Distance (round-trip)

10.8 mi

Time

7 hrs

Elevation Gain

2731 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

The most challenging peak in the front range of the San Gabriels. This trail loops through a shaded canyon, brush, and exposed rock-face Class Three bouldering before descending to idyllic meadows in the shadow of Strawberry Peak’s dramatic north face. Hands down, one of the best hikes in Los Angeles.

NOTE: THIS TRAIL WAS HEAVILY DAMAGED IN THE STATION FIRE. As of November, 2015, hikers have reported both the Colby Canyon Trail and Mountaineer’s Route are in passable shape. Although conditions are improving, be aware of poodle-dog bush and poison oak on the Colby Canyon Trail and note that some of the scrambling directions on the Mountaineer’s Route are tough to spot.

An easier way to reach Strawberry Peak is by hiking from the saddles of neighboring Mount Lawlor or a longer trek from Josephine Peak

Strawberry Peak was one of the first hikes I did in the San Gabriels that reminded me that hiking is more than just strolling in the woods. It starts out with a swiftly ascending canyon trail, moves to an unmaintained, thorn-lined use-trail, and tops off with some straight-up class 3 rock climbing. It is, as they say, a doozy. But it’s also a lot of fun, and one of the few peaks close to the city that feels like a real-life mountain climb.

As I parked at the busy trailhead, I could see the deceptively rounded summit peeking out from behind two shorter hills. I laced up, stretched out, and headed up. When I did this hike, there was also apparently a Search and Rescue mission going on. This is one of those trails that doesn’t seem like it can be dangerous … until it is. If you’re planning on taking the mountaineers route / scramble to the top, you should know what you’re getting into before you do it.

Strawberry Peak Take 2 001
Strawberry Peak Take 2 002

The trail at Colby Canyon starts out by dropping a bit from the road to the canyon floor. It’s heavily forested and you should enjoy it … because this is pretty much it for the shade on this trail.

This early section also had a small seasonal creek. When I hiked this in October there was nothing but dust in the riverbed. Today, it was full of croaking frogs and the occasional bathing bird.


Strawberry Peak Take 2 003
Strawberry Peak Take 2 004

In this lower section of Colby Canyon there is a lot of poison oak – especially near the seasonal stream. Just watch where your arms and legs are going and you should be fine. This area was badly burned in the 2009 Station Fire but appears to be making a strong recovery. After a short distance, the trail climbs the east wall of the canyon and leaves most of the vegetation behind it. From here, you’ll get your first views of the south face of Strawberry Peak.

Strawberry Peak Take 2 005
After one more quick dip into the creek bed, the trail rises into classic SoCal chaparral with some nice views of both Strawberry Peak in front of you and the front range behind you. From here on out, it’s pretty much a shade-free journey, so I hope you brought sunscreen and lots of water.

Strawberry Peak 007
Strawberry Peak Take 2 009

Strawberry Peak Take 2 010

At about the 2 mile mark you’ll come upon Josephine Saddle, where the trail splits toward Josephine Peak to the west and Strawberry Peak to the north at a water tank that may have some interesting graffiti. If you’re looking for the more fun mountaineer’s route to Strawberry Peak, walk north toward the Strawberry Peak Trail but keep your eye peeled for a short use-trail on the east side of the path very close to the Saddle. Make a quick scramble up to the ridge and walk about 0.2 miles to what looks like the end of the trail at a rugged rock face.

Strawberry Peak 012
Strawberry Peak Take 2 015

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Strawberry Peak 021

you’ll climb up here

I remember the first time I got to this part of the trail and thought about going back and taking the long way around. If you’re not used to rock scrambling – or in a feisty mood – this can get intimidating very quickly. But it’s really not as tough as it looks. A kind vandal was nice enough to mark a suggested path up the rocks which – while technically graffiti – is actually pretty helpful when you don’t know where you’re supposed to be going.

Strawberry Peak Take 2 013
After a short climb, you’re rewarded with a small sense of accomplishment and some great views.

Strawberry Peak 022
Strawberry Peak 023

… and the knowledge that you’ve got a tougher climb ahead of you.

The trail makes a steep but steady climb until you reach the 2.9 mile mark. You’ll meander through giant boulders, dive under chaparral, and avoid Spanish bayonets along the way.

Strawberry Peak Take 2 017
Strawberry Peak Take 2 019

And eventually, you’ll hop over a large pile of broken rocks and come face to face with this:

Strawberry Peak Take 2 020
The face of Strawberry Peak looks steep because it is. In the next quarter of a mile, you’ll be gaining over 400 feet in elevation on a steep class 3 scramble. There are marked stones to help you along the way and the route is not especially difficult if you’ve done any sort of climbing before. I’ll admit that while this section of the trail is very exhilarating and definitely the highlight of the trip, I still get nervous when I’m up there. There are a few spots where your eye line makes it seem like you’re grasping onto the edge of a straight-down drop-off. Just keep your cool and take your time and you’ll be fine. Soon you’ll be back on (relatively) flat ground … and if the air is clear, you’ll have great views.

Strawberry Peak Take 2 021
Strawberry Peak Take 2 022

Strawberry Peak Take 2 023

When you’re finished hanging out at the summit, either return back the way you came or continue down a steep, rugged trail that runs along one of the eastern ridges of Strawberry Peak. It’s not nearly as adventurous as the western ascent nor are there any fun climbing spots … but the trail is fairly easy to follow and only runs into Bayonet gauntlets a few times along the way.

Strawberry Peak Take 2 024
You’ll also get some nice views of the neighboring – and less heavily traveled – ridge of Mount Lawlor.

In a mile you’ll reach the bottom of the eastern trail, where you can tack on a scramble up Lawlor or head back to Red Box for a car shuttle. Instead, turn north on the Strawberry Trail to start the long loop around the north side of the peak you just bagged. Enjoy the shaded, slightly declining trail as it loops north and west, passing a seasonal spring at the 5.2 mile mark.


Strawberry Peak Take 2 027
This section of the trail is very pleasant and seemed rarely traveled. I didn’t see any other sets of recent footprints in the dirt, nor did I come across any other hikers on this leg. Scenery wise, it really picks up when you get to Strawberry Meadows around the 7.5 mile mark, a large stretch of flat grassland and pine trees in the shadow of Strawberry Peak – which looks much more impressive from the north.

Strawberry Peak Take 2 033
Gaze up and know that you just climbed that. Pat yourself on the back. Snack on a CLIF bar. And enjoy the completely silent, faux-alpine field feeling of the Meadows.


Strawberry Peak Take 2 036
Strawberry Peak Take 2 037

Strawberry Peak Take 2 038

From the Meadows, it’s about a mile and a half back to Josephine Saddle. Head back to the trailhead the way you came in.


Strawberry Peak Take 2 041

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





Multi-Use Trail

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52 Comments

Meli May 10, 2018 18:05

Guys. Seriously...do NOT make the mistake of doing this trail clockwise like I did this weekend. You'll have to go DOWN the steep rock scrambling parts, often questioning whether you're completely off the correct route, end up on a precipice overhang, give up, and never make it down. Picture #10 in this post is the the steep trail that you should look for on your right soon after you pass the tank wheel thingie. Also, bring at least 3L. I did it on a semi hazy day and ran out of water. But on the plus side, do it now and you will see millions of beautiful colorful wildflowers all over the trail!!

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Dan Apr 24, 2018 11:04

Just completed this loop out of Red Box – rather than Colby. Trail is in fair condition and there was minimal poodle-dog bush. All springs have run dry and I did not see any water at Strawberry Meadow to purify. Bring lots of water.

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Jelani Feb 23, 2017 13:02

Awesome hike! The mountaineer's route was great fun, and with recent rain there are some beautiful water falls and creeks. The rain brought down some trees but the trails look good for the most part. The day following this hike I found that a tick had bit my back and needed to be removed, so check yourself out before bed if you decide to scramble through the brush on the mountaineer's route! I'll be up there again soon, truly a fantastic hike.

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TheSwissDude Jun 11, 2016 22:06

Thank you to have shared this !
This hike is amazing, it never get boring despite its length.
I made the error of starting too fast and was really proud of reaching the summit so quickly.
But I payed it later and was wasted on the way back to the reservoir and so happy to finish the hike in refreshing clouds with some drops of rain.
I tried to rest in at the shadow of the trees in the meadow but was attacked by flies, how do deal with those ?

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Jim May 17, 2016 22:05In reply to: Casey Schreiner

Lovely back in there. Like a little bit of Yosemite. And hardly a soul around. Other thing I really like about this hike is its variety. Start out creekside, then up though open chaparral, bouldering to the peak, down that shaded backstretch, the quiet of the meadow, back up through forest cover to Josephine Saddle, then out. It's a 10. Great work on the site, b/t/w. Wouldn't have found it without it. Thanks.

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Casey Schreiner May 17, 2016 18:05In reply to: Jim

Sounds like a great experience! Strawberry Meadow is really a nice, calming counterpoint to the adrenaline rush of the scrambling, isn't it?

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Jim May 17, 2016 18:05

Started hiking San Gabriels this past November and this trail has been the best of the lot. Did it twice this spring, once late March, then went back for more a few weeks ago. Trail is in excellent shape. My GPS had 3,559 total elevation gain. First time it became a struggle as I ran out of water about half way through (only brought 1.5 liters), second was much better as I packed in 3 plus+. There is a creek at the trailhead but you lose it after a mile or so in. Was flowing pretty well late March but by late April was struggling and will dry up.

Excellent reptile viewing. Between the two hikes saw 2 striped racers, a rattlesnake, 2 horned lizards, an alligator lizard, plus all the usual fence lizards.

The bouldering was a bit freaky the first time. Second time much better. Be sure to test your footholds and handholds before putting full weight on them. The rock can be crumbly. Great feeling when you get to the top though.

The toy in the cereal box surprise to all this was Strawberry Meadow. Serenity underneath the looming Strawberry Peak. Held out high hopes for this spot as a possible overnighting spot but no water close by, at least none that I saw.

And learned a new dish from some hikers I ran into: funeral potatoes.

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Casey Schreiner Aug 23, 2015 15:08In reply to: Linda

I think I have those "what am I doing with my life" moments EVERY time I do this trail. That is the perfect way of putting it :)

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Linda Aug 22, 2015 22:08

Hiked today 8/22/15, trail is in decent shape. However, it's true that the arrows are very faded, I didn't even notice them till about 1/2 way up the second climb. Luckily I followed a group that included a hiker who had done this trail before. So much fun! Highly recommended ONLY if you're comfortable with scrambling. There will be a few "what am I doing with my life" moments.

Saw two snakes on the way up, none on the climbs though. Keep your eyes open.

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David Aug 11, 2015 15:08In reply to:

Forgot to say thanks for providing these great guides.

There's so much Spanish Bayonet on this trail that I googled it when I got home. The variety seems to be Lord's Candle (Hesperoyucca whipplei). I took a machete up there and ended up hardly using it: only the hardest swings cuts through the stalks.

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