Mount Emma and Old Mount Emma Trail

Distance 5.2 mi
Time 3 hrs
Elevation Gain 2385 ft
Season Spring, Fall, Winter
Hike Info Hiker Info

After a relatively sedentary December, I was looking for a trail to jolt me into the new year when I stumbled across one that would take me to the peaks of Mount Emma and Old Mount Emma. With about 2,400 feet of elevation gain in just over five miles, and the added bonus of bagging two summits on the Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks Section Peak List, it was exactly the challenge I needed to jumpstart my year. However, this leg-buster of a trek was not only a solid workout – it also offered quiet, solitude, and near-constant expansive views. All in all, you should not overlook this grossly underrated trail. 

There is a small, four-to-five-car-sized pullout across the road from the trailhead where you can park. While it’s technically just outside the bounds of the Angeles National Forest, I still recommend displaying a Forest Adventure Pass or Interagency Annual Pass just in case. Also, make sure you’re fully prepared beforehand as there are no amenities. When you’re ready to go, walk across the road to begin your arduous climb to the summit of Mount Emma.

There’s a conveniently placed sign marking the trailhead. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film.

There are no switchbacks on this single-track trail and from your first step you’re ascending straight up the side of the mountain – hiking poles are strongly encouraged. However, there’s no getting around the fact that your legs will get tired. And since there is little to no shade throughout your hike, I strongly advise avoiding it during the summer.

Your suffering isn’t without a reward, though. As you trudge up to the summit, you get more and more impressive views of the Santa Clarita Valley, Antelope Valley, and the Sierra Pelona Mountains. During your breaks, you can stop to examine classic Southern California plant life, including Chaparral Yucca and the rare Grey Oak. There is also evidence of recent forest fires – another marker of Southern California hiking. Finally, after a grueling 1,056-foot climb over just under a mile, you’ll reach the peak.

Burned trees and other vegetation. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film.

It’s a relentless push to the top of Mount Emma. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film.

At an elevation of 5,273 feet, you’ll find a rock pile and an American flag marking the summit of Mount Emma – take a well-deserved break here and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes around you. Unfortunately, when I hiked this trail my view was obscured by clouds, but on a clear day, you’ll have some of the most diverse vistas in Southern California. To the south are the San Gabriel Mountains, with Granite and Pacifico Mountains prominently on display. As you turn counterclockwise, the topography slowly flattens out as the Mojave Desert comes into full view – facing north, you can see all the way to the southern Sierra Nevada, including the 12,123-foot Olancha Peak. Finally, to the west are the rolling Sierra Pelona Mountains. Once you’re fully recharged, head northeast to continue to Old Mount Emma.

On a clear day, you can see for hundreds of miles. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film

Now hiking on a fire road, you’re finally given some relief from the relentless uphill as the trail slopes downward. Maybe the dreamiest section of the hike, I love how the trail unfurls across the lightly vegetated mountains to the next high point. And despite the limited visibility, witnessing the clouds floating through the folds of the mountain range was a calming and beautiful experience. Just don’t get too lost admiring the wonders around you, as some sections are a little loose and steep.  

The trail to Old Mount Emma. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film

The trail winds through the mountains. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film

At mile 1.4, you’ll reach a valley and begin climbing again, albeit at a lower grade and for a much shorter distance. After half a mile you will reach another inflection point and start hiking downhill again.

Because the trail is so exposed, you have close to 360-degree views of the communities and landscapes around you at all times. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film

Old Mount Emma. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film

The views continue to impress as you hit mile 2.2 and start your final uphill push to the top of Old Mount Emma. Finally, 0.4 miles later you’ll reach another pile of rocks, marking the 5,063-foot summit. Interestingly, early maps mistakenly designated this peak as Mount Emma. After correction, it received its current name. Again, the cloudy day impeded otherwise breathtaking views, but still, it was rewarding to reach this second summit.

This rock pile marks Old Mount Emma’s Summit. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film

If you’ve had enough climbing for the day, you can head west down Old Mount Emma and road walk back to your car. Otherwise, retrace your steps to complete your hike.

The views are equally as impressive on the way back to the trailhead. Shot on Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 film

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Accommodations near Mount Emma and Old Mount Emma Trail

Trail Conditions

The trail up to Mount Emma is single track and is reasonably groomed but steep. The trail to Old Mount Emma is a fire road that is also decently maintained and very steep – a few sections contain lose dirt and rocks making it difficult to find sturdy footing. Hiking poles are recommended.

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Camping Info

Monte Cristo Campground is located along the Angeles Forest Highway, about 14 miles south of the trailhead. There are 19 first-come, first-served campgrounds and features picnic tables, vault toilets, fire pits with grates, and piped water. As of January 2024, it cost $12 per night.


How to Get There

From DTLA, take US-101 N and continue onto CA-170 N for six miles. Merge onto I-5 N and continue for nine miles to merge onto CA-14. Continue for 29 miles and exit at Pearblossom Hwy. After 2.2 miles turn right onto Barrel Springs Rd and continue for 2.5 miles. Turn right onto 47th St E and continue for 1.5 miles before turning right onto Mount Emma Road. Continue for 3.5 miles to reach the trailhead. Forest Adventure Pass (day use: $5, annual: $30) or Interagency Annual Pass recommended.

Driving Directions

Use the ModernHiker mobile app to download this map and complete trail description for offline access.

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