Posted by: GeekHiker | November 18, 2007

HIKE: Sawmill Mountain

A few hikes in my repertoire are regulars: one’s that I do every year, without fail. The interesting thing about these hikes is that, while the location and time-of-year are the same, the hikes are always different.

This hike, some distance out from LA, is something I’ve always called my “Annual Fall Colors Hike” and I’ve been doing it for about eight years. I’ve hiked it solo, with The Ex Girlfriend, and with groups of friends. I’ve gone in warm weather and during winter storms. It’s a bit of a drive to get there, but it’s spectacular, and you get the added bonus of one of the prettiest sections of the PCT in Southern California.

(Note: Pictures are from this year and 2004. I’ve got some spectacular slides from 2000 I’ll scan… someday…)

From the road, proceed down the trail (marked as Forest Service Road 7N23B). At the dry wash, stop and take a look around. You’re standing on the San Andreas Fault, leaving the North American Plate and heading onto the Pacific Plate.

Even more interesting (well, to me at least, but I’m a geek): the hills directly behind you are volcanic rock, the remains of an ancient volcano, most of which is now gone. Where did most of that old mountain go? North. It’s currently Pinnacles National Monument.

I love thinking in geologic time.

Continuing along the trail, you pass through the remnants of an old trail camp and head into a small canyon filled with maple trees. If your timing is right (i.e. lucky) the canyon will be filled with vibrant reds and yellows of the turning maple leaves, and the canyon floor covered in red leaves.


Maple leaves from 2004 hike

Here and there you’ll hear the trickle of the little creek, sometimes running underground, sometimes above it, as you head up the canyon. Note, one section is quite steep; trekking poles come in handy here. Not that the poles prevented me from, for the first time ever, falling flat on my ass on the way down, much to the humor of my hiking companion.

Don’t let it ever be said that hiking with me isn’t entertaining.

As the canyon widens out, the maples give way to oaks, also usually covered in gold leaves in the fall. One year I came upon a colony of ladybugs, thousands of them, covering the vegetation and, cumulatively, making quite a racket.


Golden oak leaf

Another quick scramble and you arrive at the old Upper Shake Campground. A perfect spot for a campground, it hasn’t been open in years and the winters have clearly taken their toll.


Oak tree in Upper Shake Campground, 2004 hike

Turning right, head down the entrance road out of the campground. After approximately .3 miles, look for a large concrete ford on the road. To your left will be a sometimes hard to discern trail heading up-canyon. Take this trail, sometimes overgrown, about a mile and a half up hill to an intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. Be sure to take the quick jog to the top, at the Maxwell Truck Trail, for a view into the mountains south of here.


Oaks along the campground road


Colorful leaves near the turnoff from the campground entrance road

Heading back to the PCT, head east. The PCT in this section is relatively flat, weaving in and out of little canyons under a shady pine forest. Eventually you’ll reach a piece of exposed granite looking out over the shady canyon. Hop to the other side for a flat perch that makes a great spot for lunch, looking out over the canyon & campground area and south over the Antelope Valley.


Looking out over the Antelope Valley

Continuing along the trail, look to your left for the return trail to the campground (be sure to look carefully, the trail comes in at a sharp angle from below).

Turning down this trail, you’ll head through more golden-leaved oak trees, descending via several switchbacks back down to the campground.

Head north through the campground to where you originally entered, closing the loop. Head back down the maple-filled canyon to the trailhead.

Total Distance: 4.8 miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,000′/1,000′


Directions: From Interstate 5, exit at Lake Huges Road (exit 176). Drive north to the end of the road at Elizabeth Lake road and turn left. Note: on some maps, this junction is marked as Elizabeth Lake Road to the right and Pine Canyon Road to the left. Drive to mile marker 4.56. Trail starts at rusted gate on the south side of the road. National Forest Pass required.



  1. […] The main hike write-up from last year is here. […]

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