Winter offers us L.A. hikers some amazing opportunities — in the right conditions and with a short drive, we can leave our little desert city and go have a snowball fight in the mountains. Additionally, we have the chance to take in some outstanding views.
Angelenos know that after a good rain here, the air becomes exceptionally clear … almost shockingly so. It took me about 7 months after moving here to be able to even SEE the San Gabriels from my Westwood sublet. In the winter, the air here is generally cleaner … but after a big storm like we just had, views can be downright breathtaking. And, of course, you get to see some snowcapped peaks — like this view of Mt. Baldy from the Temescal Valley — 43 miles away.
Image by Miheco.
You don’t need to have a full-on set of ice axes and crampons to get some of these great views, either … Below are some of my favorite San Gabriel winter hikes — the ones that stick mainly to the Lower Peaks, but still provide great views of freshly fallen snow or over great distances. These hikes have the best Amazing Winter View to Work Required ratio:
1. San Gabriel Peak: An easy hike with outstanding views of the High San Gabriels to the east. You’ll also probably be able to see all the way to Catalina and beyond, and you might even get a little bit of snow to yourself at the top of San Gabe itself, like I did:
If you want to, you can also add on a short trek to Mount Markham while you’re there.
2. Nearby Josephine Peak is a bit longer hike, but it’s all on fire road and most of it on the south face of the mountain, where snow tends to melt more quickly. From here, you’ll have incredible views of the interior San Gabriels, and you won’t have to trek too deep into the mountains.
3. Echo Mountain provides plenty of history along the way, and in the upper reaches you should have expansive views of the city and coast — although your view of the snow-capped peaks may be blocked, and you probably won’t get to see any snow on the trails themselves.
If you’re willing to venture into the higher elevations and have experience hiking in winter conditions, these trails are definitely worth checking out — but remember — since you’re higher up, it’s going to be colder, there’s a greater chance of snow on the trail, and since the snow sticks around, there’s going to be more ice, too.
1. Sunset Peak is another trail that’s fire roads all the way. Unfortunately, there are stretches of road on the shadier north side of the peak, which means you’ll probably run into a few patches of ice and snow. But when you get to the top, you’re rewarded with phenomenal panoramic views of the Baldy Bowl — which will look even more impressive with a thick coat of the white stuff covering it up:
2. Icehouse Canyon is a good bet if you just want some alpine scenery. It’s got huge pines, a mountain stream, and is surrounded by tall peaks that will hold snow for a long time (assuming we get good precipitation). This trail ices over somethin’ fierce, though. Know your limitations and don’t venture too far if you don’t have the right equipment.
3. And finally, after a light dusting of snow, the trail to the Devil’s Chair is amazing to hike. I hiked this last year during a little snow squall. I wouldn’t recommend this when there’s packed snow on the ground, but if you can catch it just right, the snow coating the crooked angles of the Devil’s Punchbowl is a sight worth seeing for yourself.
… of course, the most important rule of hiking during the snow season is to STAY SAFE. Always check conditions before you head out — contact a ranger station if you can for the most up to date and honest info. It might not look very snowy from your apartment, but some sections of the High San Gabriels got over 25 inches of snow this week.
The Angeles National Forest has posted a very helpful guide to enjoying the National Forest in the winter. Be sure to read it before you head anywhere in the snow.