Distance (round-trip)

4.4 mi

Time

2.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

1201 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

A short but rugged trip up to the top of Mount Lawlor, one of the lesser-known summits in the San Gabriels. Easily accessible, but still moderately challenging, with some light rock-scrambling and a use-trail descent if you’re feeling adventurous.

NOTE: THIS TRAIL WAS DAMAGED IN THE STATION FIRE. The area has been re-opened to hikers but there may be considerable damage to the trail and it may significantly differ from this description. Please contact a ranger station for the most up to date trail conditions.

I kind of get the impression Mount Lawlor gets the short end of the ‘Featured Peaks’ stick. It’s not included in either of the printed guide books I use for the San Gabriels, not featured on many other web sites … nothin. To its south, the big draw is the car-accessible and ‘big name’ of Mount Wilson (that’s where the news has their dopplers!). To the east, the allure of the old Nike missile site at Barley Flats. And just to the west, the imposing and challenging rock climbing face of Strawberry Peak. But Lawlor is definitely worth doing – on its own or as part of a larger trip.

We parked at Red Box, suited up and crossed the street to the trailhead.

Civilization

This trail began paralleling the Angeles Crest Highway, and with the car noise and frequent power / telephone line crossings it’s a bit tough to feel like you’re away from the rest of civilization. But the trail moved quickly, and soon we were emerging from some ‘brush tunnels’ to our first views of Mount Lawlor – a slightly-unremarkable mound peeking out from the greenery:

Looking Up

There’s a saddle right at the base of the southern face of the mountain at the 1 mile mark, and you can make out a straightforward – and relentlessly vertical – use-trail following the route of an old telegraph wire. It also looked well-populated with Spanish Bayonets so I suggested we continue on the proper trail to the west side of the mountain.

The trail had plenty of tire tracks on it – moreso than footprints, it seemed. And sure enough, the only people we saw on the way were two mountain bikers on their way up and one biker on his way down. We made sure to give them plenty of room and continued on the gently-graded trail as it zig-zagged across Lawlor’s south face and snaked around the west side.

Soon, we got our first view of Lawlor’s western neighbor, Strawberry Peak. Although the angles don’t look like much here, there are long sections of the hike up that particular peak that are passable only by doing some serious rock scrambling. We’re talking nearly vertical, too. Almost rock climbing, with parts over sheer cliffs. It’s definitely an exciting adventure hike, if you’re mentally and physically prepared for it.

Strawberry Peak

Our hike, so far, was not nearly as adventurous. Although we did get to see snow on some of the shaded sections of the trail, which is always a treat in Southern California.

More Snow on the Trail
When we got to the saddle between Strawberry and Mount Lawlor, I was expecting to see a clearly marked trail toward Lawlor’s summit.

No such luck.

There was a sign, with an arrow pointing toward Lawlor … but the direction it was pointing in was straight down a drop-off. Pretty quickly, we found a single set of footprints in the snow that just started climbing up the thin mountain ridge. We followed.

This is the route up to Lawlor. It’s steep, it’s rocky, it meanders and winds through areas of rock, brush, and Spanish bayonet, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. And with the winds howling around us near cliff’s edge, it had just the right amount of sensible danger to it.

Keep Going
Rocks

I could have run up these rocks scrambling my heart out, but decided to be a Good Hiking Host and wait up for my companions. It’s the Right Thing To Do.

A little huffing and puffing, and we made it to the summit of Mount Lawlor in just about three miles. Not too bad, although the rush to the summit is significantly more steep than any part of the trail leading up to that point.

Despite the thick L.A. Basin haze, we still got some nice views of the surrounding peaks. To the south, the forest and brush of San Gabriel Peak and Mount Disappointment, and the radio-transmitting forest atop Mount Wilson. And to the east, the peaks rolled out before us, the water tower and long plateau of Barley Flats in our immediate foreground.

Mount Wilson
Looking East

East Again

After chilling out at the summit and signing the register (very few signatures!), we decided to keep the adventure level high and take the south face use-trail down.

And down it went. Almost straight down, actually. And it was absolutely lined with Spanish bayonets on all sides and angles.

Profile

While the ground was loose and unstable, and the bayonets were sharp and plentiful, this was an incredibly fun way to get down the mountain.

An almost straight-down path, there were plenty of places where ‘dirt skiing’ was a better mode of transportation than walking or hiking. And we took it.

Joshua in particular took well to the descent. He launched ahead of us, sliding down the mountain. He only fell twice, and kept good spirits – which is important when you’re surrounded by leaves as sharp as needles and covered in dirt and dust.

Descent

I took a slower route, but did my share of sliding as well. Kevin followed close behind, and when we got back to the saddle, we were able to look back up at the peak with that greatest joy of hiking – the true sense of accomplishment.

One Last Look

I really don’t know why more people don’t do this mountain.

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





Dog-Friendly

Multi-Use Trail

Solitude

Views / Vista

Trail Map

16 Comments

Casey Schreiner Dec 6, 2018 07:12In reply to: tom mason

No, it’s not. The first sentence refers to the trail from Red Box to the Lawlor Saddle, which is the sentence that immediately precedes your quote. The rougher description applies to the firebreak from the saddle to the Lawlor summit.

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tom mason Dec 6, 2018 07:12

"The trail gets thinner as you go further up, but it's very well marked and well traveled. The trail to Lawlor summit appears rarely used, and you will have to keep your eyes peeled to look for the trail at times."

Hmmmm, I believe those sentences completely contradict each other, and having been on this trail, I can say the second one is true. The trail is not well marked and not very well traveled.

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Mario Corona Feb 9, 2018 17:02

Just completed this hike with my 6 year old Red Dobie Sandy early Feb. 2018. Weather was in low 70s at most and it was a nice clear day. We began from Redbox around 945 am and I had calculated it would take no more than 2 hours to get to the top. When we got to the southern saddle (the one that takes u straight up to Lawlor, about a mile into the Strawberry trail), the trail looked too tempting to pass up... so up we went. Saying this climb is tough and technical, whether ascending or descending, is really an understatement, but it is fun if ur not afraid to get pricked by those Spanish bastards (they are everywhere). Absolutely no shorts on this trail. I had to stop several times just to make sure my faithful companion was doing ok and getting plenty of water; she was panting heavily (lol, we both were). The climb is slippery in a couple of spots but still manageable for an avid hiker. I felt fortunate in a couple of spots where using a thick metal wire (secured all along the climb) to pull myself up (seriously) made all the difference in the world. Yes, it might at times seem deflating and gutt wrenching and make you feel like just turning back, but you will have 2nd thoughts if u'v made ur way up high enough knowing ur destination is so close, and the fact that looking down on what you've already climbed will definitely discourage u from quitting. There are large wooden posts (markers) to guide u in the right direction, so just keep trekking. Before u know it u will have arrived and you will know ur fruits of accomplishment are near bcuz the summit will begin to level off and the trail will meander westward and u will soon be rewarded with a magnificent view of Josephine and Strawberry. Totally worth the climb up. This was the highlight of my trek. Word of caution: do not, I repeat, DO NOT descend down the UNMAINTAINED eastern Firebreak trail which u can spot on top of Lawlor that connects to the UNMAINTAINED Barley Flats Truck trail, which I unfortunately did with my Sandy that day. This was the worst part of the trip and a nightmare. I assumed I was going to reach Redbox faster if I descended down, what seemed to me at the time, an easier more friendlier trail. It seemed a nice descent from the get-go and i thought not bad, should be fun. Boy was I so wrong. Spanish bastards and poodle-dog bush everywhere, and when u don't have a choice but to step on and through these most treacherous plants of the Angeles after u'v descended quite a ways, ur looking for a good beating embarking on this path. Definitely a path i regret having taken my dog on. Never again! If I had only known it was gonna turn out to be as rough as it did, I would've gone back down the way I climbed up Lawlor, or descended down the more westerly ascent to Lawlor, as if hiking towards Strawberry. Other than this final treachery of my hike, climbing up Lawlor was indeed a nice challenge, just don't descend down Barley Flats way. Have fun and take plenty of water. Never overestimate how much water ur going to need.

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Geeyes Sep 3, 2017 23:09

I am new to LA and have been using your LA day hiking book to select hikes. This morning I wanted a hike that was short that I could finish in 4-5 hours, door to door. As I live in La Canada Lawlor seemed to fit the bill and turned out to be a fantastic one.

Instead of walking the Strawberry trail I climbed up the firebreak, as I did not fancy sliding down that slope. The trail can sometimes be difficult to follow, but the best option is to find a path that avoids the Spanish bayonets. Avoid wearing shorts for this hike. The return from the summit to the Strawberry trail was over rocks and boulders that I really enjoyed. It can be adventurous as there are no clear paths and sometimes I had to 'wade' through tall bushes that chaffed at my skin.

I think I was the only hiker this morning on that trail. I did see a deer that bounced more than ran.

The views are spectacular. It did get cooler as I gained height and was pleasant at the top.

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Juan Carlos Apr 21, 2017 18:04In reply to: Allyson

Thanks for the update!

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Allyson Mar 19, 2017 10:03

We did Mt. Lawlor yesterday. The trail up to the junction with Strawberry was very well kept. At the first saddle, follow the well beaten path to the right (not along the telegraph line.) When you get to the next junction you'll see green metal slats - turn right to head up the ridge. That trail was totally empty. There were a couple divergent paths at first, but they were still clearly trodden. As long as you keep on the ridge they reconnect. There were two spots where you had to climb over rocks, but nothing precarious when dry. As far as bushes go, seems like they've been recently cleared out - we got a couple nicks from bayonets but it wasn't bad at all. Once you get past that part, it flattens out. The summit views were gorgeous!

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Anthony Feb 13, 2017 07:02

I attempted to summit Mt. Lawlor today but turned back about a quarter mile from the top. The trail that leads to the summit from the junction looks like it's barely used. Parts of it were easy to follow, but others were nearly impossible to find. We went the wrong way a couple of times and had to come back. However, what made us turn back was a sketchy pile of boulders and rocks about a quarter-mile from the summit. There were sharp drop-offs on both sides, so I didn't feel like taking the risk (the rocks were still a bit wet after the recent rain). I can't but wonder if these boulders and rocks have always been in the path, or if they ended up there after a slide.

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Tony Jan 3, 2016 21:01

Really enjoyed this hike over the weekend! The trail-head itself is just a post in the ground without a sign, but the trail itself is well tread until you go up the peak, which is a fun climb to the peak. However, the way down with the use trail is really more of a wash out than an actual trail. Only hikers prepared for some crawling, slipping, and sliding should take the use trail down. Otherwise, go back the way you came. Also, those Spanish bayonets are a real pain!!!

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PryMel Aug 29, 2015 13:08

I did this hike two weeks ago on a blisteringly hot Saturday. The hike up to Lawlor was quite easy but we should have turned around and gone down the way we came. The firebreak/ridge was really miserable and almost impassable in some places. The ridge was completely covered in all sorts of prickly bushes (and the Spanish bayonets were a minefield). When we finally joined up with the trail, it was completely overgrown and not maintained. It took us a long time to manuever through the many large rocks and Spanish bayonets. All in all, it took us almost 6 hours to complete this hike. The description here is accurate as far as navigation and the views are beautiful.

My personal opinion is that this is NOT an all-season hike, and is best done in cooler months, since it is completely exposed throughout.

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Casey Schreiner Feb 26, 2015 17:02In reply to: Mitchell

Well, you and I have the same future-predicting abilities when it comes to rain here in SoCal :). I can't tell you whether to go or not, but I can say that the main trail up to Lawlor shouldn't give you any trouble unless you're in some big downpours. I probably wouldn't recommend going down the steep firebreak if the ground is wet, though. Keep your eye on the forecast - and be sure to check the NOAA site for extra accurate geo locations. Right now they're saying the Lawlor area has likely rain from Saturday through Sunday and possible snow after that.

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Mitchell Feb 26, 2015 12:02

I'm thinking about doing Lawlor this weekend, but there's a pretty good chance of rain. I generally don't mind hiking in the rain, but I don't want to do it in a place with serious risk of a landslide or something like that. What do you think: fun, or reckless?

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Trail Repair on Strawberry Peak | Modern Hiker Oct 3, 2010 12:10

[...] Peak was one of my favorite trails in the Angeles, but even the long way from Red Box near Mount Lawlor was a beautiful trail in its own [...]

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anna Jun 28, 2009 21:06

haha, yeah, that was a fun bit of a trip. The last push up was a nice change of pace. I don't know that I would have gone down the use trail though - I hate those bayonet plants more than just about anything.

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Jessi Stensland Dec 17, 2008 14:12

Wow. Thanks for maximizing the time we had for a small afternoon adventure. Didn't leave the house in Rancho Palos Verdes til 1pm and was back to our car and done with an absolutely epic hike-run-climb-boulder-scramble by just about dark (5pm). Temp was cool but perfect - 37 at the finish - but didn't feel like it. Our experience was much the same except for the part where we ventured off the trail - probably not the smartest thing we did - especially after finishing the rest of the hike and realizing just how cool and challenging even just staying on the trail was!

Our experience went something like this:

We went off the trail somewhere, on the way up, just past the use trail there. We were scrambling, but before we knew it (and when it as too late to go back the way we came) I swear we were free climbing that loose rock. Don't know how I didn't seriously bite it a few but some how clawed our way up super carefully - finally getting to a point where we hit the use trail and took that up to the summit. We ended up starting to descend down a different way than the use trail - not sure why - until we realized we were heading for another peak, not our car (at 415pm or so! Didn't start til 215pm) so we had to re summit (which i was not complaining about since the sunset was making for some awesome photos and i didn't have my camera as we were descending, but took it out as we re-summitted and couldn't stop taking photos.) Then then came down the use-trail which was the absolute most fun ever!

We were descending during the most amazing sunset, perfectly cool temp, and by the time we were running down that final part of the trail, the color of the sky was insane.

Didn't see a soul. Loved your review, and especially when you said, "I don't know why people don't do this more!!"

I will tell you that thanks to that free climb, more than just our knees were beat but it was all worth it. Funny enough the Spanish bayonets became my friend if u can believe it...at times they were my only solid hold to get up that brush during our jaunt off the trail. I didn't even mind the gouges at that point. Haha.

Thanks for the site. U rock! Will definitely be hitting you up in the future.

Til next time...happy trails and keep up the epic adventures for us!

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Hikes for Hiking’s Sake | Modern Hiker Dec 8, 2008 10:12

[...] Mount Lawlor had a few surprises to offer up once I wasn’t concerned with accurately tracking trail junctions and waypoints — like interesting angles … [...]

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Bryn Oct 26, 2008 20:10

I'm torn between wanting to hunt you down, or make you my own personal hero for this one. This is one of the best hikes I've done in the San Gabriels, but my legs were already tired to begin with and by the time I got to the top I had no idea what was in store for them on the way back down!

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