Distance (round-trip)

3.8 mi


1.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

1185 ft




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.

The trail meanders along several switchbacks and gains elevation quickly – about 200 feet in the first third of a mile. But soon the trail loops around to the west and enters some nice cover from tree and brush.

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.

West Peaks
The San Gabriels are beautiful when they’ve got a little bit of snow on them, and it seemed that most of the peaks above 6000 feet got a pretty good dusting overnight.

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.

And Higher, Snow
After carefully maneuvering along some of the slicker sections of the trail, we got our first good view of the sharp peak of San Gabriel:

San Gabriel Peak
Shortly after, the trail joined up with the paved road near the 1.1 mile mark, which at this elevation was almost completely covered in ice. We saw the only other hikers of the day, who were trudging on the small dirt shoulder to avoid slipping. We stayed on the ice.

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.

Mount Disappointment
As we looked into the distance beyond Disappointment we could see the clouds moving up from the basin floor, cooling and growing as they hit the mountains. The last time I was up here, the city was covered by a thick June marine layer, and as I stood on the ridge, the clouds would swiftly rise through and above me. Today’s effect was a bit slower and more distant, but no less spectacular.

More Rising Clouds
We continued on to the east, passing the peak’s abandoned Nike Missile ruins and dipping down into the true saddle before starting another ascent to San Gabriel Peak. The winds picked up, the snow got thicker, and the air got colder. It was starting to get wintery, and soon we noticed that not only was it winter, but that we were walking on nearly-virgin snow.

Snow Stairs
With the exception of some small animal footprints, no one had yet walked on this part of the trail since the snow fell.

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.

I’m not 100% sure, but they look like bobcat tracks to me. The prints were pretty fresh, but whatever it was, it was small. I was, however, privately very relieved when the tracks led off the trail and back down the side of the mountain. It allowed me to focus freely on the nicer parts of the snowed-in trail, like the ice coating the pines, slowly melting around us in the sunlight.

Now we could definitely imagine ourselves back in New England. Except with more mountains. And mountain lions, I guess.

Is This SoCal?
Since the peak of San Gabriel is relatively exposed and doesn’t have too many other peaks blocking its way, you can get a pretty amazing near-360 degree view from up there. We had the constantly rising clouds to our west, the cloud-covered cities to our south, and the incredible snowbound peaks to our east.

White, Blue, Gray
We sat down on a bench at the peak to relax, take in the views, and eat our lunches.

Better Lunch
When you’re done, return back the way you came – or consider extending your trip by tacking on a trip to nearby Mount Lowe or Mount Markham, too.

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.

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


Historical Interest

Multi-Use Trail

Views / Vista

Trail Map


Lydia Elise Mar 25, 2015 00:03In reply to: Casey Schreiner

Indeed they have cut down a lot of manzanita and some trees too. Also cleared out all the burned area near Mt. Disappointment, which fortunately included the tall thickets of poodle-dog up there. There's still some along the trail to the summit and on the peak itself though.

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Casey Schreiner Jan 12, 2015 11:01In reply to: The Intrepid Angeleno

Going up there in a storm is definitely a unique way to experience the trail - definitely try it again a day or two AFTER a rain to get that insane visibility.

Not sure on the manzanita whacking - that stuff does grow pretty thick up there so maybe they were pre-emptively cutting some back so the trail didn't get overgrown?

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The Intrepid Angeleno Jan 12, 2015 11:01

My friend and I did this on Saturday, January 10. I hadn't hiked in 2 months so this was a good one for me to start up again with. Had to stop to catch my breath pretty frequently. It was raining so, unfortunately, visability from San Gabriel Peak was 0, but the clouds looked awesome. Definitely want to do this again on a clear day. We were wondering why they were cutting down all the beautiful manzanita along the trail. It looked to be in beautiful condition. We asked one of the crew guys but he didn't have an answer.

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zgr322 Sep 10, 2014 18:09

I hiked this a few years ago and was about to put it on my blog, but I wasn't sure if the trails up to the peak had official trail names or not. If any of the trails to San Gabriel Peak have names could you let me know, starting from Mt. Wilson Rd parking.

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Linda Dec 8, 2013 23:12In reply to: Linda

Should mention that I did make it to Mt. Disappointment, which was not a disappointment at all. (I look forward to saying this every time I talk about this hike).

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Linda Dec 8, 2013 23:12

Did this hike today (12/8/2013). Plenty of snow, it was beautiful! However the trailhead looked very harrowing and slippery, so for a snow-hiking novice like me, I opted for the paved road (which was still pretty slippery at parts). A much longer way to the peak, but with great views to keep you occupied.

Didn't get to San Gabriel Peak since I was pressed for time, so definitely going back. Hopefully I'll be brave enough to take the trail next time!

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Matt Jul 23, 2011 22:07

My wife and I went up with shears and gloves today and cleared the entire routes up San Gabriel Peak and Mt Lowe. Guerilla trail work at its finest...

We put the shears away when we climbed Markham, some nice scrambling up that ridge but no snakes. :(

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Pete Jul 19, 2011 06:07

Matt: Whoa, I'm new to the area, and had no idea - thanks for the education! I was rocking the long pants that day anyway (nice for bushwhacking, and incidentally good for snakes), so I didn't experience any swelling or blistering as a result of the Poodle Dog Bush. Sounds like I should go get me some Mega Millions tickets...

In any case, I'll be brushing up on my botany now - thanks again for the tip, Matt, and if you do go clearing, watch out for those snakes!

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Matt Jul 18, 2011 17:07

In response to Pete's comment:

I also did this hike the other day, but those aren't sage plants... The burn area has been completely taken over by Poodle Dog Bush (turricula), a poisonous plant that produces a poison oak-like reaction in most people that come into contact with it. It has sharp green flowers and attractive purple flowers, and also grows to impressive heights. It lies dormant for years and takes over following significant burns. Though native, it is also invasive but helps replenish the soil. The trail was impassable without bushwacking through the stuff, so if you didn't come down with a severe rash afterwards, I'd like you to purchase a few lotto tickets for me ;)

I'm personally going up soon to trim back much of these plants to clear up the trail, as it really is an awesome area of the SGs yet virtually nobody knows what Poodle Dog Bush looks like. I've always been fascinated with the ruggedness of those peaks (Disappointment, San Gabriel, Markham, Lowe) and I'm sure I'm not alone....

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San Gabriel Peak | Nobody Hikes in L.A. Jun 23, 2011 22:06

[...] information: trip reports here and [...]

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