Distance (round-trip)

6 mi

Time

2.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

1300 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

A short, yet secluded hike to a mountain deep in the western San Gabriels. A trek down a long dirt road gets you to the trailhead, where you’ll walk along unused fire roads and use-trails to the summit of Iron Mountain. While this route to the mountain is relatively short, it’s got a steep incline at the actual summit and a long, drawn out ascent on the return trip to the trailhead.

NOTE: This trail is still in the Station Fire Burn Zone. Hiking here is off-limits until further notice.

There are three "Iron Mountain"s in the San Gabriels. In the north, Iron Mountain (#3 by the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section), is a half-mile cross-country shuffle with just about 360 feet of gain. In the eastern part of the range, just west of the Baldy Bowl, there’s an Iron Mountain with no established trail — regarded as the most inacessible peak in the San Gabriels, this Iron Mountain (#1) will cost you 14 miles of almost total cross-country use-trailing. This trek, Iron Mountain (#2), falls right in the middle — just over 6 miles, on established fire roads and use-trails. But its relative ease of ascent doesn’t mean you’ll be fighting crowds.

This peak is off the Big Tujunga Canyon, nearby other tough-to-get-to peaks like Fox Mountain and Condor Peak. While it’s possible to hike the Trail Canyon Trail for a long-distance route, I got a late start on a cool December afternoon and instead opted for a much shorter access via access roads near Mill Creek, at the northern side of the Angeles National Forest.

About 11 miles from Mill Creek, past Mount Gleason, after taking your vehicle down a winding dirt road, you’ll reach a locked gate. This is the beginning of the hike. The road’s in pretty good condition — if my lil’ Accord can make it down a dirt road, chances are your car will be able to, too.

For most of this trail, you’ll be walking on the same dirt road you drove in on. I’m not sure how to accurately describe this, but it’s not like the dusty talus-scraped fire roads of most of the front range — this is like an actual forested dirt road, occasionally carpeted by pine needles and leaf piles. And since it’s rarely used, yours will probably be the first footprints on it.

Whether or not the dirt composition of the road you’re walking on interests you, you’ll definitely enjoy the views of both the backs of the Front Range and the northern ranges of the San Gabriels. It had just rained a few days before I made my journey, so the air was especially clear — I could easily make out Fox, Condor and Lukens to the south, and Wilson, Strawberry, et. al. to the east. No matter which angle you’re looking from, the bump of Strawberry Peak is always impressive.

It’s tough to make out in this shot, but some of the more eastern peaks even had a good amount of snowcover on them! Could this mean a wet winter is on our way?

The road toward the peak is fairly level and has a constant but slight descent.

Soon, you’ll get to a sharp turn in the road, which becomes completely blocked by an old downed tree. Like all giant trees in the San Gabriels, its scope is impressive. And its position and level of decay lets you know a 4-wheeled vehicle hasn’t been down this road in quite some time.

This is also where you’ll get your first clear view of Iron Mountain. From this angle, you won’t see any of the brown-tinted sand that gave the peak its name, but you will get a clear view of the roller-coaster ridge ascent to the summit.

At about the two mile mark, you’ll reach Indian Ben Saddle — a junction between three fire roads and a trail. Although the road to the right looks like it makes a more direct route toward Iron Mountain, you’ll want to stick to the left hand path.

From here, it’s basically a short turn around a bend before you’ll come across a use-trail to the summit of Iron Mountain. It’s clearly marked with a few cairns, and is easily visible from the dirt road. Congratulations — you’ve made it to the one part of the trail that gets you off the roads!

The use trail to the summit follows a narrowing firebreak on the mountain’s eastern ridge, and is lined — as these things usually are — by Spanish Bayonets.

There aren’t any portions of this trail that were particularly dicey, but this use-trail definitely has the steepest ascent. Since I went in December, it was nice and cool, and the chilly almost-night air filled my lungs and gave me some much-needed energy. I’d imagine doing this portion in the summer months would be an entirely different experience.

At the very least, though, you do get some nice vistas of Trail Canyon, which brought back some great memories of my Fox Mountain hike and Super Bowl Sunday full-day adventure to Condor Peak, which is visible in the center of this picture. There’s a wonderful route that ascends the canyon in the middle and follows the ridge to those mountains in the back — and that route is also accessible from Iron Mountain.

I still can’t believe over the next wall of mountains in this image, the sprawl of Los Angeles takes over. Honest! We’re really that close to wilderness like this!

The last few hundred feet to the summit have the steepest elevation gain of the entire hike, but since the summit’s always in view, I found motivation to keep going without stopping. When I reached the top, I stopped for a short CLIF bar and water break, and signed the register. I was the first signature in two weeks, and the rest of the notebook was pretty sparse.

On the way back to the trailhead, I was treated to a phenomenal sunset. As the sky grew darker and the green slopes of the San Gabriels were painted red, orange, and violet, the mathematical grid of streetlights and buildings slowly appeared in the distant valleys.

I need to go sunset hiking more often.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





Dog-Friendly

Multi-Use Trail

Solitude

Views / Vista

Trail Map

7 Comments

A Slight Absence, A Great Comment | Modern Hiker

A Slight Absence, A Great Comment | Modern Hiker Nov 17, 2008 19:11

[...] the rest of Tom’s experience at the Iron Mountain post, and stay tuned for more posts soon. « Death Valley [...]

Leave a Reply to A Slight Absence, A Great Comment | Modern Hiker Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tom Nov 8, 2008 20:11

Hey, thanks for re-posting that info. I scanned the text for directions and somehow missed them, my bad.

I just got back from doing this hike with my dogs, and I enjoyed it a bunch. The weather today was bang-on; a tad bit crisp, but you don't feel it when you're hiking, so it was grand. I would add a few considerations, some of them are pretty obvious, I guess, and maybe not specific to this trail, but...

+ It does take longer to get up there to the 'starting gate' than you would think. My dogs were still in bed with my wife this morning and I realized I had better get them moving rather than wait for them all to stir or I'd actually run out of daylight. I'm actually in San Pedro, so that adds to the commute. I didn't get started on the trail until around 2PM, by the time i had stopped for gas and gotten a wee bit turned around trying to get on 2 north. I had to hustle back for fear of running out of daylight. Of course, I didn't have a watch on either, which was obvioulsy stupid, so I was paranoid.
+ People hiking around here should also be mindful of hunting season; when I pulled up at the gate there were already 3 other trucks parked at the entrance, and I chatted with some guys who were packing up for the day. They told me that there were more hunters up ahead, but said it shouldn't be a problem. They also mentioned that we could see bears. I don't really know jack about hunting, but I assume calling for your dogs isn't popular when guys are skulking around trying to catch things unaware. Maybe they care, maybe not. No one said anything to me about it, and I saw a few groupd by the end of the day, all pretty close to the gate. I'd say that they stay within about a mile of the end of the road? Anyway, just be aware that hunting is legal there, so you may want to check with someone who understands it about the etiquette - I assume they wander far enough from the trail that I don't need to worry about them shooting me, and I assume they don't really have a problem with us being there. Dunno.
+ As a result of being warned about bears, I kept the dogs close with me on the trail (of course technically one ought to have them on a leash, but that's why I drove out to the middle of nowhere, so they could romp), and made a point of yelling to them a lot loudly, even when they were right with me to give animals a warning that we were coming. I'm no park ranger, but whenever I'm that far away from human contact I try to give wildlife plenty good warning we're around so we don't sneek up on anything. Don't really know if that's best advice for bears or not. Right about then I wished I'd done a bit of reading up on what strategies could be handy. My dogs are extremely well behaved and stay ight with me, or I wouldn't have felt safe after that warning.
+ Random: a bunch of fighter jets, presumably from the nearby Vandenberg AFB soared overhead repeatedly. Loud, but impressive. If you're a plane-spotter that might be a boon for this park.
+ The tree that had been down across the trail has been cleared off to the side. Really nice vista spot right there.
+ Like a true bonehead, I forgot about the register, and decided not to finish the very peak since I had grown paranoid about time. I hiked a couple of minutes more after the trail ended, and decided I'd better start back. Ugh.
+ I would reiterate the warning about the climb on the way back; I knew about it, but I underestimated it as well. I had very loose fitting boots on, and as a result I wound up with some serious blisters on both feet. Another mistake on my part. I had to man up and push through the blistering pain on the way back, because I didn't know what time it was and I was pretty freaked about something going wrong and being way out there after dark. It's a rather leisurely clim all in all, but it was daunting when I was a bit stressed about the time and in searing pain.
+ I wouldn't take a passenger car of MINE down that road. My mother in law's, maybe. I was glad I was in my 4X4, truthfully.
+ I popped in my Circle Jerks CD right before pulling away from the trailhead on the way out, and heard it 1 1/3 times, so I make it very close to 40 minutes from the trailhead to the intersection of Mount Gleason Road at Angeles Forest Highway.
+ As I descended back down into the valley,the sunset absolutely kicked my ass. I had to stop and take photos mutliple times, even though I really didn't feel like it. Amazing. Surely one of the best places to watch the sun go down.

It struck me as I was out there just how freakin far I had come to get here, and how far away from 'civilization,' I was at that moment, and how amazing it is that we can share this information so easily and precisely these days. There I was in the middle of bloody nowhere, completely alone (outside of a mile from the gate), and I was at precisely the spot on this gi-nomous Earth of ours that I had read about and seen pictures of from my couch days before. Incredible.

Thanks so much for all your work in posting this info; it utterly made my weekend (and my week, looking forward to this hike), and armed with all that detailed information a person can feel so much more confidentt plodding around in areas they've never seen before. It's just brilliant.

- Tom

Leave a Reply to Tom Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Modern Hiker Nov 6, 2008 14:11

Tom,

the directions are posted above.

From downtown LA, you'll want to head north (or east, technically) on the 2. That will take you right into the Angeles National Forest.

There's an intersection right next to Red Box Station (where you should pick up an Adventure Pass), where you should turn onto the Angeles Forest Highway. Mill Creek Summit is on this road, marked with a picnic area. It's pretty easy to spot.

Leave a Reply to Modern Hiker Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tom Nov 6, 2008 13:11

Hey - I'm in from out of the area and want to try this soon...but I don't know enough about this forest to find the starting point. Where's Mill Creek? What's the easiest way to get there? I'm coming at it from downtown LA.

Thanks,

- Tom

Leave a Reply to Tom Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

AlexM Aug 12, 2008 11:08

I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

Leave a Reply to AlexM Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Modern Hiker Dec 5, 2007 23:12

I don't remember exactly how long, but I do remember it taking me longer than I thought it would ... I'm pretty sure I had time to get through almost an entire album on the ol iPod, so probably 35-45 minutes to get from Mill Creek to the trailhead.

Leave a Reply to Modern Hiker Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HikeUp Dec 5, 2007 20:12

Nice trip report. Do you recall how long it took you to drive the 11 miles of dirt road from Mill Creek to the locked gate?

Leave a Reply to HikeUp Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *