You’d think that out of all the hikes we’ve done in Southern California we’d come to a place where we could say we’ve done it all… not a chance – there is so much to do out here! We are constantly discovering more and more epic adventures to add to our bucket list, one thing we were able to check off our list this week was summiting Mount Baldy!
Mount Baldy, which is the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains, serves as a ski resort in the winter months and is located just an hour east of LA (map here). Before embarking on this trek, we read many articles and heard many stories about how to hike this 10,064 foot summit and in the end, we concluded that ascending via Baldy Bowl and descending along The Devil’s Backbone, making for an 11.3 mile hike, was the best route – we stand by this decision :) (Great post about the various trail options here.)
Parking for the trailhead is pretty easy. After driving on Mount Baldy Road for a little ways, we reached Manker Flats, made our first left turn and parked here, if you reach the ski lift parking area then you have traveled too far. There are two blue outhouses and a road gate, the trailhead starts at this white gate (pictured below). This is a popular route so you will likely see many other cars here, a late start will result in parking further down the road. Many recommend hitting the trail at 7am but we were honestly quite happy with our 8:30 start time because we were able to hike sans crowd.
With the bright morning sun on our faces and the cool pine-scented breeze whirling all around, the trail started on a luxuriously wide fire road, lush with flowers and trees providing a stark contrast from the site of Mount BALDy above:
Not too long after getting started, we took the second trail that branched left, taking us off the fire road – we would have totally missed this if it wasn’t for the group ahead of us, as there are no signs for it. (Be sure not to take the first side trail on the left, this one is located by a stone wall and has a trail sign, it will lead you up a completely different path.) This marked the beginning of Baldy Bowl ‘s 4.5 mile, 3,900 foot ascent… basically 1,000 feet per mile! It is absolutely crucial to bring enough water, as there is nowhere to refill until you reach the Top of the Notch restaurant.
Halfway up the mountain and 2 hours in, we found ourselves at the Sierra Club Ski Hut, a perfect place to rest, drink plenty of water and enjoy the shade:
You can actually reserve a bed in this awesome 16-person hut, fully equipt with a kitchen, running water, cookware, solar lighting and best of all, board games!
Giant log benches, perfect for a little “r & r”:
And there’s even an adorable little outhouse – just don’t breathe if you plan on using it…
Some dried mango and a homemade rice crispy treat later, Drew and I were up and at it again. This aggressive climb is, thankfully, also the shortest route to the top of Mount Baldy. A total of 4 hours, 4,000 feet and 4.5 miles later, we had finally arrived to the top of Baldy!
It was the most crowded summit we had yet to experience! There were people, lady bugs and butterflies everywhere!
With no shade to be found, we decided to make ourselves comfortable as we soaked in some rays and enjoyed a long and slow lunch break before taking the switchbacks of Devil’s Backbone Trail that would guide us down to the notch.
Check out the amazingly white “moon rocks” that cover the peak:
They don’t call it the Devil’s Backbone for nothing – the single track trail crosses the spine of a skinny ridge with steep drops to the north and south, providing immensely sweeping views. You would not want to hike this in the winter, but during summer, under normal weather conditions, the trail is devilishly exciting!
As we approached the ski lodge we come across an inoperable ski lift providing us with an excuse to sit, rest and snap some awesome photos- there’s something so memorable about sitting on a ski lift in 90 degree weather and reading the signs for the ski runs as people hike up and down the dirt covered slopes:
Avalanches… ice… we wish!
An hour after departing the summit of Baldy we had finally arrived to the Top of the Notch where we were able to order an ice cold drink and watch the World Cup soccer game. There was a DJ playing reggae outside and a cool breeze blowing in through the windows of the ski lodge, it was turning out to be a pretty epic day. After watching Costa Rica advance to the quarter finals we laced back up and headed out to finish the final leg of our journey… but not before hopping on a snow mobile!
The trail back down is located just to the right of the Mount Baldy Ski School (pictured below). It was a nice and easy descent along the same fire road on which we started. We had to be sure not to take the first trail off to the left again, as this would have taken us to the ski lift parking lot.
11.3 miles and, if we’re counting hiking time only – 6 hours later, our Mount Baldy adventure was complete. One of the most balanced and enjoyable hikes we have yet to do, we both finished this hike satisfied and extremely grateful for the experience… and each other.
Things to know:
- You need an Adventure Pass, you can pick one of for $5 at the Visitors Center (map here) before parking
- Bring a lot of water, Drew and I each had our camel baks with 3 liters of water, which we finished by the time we got to the Top of the Notch
- You can refill for the hike down at the Top of the Notch; there is a water fountain near the restrooms
- You can opt to take the ski lift to or from the Top of the Notch, it’s $15 up, $12 down or $25 roundtrip. We of course recommend hiking both ways but if you really only want to do a one-way hike, we recommend hiking up Baldy Bowl and then taking the lift down. Another option is taking the lift up, hiking to Mount Baldy’s summit, and then hiking back to the lift and taking it down.
- Bring a hat, sunglasses, camera, chap stick (the air is dry), hiking poles (we forgot ours and really wish we had them) and plenty of sunscreen (we wore SPF 50 and still got rosy!)
- Stop at the Top of the Notch for an ice cold drink, they have a full bar and food available too! It’s open Friday – Sunday, 8am – 6pm