Posted by: GeekHiker | September 10, 2007

HIKE: Mt. Williamson

Mt Williamson is, by no means, the highest peak in the Angeles National Forest; in fact, an unnamed peak a quarter mile east is higher.

So, what makes Mt. Williamson a great hike?  Two reasons: 1) a nice trail that’s a good mixture of sun and shade for most of its length and 2) Mt. Williamson lords over the desert areas north of LA.  From its top you stare straight down the mountainside with no interruptions between you, the San Andreas Fault, and the broad flat expanse of the Antelope Valley.

The hike to Mt. Williamson starts from the same parking lot as the Mt. Islip hike.  The trailhead is located at the west end of the lot, to the right of the stinkiest pit toilets in the Angeles N.F. (trust me on this one).  The trail starts north, heading up through a mixture of pines and some high-growing oak.

Be forewarned: unlike the Mt. Islip trail, with it’s relatively flat middle section, the Mt. Williamson trail is uphill all the way, with no real breaks between the trailhead and the summit.

The first section of the trail, rounding a small canyon, can be quite windy as breezes cross the mountain crest.  After passing this section, at about .75 miles in, you get your first view of Mt. Williamson itself rising above you.  Take deep breath, it’s not as bad as it looks.

Mt. Williamson 1

Looking up towards the Mt. Williamson Summit.

The trail continues up, switch backing along the north face of the mountain under shady pines and pools of sun.  Long stretches of the trail are quite narrow, about 12-16 inches, built along a steep slope (about 60+ degrees by my estimate).  This can make passing other hikers tricky, so do so with caution.

Mt. Williamson 2

The trail runs along steep gravel slopes.

At about 1.7 miles you reach an intersection.  The PCT (marked by a post) continues north from here to Canada.  To the south, a perfect view down Bear Creek Canyon unfolds beneath you, with the hazy LA Basin beyond.  Turn right and head north up the use trail along the ridge that will lead you to the peak.

Bear Canyon Photomerge

View down Bear Creek Canyon.

The use trail is surprisingly good considering its lack of maintenance.  Working your way across the ridge, you will encounter one very steep section, made up of short switchbacks that are covered in gravel.  I know I used to do this trail without trekking poles, but I can’t imagine how I did it now.

Reaching the top of the switchbacks, multiple use trails continue north and up towards the peak itself between weathered pines and low growing manzanita.  I usually end up on the left trail, which eventually ends at the main ridge of Mt. Williamson.  If you’re on this trail, turn right and ascend the last few feet to the barren summit.

From here, your view encompasses the expanse of the Antelope Valley,  Directly below you the mountain falls away steeply, ending up at a small series of hills transversing east-west.  Between these little hills lies the San Andreas fault, only a couple of miles and 2,000 feet below you.  You’re standing on the Pacific Plate, moving north a few fractions of an inch a year, and looking out over the North American Plate.

Mt. Williamson 3

Lone hiker looking out over the Antelope Valley.  (Nope, not a self-portrait!)

Mt. Williamson 4

Looking down into the San Andreas Fault (at the bottom of the hills in shadow) and the Antelope Valley beyond.

Mt. Williamson 5

Looking South to Mt. Islip.  Note trailhead parking lot near the bottom of the photo, your starting point.

When you’ve had your fill of the views, return to the trailhead by the same route.

Total Distance: 4.4 miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,600’/1,600′


Directions: From Interstate 210, exit Highway 2 North in La Canada Flintridge.  Follow the highway to the parking lot at Islip Saddle, mile post 62.5 (as of this writing, this is the point at which Highway 2 is closed due to storm damage from two years ago).  Park in the parking lot or along the road if the lot is full.  National Forest Pass required.



  1. GH,
    Great Pics! I especially like the view down Bear Creek Canyon. That is awesome!

    Glad you got a hike in this weekend.

  2. That’s one skinny trail.
    I see myself tipping over….aaaaaaaa…..

  3. With your hike reports and anwesome pics, you’re slowly changing my mental picture of Los Angeles. I have never been there and intentionally stayed away because I assumed it was just neon lights and over-tanned theatrical types. I do watch “The Hills” on MTV, ya know. Anyway, you’re opening my eyes, and maybe the idea of your city doesn’t terrify me so much anymore.

  4. dobegil – thanks for the compliments on the pictures!

    just a girl – nah, you’d be fine

    charlotte – Yeah, there is much more to LA than what’s seen on TV, and certainly more than what it’s image is. Sometimes I don’t like living in the city itself, but being able to get out to alpine peaks in an hour of driving makes it okay…

  5. […] information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Summitpost page here; Hundred Peaks page […]

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