Mt. Baldy (dayhike)

SA Report: The hills are alive...

Trip Date: 3/28/2015

Location: Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument 

Permit/Pass: None

Trail maps: calitrails topo 

Directions: From the Foothill Freeway (210) in San Antonio Heights, take the Baseline Rd. exit to Padua Ave. Turn north on Padua and go 1.8 miles to a right turn onto Mt. Baldy Rd. Follow Mt. Baldy Rd. for ten miles to the Manker Flat parking area. The Falls Rd. trailhead is on the north side of the road next to the portable restrooms.

Synopsis: Mt. Baldy (Mt. San Antonio) is an iconic southern California hike. It's high, it's hard, and it's (counterintuitively) crowded, especially on the weekends. The views are inarguably spectacular on a clear day, and the high elevation scenery is beautiful. Unfortunately, some of the steep scree sections at the higher elevations are being degraded by the proliferation of use trails.

Trail sequence: Falls Rd. / ski lift rd. to Baldy Notch / Devil's Backbone Trail / Baldy Bowl Trail / ski lift rd. / Falls Rd.

Type: Loop

Distance: 10.4 miles

Elevation: Min. - 6097', Max. - 10,064'


Rating: Difficult (factors: altitude, elevation gain, length, heat, steep sections, rocky trail, a short scrambling section)

Notes: Many other trail guides peg this hike at over eleven miles. For some reason both of our tracking programs ended up at ten and a half or under. Based upon how it felt, I'd have to say that you should believe those other sites and view our distance stat with suspicion.

Track: Mt Baldy (San Antonio) - Angeles NF


Turn by Turn:

  -- Provided you can find a parking space (we arrived at 7:30 on a late-March Saturday and there were at least 80 cars here already), grab your gear and head for the heavy, white gate just past the porta-potties. Squeeze around the right side of the gate and start walking up Falls Rd.

  -- At just over a half-mile you come to San Antonio Falls. Here the pavement turns to dirt and doubles back on itself as it continues to climb.

  -- Just a third of a mile or so past the falls there is an easily-missed side trail leading off steeply to the left. This is the trail to the Sierra Club Ski Hut and the Baldy Bowl Trail to the summit. (We intended to take this trail up, but missed the turn-off. It's not marked so keep an eye out if you want to take this loop in the clockwise direction.) Note that this is where you'll complete the loop on the return trip.

  -- Continue along the dirt road for about three miles as you head up to the ski lodge at Baldy Notch. You'll walk under the ski lift several times, and there will be places where the road offers several choices. Just keep an eye on the lodge and head that way. When you arrive you can actually take a break and have some food (there's a cafe) and drink, and hit the restrooms if you like.

[Though there are nice views along this part of the loop, the foregoing is actually the least interesting part of the hike and some people choose to cut 1500 vertical feet of ascent off of the hike by taking the ski lift up to the lodge. I believe it costs about $20.]

  -- When you leave the lodge you'll look north to see a couple of trails leading up and one heading to the east. We took the one in the middle, but I believe they all go to the same place (the left trail, which may or may not be called the Turkey Chute, is supposedly steeper, but offers a bail out spot where you can rejoin the main trail just a short ways up).

  -- Follow the Devil's Backbone trail as it turns to the west and gradually climbs along the south side of the ridge. Eventually the trail reaches the ridge itself where you begin a section of sometimes narrow and steep crossing along the ridge. It shouldn't present too much of a problem to anyone not suffering from vertigo, except if taken when snowy and icy.

  -- About a half-mile from the summit you begin a steep section of rocky scree and route-finding. There are many different trail-lets through this treeless stretch, and it can be a bit of a slog, but the summit is a huge reward. If you're there on a clear day, you've got views of the L.A. basing below, out to San Clemente and Santa Catalina islands, south to the Saddleback peaks in Orange County, east to San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, north to the desert and southern Sierra, and Mt. Baden-Powell just a few miles to the west.

  -- The return trip begins by dropping off the south slope of the mountain and heading out onto a ridge running south. This is a very pretty section of the hike, unfortunately degraded by constant trail-making. Be careful on these sandy, gravely, steep trails.

  -- You level out briefly about a quarter-mile down - this is a beautiful lunch spot if you haven't indulged at the top - at which point you'll look for the trail to head a bit to the right around the west side of the rocky ridge. Continue dropping steeply down to another level section where the trail finally turns to the east and heads down the east side of the ridge into the Baldy Bowl.

  -- After negotiating the many switchbacks you level out and circle around the bowl - at one point through a very rocky, scrambling area, so keep an eye out for cairns - then cross San Antonio Creek just before coming to the Sierra Club Ski Hut. Rest here if needed.

  --  For the last two-plus miles you descend a bit more gradually (at least near the end) as you work your way down the east side of the bowl-canyon. (Be sure not to get sidetracked onto trails that head into the canyon and eventually over to the west side of the bowl or you'll end up with a long walk back to your car).

  -- Upon passing a trail register you'll be very close to the dirt road to the ski lodge. Turn right onto the road and return to your car, passing San Antonio Falls once again.


Photo Gallery: Flickr

Video: Youtube