Distance (round-trip)

9 mi

Time

5 hrs

Elevation Gain

3266 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

A leg-buster from Big Tujunga Canyon to Mount Lukens — 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.

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 Big Tujunga Creek, 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 Creek 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.

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





Dog-Friendly

Historical Interest

Multi-Use Trail

Solitude

Views / Vista

Trail Map

33 Comments

Larry Weisenberg Jun 17, 2019 10:06In reply to: Wes

Hiked on June 15 and the brush is still dense and makes the hike less than fun. We were the only ones on the trail and finally got tired of bushwhacking and turned around. One question: what time does the park gate open? We arrived at 8am and had to park on the highway and hike down (and therefore, back up!).

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Wes May 19, 2019 09:05

Did the trail 5/18/19 and it still needs lots of maintenance, specifically in cutting back brush. Several sections are quite thick. Some progress is being made by volunteers on the first fifth or so of the hike, but if you are thinking of going consider bringing a machete!
There is now a log foot bridge that allows passage over the river crossing without taking off your shoes. Very fun hike overall despite the thick brush and sections of poison oak (these you can carefully step around).

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J-Strap May 4, 2018 13:05

I just did this hike yesterday (5/3/18) and the trail still needs maintenance, it's gnarly. You will pushing your way through overgrown chaparral, as there's been a decent amount of rain this winter. There is a lot of poison oak, our party had difficulty avoiding it, and we weren't completely successful... There are sections of the trail that have washed out, nothing impassable though. Still worth it imo.

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Belle Nov 14, 2017 09:11

Just did this hike yesterday (11/13/17) and the trail needs some major maintenance. Lots of bushes and lots of washed out parts of the trail that could be very dangerous for non-exprienced hikers.

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jpneus Oct 22, 2015 11:10

I did this hike on October 18, 2015. The gate was open and we were able to park right next to the trailhead. Thus, instead of 9.2 miles (the listed mileage when this hike was done by Casey in 2007), it is about 8 miles total. It is still about 3,000 feet gain/loss in about 4 miles. It is still overgrown and wearing pants is highly recommended.

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Bernadette Apr 21, 2015 09:04

Hiked this last weekend and, heads up, it's really overgrown right now. Definitely wear full length pants and be prepared to be on a constant lookout for poison oak. Other than the bushwhacking, it's a nice, uncrowded training hike.

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Alan Jan 24, 2015 16:01

I just came back from finishing this one. The gate was open and I was able to park in the lot which was nice. I didn't have much trouble finding the trail it looks like there is ongoing maintenance at the beginning. The are a few washed out spots further up the mountain but nothing too difficult, I would imagine it will get much worse with a couple of good storms though. I can't imagine how painful wearing shorts would be on this trail, once spring hits there may be some bushwacking necessary to get through. I don't know the name of the bush, but it has lots of sharp points and stands 5' tall growing into the trail at some points. The Santa Ana winds were in full force today, the bottom was still but by 2/3 of the way up the wind was whipping around me. The views were worth the climb with the wind blowing out the smog, I could even see San Nicolas island, not one that is visible that often. I'm not sure I'll be back unless I'm training for a long steep trip, this trail is perfect for that.

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Daniel Damico Jan 23, 2015 19:01

Had a great hike today. First and foremost make sure you leave yourself enough time for sunlight if you are going in the winter months as you are going to want to hang out at the summit for awhile. Wear Pants! Cant stress this enough. Also, you do need a Adventure Parking pass or some baloney so you dont get ticketed in the parking zones. Other than that me and a buddy desroyed this mountain in 3 hours and 10 minutes round trip. The views at the top were epic and we could see out to the furthest peaks of the San Gabriels, mapping out our next conquest.

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Kate Jul 6, 2014 16:07

Fun hike! Trail conditions can be hair-raising as quite a few sections have washed, slid away. But varied enough to make things interesting. Yes, very brushy, thorny, poison-oaky throughout. I did it in shorts, but by the time I came back down, was wishing for pants. Note: pay close attention to where trail joins fire road near summit--it is easy to miss the trail on your descent, since it doesn't really look like a trail turn off, just a slightly open area.

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Carly P. Jan 13, 2014 11:01

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

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