Posted by: GeekHiker | October 30, 2008

HIKE: Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy)

In all the years I’ve lived in Southern California, I’d somehow managed not to hike Mt. Baldy. I think I always thought the drive out to the trail head was too long. But, despite the long haul, I did it anyway a couple of weeks ago.

Mt. San Antonio, better known as Mt. Baldy, is the tallest peak in Los Angeles County. Along with The Bridge to Nowhere, it’s one of those hikes that every hiker in Southern California must at one point do.

For this first ascent, I decided to take the easiest route, making use of the Mt. Baldy ski lift, which is open during the non-snowy months on weekends for hikers, mountain bikers, and day-trippers. Don’t be fooled, though: despite the advantage of the ski lift, the trail still climbs expeditiously to over 10,000 feet with no acclimatization.

The ski lift takes you from 6,500 feet to 7,800 feet in about 10-15 minutes, a quiet ride up the canyon, often with mountain bikers below you.

Baldy 01
Riding up the Mt. Baldy Ski Lift

From the top, walk around and to the left, past the restaurant (open for lunch) and the ski school towards lift four. The trail begins on the service road that heads up under the ski lift. I suggest avoiding the wash on the left which, although it looks like an easier gradient, actually becomes much steeper towards the latter half.

Baldy 02
Start of the trail; I recommend the road on the right, not the wash on the left

Baldy 03
Ascending the service road

Switchbacking up 700 feet, you’ll arrive at the top of Chair Four, seeing your first view of the desert to the north and, a short distance later, your first view of the peak itself.

Baldy 04
View of Baldy from just past the top of Lift 4

The road ends, but the trail continues along the section known as the Devil’s Backbone. Once a hair-raiser until the 1930’s when the CCC rebuilt it (complete with handrails which are now gone), the section ascends along the spine of the mountain.

Baldy 05
Along the Devil’s Backbone

Curving south, the trail continues its steady ascent along gravelly slopes around Mt. Harwood. Mt. Baldy comes into view again and, if you look carefully, you can see the tiny people picking their way along the trail that ascends it.

Baldy Trail Photomerge
Along the trail; Baldy Bowl is on the left, the peak on the right

Passing a saddle at mile 2.6, the trail begins the steep, gravelly, direct ascent of the peak itself. Here and there a few weathered pines make a living along the otherwise barren slopes.

Baldy 06
Weathered pine surviving in a draw near the summit

Finally, 3.2 miles from your start, you’ll arrive at the rounded summit. The views are panoramic, but the wind can be atrocious. Here and there previous hikers have made use of the many rocks to build windbreaks.

Summit Panorama Uncorrected West North East
Un-color-corrected summit panorama looking West-North-East

Summit Panorama Uncorrected South
Un-color-corrected summit panorama looking East-South over the LA Basin

Baldy 07
Twin ribbons of I-15 descending the San Gorgonio Pass into the desert, heading towards Vegas

To the east, the other two tall peaks in Southern California can be seen: San Gorgonio Peak on the left and San Jacinto Peak on the right.

Baldy 08
Looking towards San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Peaks

If the day is very clear, your view south takes in the greater Los Angeles Basin. On the day I was there, Santa Catalina Island, 75 miles away, floating like a mirage in the distance.

Baldy 09
Distant Santa Catalina Island across the Pacific

Return by the same route.

Total Distance: 6.4 MilesElevation Gain/Loss: 2,300/2,300′


Mt. Baldy Ski Lift

Directions: From Interstate 210, exit at Baseline Road. Turn left, then turn right at Padua Avenue. Follow Padua 1.8 miles and turn right at Mt. Baldy Road. Follow Mt. Baldy Road 11.8 miles to the ski resort. (As far as I know, a Forest Pass is not required to park in the ski resort lot, but you may want to confirm with the Forest Service.)



  1. Wow, what a hike! I would be too clutsy to do the Devil’s Backbone. I’d be rolling down one of the sides.

    Although there are many great pics, the Twin Ribbons of I-15 really appealed to me. It’s nice to see the highway from that view. I always see it on the ground.

  2. That looks amazing. Man, the east coast is so boring. I hope I don’t get stuck here just for the sake of making enough money to buy myself a 1,000 square foot box of drywall and glass.

  3. Wow, that’s gorgeous. Looks like it was well worth the drive.

  4. Great view!

    I *think* I’m going to be able to get out tomorrow to see the leaves in NE Georgia. We’ll find out soon enough!

  5. I’m so sad Alysha and I couldn’t do this with you the first time we planned!! It looks really cool…except for the backbone part which looks really scary.

    I’m so jealous you did it. I’ll have to try after the 1st of the year.

  6. Great write-up GH. Almost makes me want to come back just to do that hike. I do miss elevations over 2,000 ft.

  7. Wow! This looks like an amazing hike! I think The Devil’s Backbone looks like the best part.

  8. Dobegil – The Backbone isn’t that scary, really. Apparently it was pretty narrow before the CCC worked on it, though!

    Mrs. Chuck Bartowski – On the other hand, you guys have seasons…

    Peggy Archer – Except for the darn cold wind, it was a good hike!

    Aaron – Hope you’re able to get out this weekend!

    Mel Heth – I would have invited you, but you’ve been so busy lately…

    Homer-Dog – Thanks. If you’re ever in town for a visit in the warmer months…

    Dingo – It was cool. Actually, the section just past the Backbone is the worst, since the trail is pretty narrow.

  9. Another fab hiking post with your really great pics.

    One day I night have to go an a serious GH hike. 🙂

  10. You did it without us. Honestly, is it because I refused to go up the ski lift? Glad you made it! Such a fun hike!

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