A leg-buster from Big Tujunga Canyon to the highest point in the Los Angeles City Limits. A river crossing, stony trails, and long winding switchbacks lead up to a fantastic view of the city and the surrounding landscape. This is a great training hike for taller mountains, and is often used by hikers who are planning to hike Mount Whitney.

NOTE: This trail was heavily damaged in the Station Fire, but has been reopened as of May 25, 2012. Trail conditions may have changed significantly from the following write-up.

Mount Lukens is the highest point of elevation within L.A.’s city limits. The summit itself is full of radio towers and fire roads and not exactly the most pleasant summit in the San Gabriels, but the views can be outstanding and the journey is tough but rewarding. This trail gains over 3000 feet of elevation in just under 4 miles – a relentless, leg-busting trip that makes this an excellent training hike for taller peaks – especially if you’re not in the mood to spend that much time in your car. This is one of the best Mount Whitney training trails out there and it’s not rare to see people on this trail in full backpacking gear getting ready for their big journey.

In most cases, you can park down at the picnic area at the bottom of Doske Road, but when I hiked this the gate to the parking area was locked – adding some extra distance to the journey.

The road to the Wildwood Picnic Area was about a half mile paved descent to a mostly-empty parking lot. A few cars had managed to get down there, somehow, and a couple of scattered fishermen stood knee-deep in the Tujunga River, casting their fishing rods into the distance.

Looking up, I could see the distant antennae atop Mount Lukens. From here, it looked like quite a distance.

Toward Stone Canyon

I walked through the parking lot and onto an unofficial trail that meandered along the riverbed. On the other bank, I could see a small piece of neon tape tied to a branch, but was having trouble finding a good place to try to cross the Big Tujunga Creek.

Depending on the level of water in the creek, you can either boulder-hop or, as I did, just take your boots off and walk carefully across the stones to get to the other side. If you do decide to go the barefoot route, just watch out for any glass or litter washed from upstream picnic areas.

On other descriptions I’ve read of the Stone Canyon trail, many complained about how difficult it was to find the actual trail. There is no brown wooden trailhead beckoning you from a distance, but the trail isn’t too hidden if you know where to look.

Running into the Big Tujunga River is a large, gray stone landslide area. The trail is on a ridge to the immediate east of this canyon. It’s not visible when you’re walking toward it from the west, but if you hug the water you’ll spot it quickly. Here’s a view from above, where you can clearly see where the trail is in relation to the canyon. Hopefully, that’ll help.

Stone Canyon and Trail

The early part of the trail makes a rocky bee-line toward the mountains to the south. After keeping up a steady but gradual incline along the rocks, it hits the canyon wall and starts its long, switchbacking journey to the summit.

Stone Canyon Trail

If you don’t like switchbacks, you’re probably on the wrong trail. But at least you can still enjoy the scenery of the Big Tujunga Canyon as the views open up with each step up you take. Shortly after you round a few bends on the north slope, you’ll come across a large swath of burnt chaparral, remnants of a fire that happened there in 2002. Odds are the scenery may be different due to the more recent 2009 Station Fire tearing through the area.

Most of the low grasses and brush have re-appeared since the 2002 fire, but you can still see lots of burnt branches from some of the larger plants. And, due to our recent rains and warm temperatures, some of the plants have been tricked into thinking it’s spring. The blooms and burns make for a nice contrast.

Moss

As the trail continues up the mountain, the brush gives way to low manzanita and some small pines. There are even some moss and ferns hugging the especially shaded sections of the north side, which I don’t remember seeing very often on the lower San Gabriels.

Although you stay within earshot of Big Tujunga Canyon Road (and the especially loud motorcycles that tend to drive it), the further away you get, the better views you’re given. Right across the street, you can easily make out Condor Peak and Fox Mountain, two of the more secluded San Gabriel peaks.

Condor and Fox

The way up offers little in the way of vertical rest. To give you an idea of how steep this trail gets, here’s a typical switchback you’ll encounter on your ascent.

Incline

Fortunately, though, this trail has plenty in the way of views. It was fairly hazy when I went up, but I still had clear vision to the east as far as snow-covered Mount Baldy, framed here by Strawberry Peak and Mount Lawlor.

Framed

At the 3.5 mile mark, you’ll pass a junction with the Sister Elsie Trail, which will take you down Haines Canyon to Tujunga. Continue ascending on the Stone Canyon Trail, and soon, the trees and brush will give way to a windswept, dusty ridge, with the trail offering quite the cinematic reveal of the L.A. sprawl below:

Over the Ridge

Valley Sprawl

While the haze doesn’t play well with my pictures, I was able to clearly make out the peaks of Boney Mountain and Sandstone Peak to the east, and see south past Palos Verdes. And this wasn’t even the summit!

At 4.3 miles, the trail crosses a fire road and makes a straight line for the radio towers that mark the peak’s summit. The summit marker is on the western edge of the ridge with all the towers and equipment on it.

Closer Towers

Marker on Lukens

When you’re done, return back the way you came.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors, Casey is also a seasoned television producer.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on March 6, 2007

28 Comments

  • Carly P. says:

    Did this hike last Saturday and used this write-up, thanks Casey! It was a great hike!!

  • I hiked this trail as well as as Fox /Condor several times in 1997/98 seasons-at that time the trail head as well
    as the trail were maintained by a single volunteer. Since the forest pass program was installed the trail has not been touched. You would think the opposite would exist. -CC

  • David says:

    I did this hike today which I have done at least ten times prior to the fire. Finding the start of the trail is really not that difficult as you follow the dirt trail down from the parking lot head upstream and cross over the Tujunga Creek. As long as you cross the obvious rocky wash on the other side of the creek you will find the start of the trail as it begins immediately on the other side of said, wash. The trail parallels the wash on that side until you begin climbing.

    The state of the trail is primarily intact but it is the worse for wear. The lower section prior to moving into the canyon next to Stone is in the best shape and similar to what it was prior to the fire. From there the trail deteriorates with some wash outs and erosion. There is one spot where it looks like the section below the trail is almost all washed out and you’re floating on top of the drop off. Further up it gets brushier and long pants are recommended. There are many spots where the trail has slumped so be aware that the tread is erratic and quite rocky. The top section looks like it was worked by the firefighters and the actual direction of the original trail has been moved from where is used to be. Also the top section does have some poodle dog still growing as well as poison oak so watch what you touch.

    If you’re a casual hiker you should wait until the trail is tidied up a bit more. For the rest of you this is a lot of fun if you take it slow and watch your step.

  • Kara says:

    Did this hike today and was excited to do it since it has been proclaimed a real butt kicker in terms of elevation gain and that part was for sure true. Had no problem finding the area or the trail, crossing the river was not so bad, got my foot a little wet, but bearable. Starting the trail it was a nice incline up and the switchbacks weren’t so horrible it was just that the condition of the trail that was so overgrown that made it not the best experience. Definitely wear pants if you’re going to attempt this super scratchy hike! My girlfriend and I made it super close to the top, but not all the way. We saw our first rattlesnake near the beginning and he was just chilling in the trail and moved on so no problem there, but higher up I saw one super close to my left side in the brush and it was super big and after that one we were a little too paranoid to continue! The trail is just so overgrown you can’t see what is right beside you and for me, that’s a little much. Wish I could have gone to the top but I’m way more at peace now that I’m out of the rattlesnake’s way…

  • dan says:

    I made the “trail” the whole way today. Its pretty much destroyed and very overgrown at times. I would not recommend this trip as a recreational opportunity. I would also suggest that this site take the moment to post a warning that this trail is closed and unmaintained at the top of the description. Have fun out there!

  • Eri says:

    I tried this trail today but I didn’t make it very far. After about 30 min of mucking around by the river I stumbled onto the trail. Since it has been so dry the river was easy to cross near where the river of boulders is. The pink markers tied along the bushes were easy to spot. There was no mention of closure.

    I was wearing shorts which is my preferred method of hiking. Unfortunately the trail was extremely overgrown with foxtail and all sorts of prickly weeds. I toughed it out for about a mile or so up, but when I got a good view of the next segment I could see it was just as grown out. I’ll definitely try it again with long pants, but I’m concerned about the the trail being washed out as Danny said.

  • Danny says:

    Bryin, Did you see orange flags? That was the correct trail if you did. If you backtracked before the shale wash, there is a fresh trail that leads up to the switchback above…..

  • Bryin Taylor says:

    We found the basic location easily but no luck with the correct trail. There are danger signs but the trails and area or now opened as far as I could tell. Crossed the stream where the Stone Canyon Trail sign was and found a trail that we thought was the right one leading up the mountain. After a few hundred yards it ended in the shale wash out. We continued up that but stopped as we saw now new trail and it sucked walking through all the loose rocks. Oh well this one is too far and too difficult a find for another attempt.

  • Erik says:

    Danny- are you not part of the public? Those signs are in place to help protect areas that need to recover.

  • Danny says:

    There are signs up saying that the public is prohibited from going into the wilderness, but I went anyway……Got about half-way and there is a large gap where the trail is gone due to erosion. I tried to go around, but no luck…ended up returning.

  • wizardofcairo says:

    Attempted this trail today and the keyword here is “attempted”. Like mentioned in Hanan’s post the river is kinda high, so you have to take off shoes and sock and have some sort of a stick to brace yourself. The current is a little strong.

    But after the little adventure of crossing the river, finding the trail was journey on it’s own. The whole area is overgrown with foxtail. After about an hour going up and down the canyon, we find the trail head. Sadly, it’s not much of a trail anymore. I assume since the whole area has been closed since the fires the trail has just gotten overgrown. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, the foxtail is just atrocious throughout.

  • Hanan says:

    I went out there today. It was rough crossing the river because of the snowpack melting in the area. Not a safe river to cross right now. Also, as mentioned about a month ago the trail is apparently still supposed to be closed. When I got back to my car I had a ticket that said I wasn’t allowed to enter the area.

  • Ken says:

    Was at Wildwood July 2. Guard shack foundation is all that is present. Fooding has buried about a 1/4 of the out house. Just the crowns of the trees are green. Evidence of major rock erosion has taken place in the canyons. I would be a great project to take same location picture this year and succeeding years to visiually see the progression. Additionally, there is a great road cut with metamorphic Serpentinite overlaid by fining upward conglomorates in serveral episodes.

  • joe says:

    After looking at this site I planned a trip to Mt. Lukens. Well, when i got there i found out the park was closed for the season due to the fires last year. It might be a good idea to update the site letting future hikers know that the trail is closed.

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Joe,

      Sorry you made the trek all the way out there! I have some info on the road closures on my FAQ page, which details the full extent of the Station Fire burn area.

      Unfortunately, as a one-man operation, I don’t really have the resources to maintain real-time updates of trail status on the individual trails. If the hike you want to do is west of the 39 in the Angeles National Forest, assume it’s closed until further notice.

  • Kolby says:

    Great report. I laughed that your order of prioritization after falling was first camera, then socks, and then finally/i> body damage check. However, I would have probably done the same! haha

  • Erik says:

    Wish I had seen your writeup earlier… did this hike last week and spent 30 minutes trying to find the trail on the south side of the creek (which was dry for me at least). Thanks for another good summary!

  • Alison says:

    I also recommend the hikes from Deukmejian on the south. It can be hot so a cool day helps, but both trails are nice, although I prefer Crescenta View.

    But your hike reports are great. We followed the Mt. Mooney one today and your notes helped a lot!

  • Lisa says:

    Thanks for the wonderful report on Mount Lukens! I grew up in Tujunga and was on line searching for a small river to recommend to some relatives presently in Tujunga and found your article. It was so nice I had to write and say what a terrific report, with satellite marked pictures …. to be very impressive, with heart warming photos of where I grew up as a child as well. Thank you for the great article!!

  • Antler says:

    A classic hike. For an alternate but excellent route to Mt. Lukens I recommend starting at Deukmejian Wilderness Park to the south of the peak. A nice loop hike can be done by going up the Crescenta View Trail on the east side of Dunsmore Canyon, connecting with the fire break/road that follows the ridge to the peak, then taking the Haines Canyon dirt road west from the peak and connecting with the Rim of the Valley Trail which leads you down the west side of Dunsmore Canyon back to Deukmejian Park. Not an ounce of shade on this route so do it when the weather is very cool and early in the morning.

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