Distance (round-trip)

6.5 mi

Time

3 hrs

Elevation Gain

640 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall

Weather

NOTE: This area was badly burned by the 2009 Station Fire. The historic Vetter Mountain Fire Lookout was destroyed and the landscape will likely differ from this description, although plans are in effect to reconstruct the fire lookout to its historic specifications. For now, the region is open to hikers although all the trails themselves may not be open. To read about a dependable fire road hike to the Vetter Mountain Lookout Site, head here.

The marine layer was heavy and it was gray the entire drive up to La Canada Flintridge, where I actually started driving through the clouds. It started raining, and visibility dropped to nearly nothing – so the trip to the trailhead took a bit longer than usual. I pulled over at one of the ranger stations to snap a few pictures … and to give my knuckles a rest from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.

Flowers and Fog
Drive with Caution

After a few more miles, I finally broke through the clouds and into the pure blue California skies that were hidden from the entire population of Los Angeles.

Suckers.

I reached the Charlton Flats turnoff, parked on the road, and crossed the street to the rather inauspicious start of the fire / jeep road to Mount Mooney.

Mooney Trailhead
Mooney Trail

The pavement at the start of the Mooney Trail soon gave way to dirt road, and I would have wandered up it had a plaque sitting out in the middle of a grove not caught my eye.

As a history junkie, I’m not one to pass by a plaque of any kind without reading it – so I hopped off the trail and into the grove. Kneeling down on the carpet of pine needles, the text of plaque came into view:

DAR Stone

As I stood up to get back on the proper trail, I heard some thumping from a ridge above me. Looking up, I saw a pair of deer walking through the brush. As I stopped, they turned around to look at me.

Deer
Another Deer

These were the first deer I’d seen in a long time, so I stopped in my tracks and remained silent while they checked me out to make sure I wasn’t a threat. After a moment, they went about their business and wandered back into the woods while I got back on the trail.

The actual fire road was – like most fire road trails – not very exciting. But it was easy to follow and had plenty of shade from the pines. When I got to the saddle in about 0.7 miles, I got a great view – clouds lapping at the walls of Devil’s Canyon, while Waterman Mountain and Twin Peaks emerged from the cover.

Twin Peaks and Waterman

I continued along the fire road after it forked left taking pictures of old trees, when I realized the road I was on was starting to descend – and it didn’t look like it was going up anytime soon. So I turned around, hiked back to the saddle, and found I was on a third, unmarked (at least on my Wilderness Press topo map) fire road.

If you’re hiking this, when you get to the saddle at 0.7 miles take a hard left – walk toward a few water tanks on the slope of the mountain. You’ll see a clear fire road, but it’s not as well-traveled as the one that goes back down the north side of the mountain. FYI.

At the Fork

The road gets sandier and dustier as it makes its way toward the summit, but thankfully you won’t have to be on it very long. The summit itself is forested, but you can poke out onto the south slope for some good views of the front range. Or, in my case, more clouds.

Mount Mooney Summit
Mooney and Vetter 018

After eating a quick snack at the summit at about the 1.5 mile mark, I made my way back down, stopping when I ran into four deer munching on some grass on the side of the trail. Again I remained very quiet, and this time just sat down on the trail to watch them. We stared at each other for a good minute or two before they walked deeper into the brush. They’d take a few steps, then stop and turn to look back at me to make sure I was still sitting before they moved on. I was happy to take some time out to watch them go about their business, too.

When you reach the Angeles Crest Highway again, you should be at around the 2.5 mile mark.

Cross the Highway and descend through the picnic areas to a small paved road. When I hiked this, there were a few people firing up the barbecues there but not nearly as many as I expected there to be. Although the path was a paved road, the giant trees provided a nice feeling of seclusion, even when I was walking by some of the families celebrating Easter.

Toward Vetter

There were a few wooden bridges over a wide seasonal stream.

Bridge To?

Finding the actual trail to Vetter Mountain from here can be a bit tricky. After a little bit of walking, the road you’re on comes to a cul-de-sac just before a small bridge. You’ll see this semi-confusing trail marker on the east side of the road:

Directions

If you keep walking, you’ll miss the turn-off. The sign for the Vetter Mountain trail is actually on the back of one of these markers. So when you get to them at around the 3 mile mark, just head due west across the stream and you’ll spot the trail right away.

This is another trail I was expecting to be crowded. From what I’ve read about the Vetter Mountain lookout, it seems to be a pretty popular place. But I’m guessing most people headed to the lookout just follow the road up the tower instead of wandering north and taking the “long way around.” That works out for us, because this scenery is pretty nice.

The trail was forested, shaded, and very well maintained. A stream bed follows it for most of the lower section of the trail which, again, would have been nice had there been any water.

On Vetter Mountain Trail

Eventually the trail winds back into some low shrubs, and then hooks south for the major incline around the 3.8 mile mark. You’ll gain about 600 feet in a little over a mile. Soon, the Vetter Mountain Lookout Tower came into view – a nondescript, short, white building.

Vetter Mountain Lookout

Unfortunately, this historic fire tower – built in 1935 – was burned down in the Station Fire of 2009 and no longer exists. For a great peek inside the tower, my friend Kolby shot a video with one of the volunteer lookouts.

Construction on a new replacement structure was set to begin in 2013, although it’s still currently limited to a makeshift shelter. As of 2017, the lookout is planned to be restored in its historic form, although only a concrete foundation has been poured so far. You can still hike along the old roads to the lookout site, which is a great place to watch the marine layer roll in.

That said, even if the tower isn’t there – the views still very much are.

Toward Tujunga
Where the City Would Be

West

After taking in the views, it’s about two miles on another paved road back to the car. And no, paved roads aren’t usually nice to hike on, but when you can look to your right and watch clouds literally wrap themselves around a mountain range, it’s not all that bad.

Clouds 2

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





Dog-Friendly

Historical Interest

Kid-Friendly

Multi-Use Trail

Views / Vista

Trail Map

9 Comments

Casey Schreiner Jul 17, 2018 09:07In reply to: Steve Powell

Steve, I've heard plans are moving forward but it's kind of caught up in paperwork or something now. From what I've heard, the volunteers have secured the funds they need and have plans to reconstruct the original lookout structure, but I'm not sure what's keeping things from getting moving. That said, this is still a fun trek to do - even if you just hike along the old road to the lookout site.

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Steve Powell Feb 5, 2018 13:02

Any word on a future fire lookout?
Back in 2007, or 2008, we did the hike from Chilao to Vetter, then to Mt. Mooney, then back to Chilao on the fireroad that overlooks Devil's Canyon. Charlton/Chilao is one of my favorite areas in the San Gees.

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Jerry Merwin Oct 17, 2017 18:10

I know this area like the back of my hand. I lived in Vetter with my mom and sister from 1955 to 1961 when I went to work for the USFS. I was 12 years old when we went to the tower.

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Casey Schreiner Aug 6, 2017 09:08In reply to: Anthony

Nice! I just re-hiked this area last week and will be doing an updated post on an out-and-back to Vetter that avoids the closed / worst burned trails soon. The Volunteer Fire Lookout folks are really nice, aren't they?

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Anthony Aug 5, 2017 21:08

I did this today. It looks completely different from the photos (not many trees left). However, it's still a pleasant area and the view from the lookout is still amazing. I met some nice volunteers who were manning a temporary lookout next to the old one.

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Marty Mar 29, 2015 11:03

Wow the trail is a mess for both of these peaks. The Vetter trail had a closed sign at about half way through but I guess you can still take the service road. When trying to go up to Mooney there is a sign that says "area closed" and there are a lot of burned trees and poodle brush in both areas. There was Forest Service and volunteers that looked to be gearing up to do some work but I'm not sure how long it will be until these areas will open again. I would say have a back up hike in mind if you plan on going here.

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mhisti Feb 22, 2012 23:02

I hiked this on President's Day, but as a point of info the trail up the North East side of Vetter Mountain is still closed after the fire. You can still hike up the road to the look out station though.

If you want a more interesting hike to Vetter Mountain that is open you can start another 3.5 miles back towards Red Box on the Angeles Crest highway, right across from the start of the Shortcut Canyon hike written up elsewhere on this site. That trail heads South from the 2 hwy, but The Silver Moccasin Trail crosses the 2 here and if you take it going North instead descends very pleasantly through the trees to reach the creek at the bottom of the valley after about a mile. It follows the creek up a short way and then climbs the southern side of Vetter Mountain meeting the fire road from Charlton Flats up to the peak at one of the picnic areas about a 1/2 mile from the summit. Roundtrip just over 5 miles.

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Persey Aug 11, 2009 11:08

This is a great hike. I also am a volunteer up at this tower. It's a great way to give back to the forest that has given me so much. I wanted to comment on the above post about the insulated stool. Yes, it is in case of lightening strikes but my husband (who volunhteers with me) always laugh that there is only one chair and two of us so if a lightening storm did pass over, it would be a laughable scene with my huband on the tall stool and me in his lap holding on! If I am not on duty and taking friends up here, my favorite way to go is up the paved fire road then up the last mile or so of dirt road to the Tower then take the Vetter Mountail Trail back down to Charlton Flats and the parking area. If you camp at Chilao Campground, you can take the Silver Moccasin trial from the campground to Charlton Flats then take the Vetter Mountail Trail up to the tower. Bring your GPS and find Smokey's Geocache!

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AndyM Jul 19, 2009 12:07

Thanks for this hike suggestion - hiked it today. The gnats seem to love being in your face though - seems like everywhere is infested this summer. Head net is a must ($2 at walmart). The Vetter fire lookout is opened up and today there were two volunteers up there. Super nice guys who were looking for more volunteers, actually. They've got a stool that has "insulated" legs so apparently you're safe on that thing if lightning strikes the tower. They've got a nice hummingbird feeder too which had a lot of traffic.

By the way, thanks for posting all this great local hike information!

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