacon on Feb 24, 2013
Hificook3
This trail guide was really helpful. It's a pretty slow and steady climb. I have done San J and Baldy prior and at first I though this was easy till the last mile to the top or so. This trail was well marked and the only addition to the directions here is at the top. You will walk quite a ways through the complex and out the exit before you will see the "gravel parking lot". Make sure you bring plenty of water and yes the trail is very busy!
Visited on Jan 05, 2013

by Hificook3 on Jan 06, 2013
GandC
The trail itself is great. Challenging, long, and rewarding. What it lacks in altitude, it makes up for in steepness and a very nice view of the valley. I would have had a much better time on this long hike had it not been for the unreal amount of bugs. I literally could not stop to enjoy the view.

The length of this hike is quite a bit longer than is listed here. For some reason, the measured distance stops somewhere around one of the Winter Creek junctions. With the stop at the falls at the beginning, a little wandering around at the summit, and the trail all the way back to Chantry Flats where it starts, this hike is closer to 15.5-16 miles.

I recommend this hike to anyone who hasn't done it before, and to anyone looking to start getting in shape for bigger mountains.

Visited on Jun 05, 2012

by GandC on Jun 06, 2012
pstorey11
This is a beautiful hike! It is covered probably 90% of the time which keeps it cool which is nice and since it was spring the wild flowers were in full bloom. I would recommend this to anyone. It is a bit steep when you get to the switch back so be prepared. Also the Cafe at the top is only open on the weekends so don't do what we did and expect a meal at the top and not pack a lunch=) Oops thanks goodness for power bars and trails mix.
Visited on May 15, 2012

by pstorey11 on May 24, 2012
Iangargle
great trail. there was even a little bit of snow left at the observatory.

note: if you decide to take the upper winter creek trail on the way back it starts uphill and then goes downhill. you skip the giant hill at the entry to chantry flats, but there is some uphill walking, nothing compared to the hike up to the summit though...

Visited on Mar 24, 2012

by Iangargle on Mar 25, 2012
thx123
Completed solo, but it would have been more fun with friends to share it with. It was challenging, but definitely worth it. At the Mt. Wilson observatory, there is a cafeteria, "Cosmic Cafe", where you can get sandwiches and snacks (reasonably priced too) and covered area with nice views.
Bathroom is open and they kept it very clean. Started at Chantry flat at 8am and returned at 4pm with 1.5 hr lunch break at Mt. Wilson. Warning: Lots of bugs up there make sure you use plenty of DEET. Thank you Jeffhester for the guide. You inspired me !!

Visited on Sep 11, 2011

by thx123 on Sep 13, 2011

Mt. Wilson via Chantry Flats Trail Map


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About the Author

jeffhester
jeffhester
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I live in Southern California, where most people are completely unaware of the hundreds of great hiking...

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