A short, steep, switchback-sprinkled trail up the north face of Mount Disappointment to San Gabriel Peak. You’ll pass an old Nike Missile Station and end your hike on a small peak with some nice 360-degree views. This is a fairly easy, shaded, and short hike, with great views (on clear days) and several opportunities to knock some other peaks off your list.
A friend and I decided to tackle San Gabriel Peak after a winter storm left a light dusting of snow. We drove through the Angeles Crest Highway, turned at the Mount Wilson Road, and parked in a small lot on a short side road.
The trailhead looks like a mess, but I promise it’s really easy to find the Bill Reilly Trail. You should be able to make out some of the stonework that holds the trail up just south of the small parking area.
We hiked at a steady pace through the forested sections of the trail, but every time we popped out on the western ridge and faced the snow-capped mountains in the distance, we had to stop and gaze for a few moments.
It does, however, mean that a lot of those higher mountains are probably off-limit to me for a little while … or until I buy some crampons.
The hike was uneventful on the way up, until we started coming on some trail stones with a light coating of frost. Further up the trail, we had a little taste of full-on snow. Still not enough to get in our way, but enough to make two misplaced New Englanders feel like maybe – for just a minute – that it actually might be winter.
I mentioned we’re both stubborn New Englanders, right?
We got to the saddle at the 1.3 mile mark and stopped to have a small snack. We had a great view of the leveled top and old military and radio installations of Mount Disappointment – which is named thusly not for any aesthetic shortcomings but rather because early surveyors figured the pointy, prominent peak was the tallest in the front range when they first looked upon the San Gabriels … but quickly discovered San Gabriel Peak itself was just a bit taller. The effect is more pronounced now that the summit of Disappointment was flattened for infrastructure.
Being the first person on a trail – even if it’s an established trail – can give a slight sense of trailblazing. Knowing that we beat everyone to the forest that morning felt great, and crunching our boots on freshly fallen snow felt even better.
Whatever had beaten us to the trail that morning seemed to like walking on the trail, too. The footprints kept going for a while, and I stooped down to get a better look at the tracks.
The Sierra Club notes that 49 peaks above 5000 feet are visible from the summit of San Gabriel Peak on a clear day … but they also note that the last time they had a record of that happening was in 1947.
Very good. There are some steep switchbacks near the trailhead, but nothing terrible. The trail up to San Gabriel Peak is a bit more rugged and gets close to some steep edges, but is very manageable.
From the Angeles Crest Highway exit off the 210, head north for 13.9 miles and take a right onto Mount Wilson Red Box Road. In 0.4 mile, look for a nondescript dirt road on the right hand side. There is a small parking area here and the trailhead is just to the south of the parking area.
With recent wildfire damage and ongoing waves of COVID-19 infections and restrictions, National Forest, National Park, and other public land closures, restrictions, or social distancing guidelines may be in-effect.
If infection rates are on the rise, please do your best to remain local for your hikes. If you do travel, please be mindful of small gateway communities and avoid as much interaction as you can. Also remember to be extra prepared with supplies so you don't have to stop somewhere outside your local community for gas, food, or anything else.
Please be sure to contact the local land management agency BEFORE you head out, as these conditions are likely to change without enough notice for us to fully stay on top of them. Thanks, and stay safe!
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