Trailhead: Santa Anita Canyon Rd, Sierra Madre, CA 91025
Elevation Gain: 4200 ft.
Total time: 7.5 hours
Parking: Lot at trailhead, Adventure Pass needed, which you can buy at any sporting goods store. Also, get there at 6:00 a.m., otherwise you’ll have to either pay $20 for the “valet” camp parking or park on the road somewhere in Outer Mongolia and hike to the trail head.
Oh, Mt. Wilson. The most hated of all the Six Pack of Peaks. In fact, so hated, I created merchandise so that we all may express our hatred of this mountain.
What makes Mt. Wilson so bad?
So, so many things. There are the flies and mosquitoes. The switchbacks. The canopy all around that blocks any breeze from entering. The steady elevation gain towards the end of the summit. The hill you have to climb at the end of the descent. All of it. All of it is terrible.
Yet, for some reason only known to Jeff (SoCal Hiker), he makes us trudge up this thing every year for the Six Pack of Peaks.
The best time of year to do it is in winter or early spring, before the bugs take over the place. There aren’t words to express how many flies you’ll encounter on this trail in the summer. Which makes me super glad that I waited until July to do it this year.
Bring a mosquito net.
Or take a friend like Mike who the mosquitoes are super attracted to. Eight bug bites to my one! Decoy friends are the best!
Anyway, the trail starts by descending about 400 feet. Soon after you finish this hill, you will come to a junction by a set of restrooms where you can go to the left to continue up to Mt. Wilson, OR you can go to the right and visit Sturtevant Falls.
If you do take the Sturtevant Falls route, you will either have to backtrack to get to a main trail (the trail is by the giant tree that’s embedded in the rock… you’ll know what I mean when you see it) or you’ll have to climb up a big hill to the left of the falls that I’m not sure is actually a trail. If you do choose to visit the falls, you’ll end up on a different trail than the one we took.
For the trip I took last week (yes, I’ve hiked this dumb peak numerous times), we skipped the falls and continued onward.
Follow this trail along for awhile and you’ll cross over the stream several times, and you may come across creatures, like salamanders. If you’re weird like Mike, you’ll pick one up.
Eventually you will come to another juncture. You’ll want to make a sharp right to continue up to Mt. Wilson. Remember this juncture on the way back.
After this sharp right is where the pain begins with a steady, brutal, humidity-laced climb. It was at this juncture that I started cursing Mike for “letting me talk him into this.”
Once you get through the grueling switchbacks, you’ll come to a fire road. Keep to the right until you get to another fire road. Very quickly after this, you’ll see a trail off to the right. Follow that for about 20 minutes and you’ll end up at a parking lot.
Oh, yes, that’s right…
YOU CAN DRIVE TO THE TOP.
You don’t actually HAVE to climb to see this peak. You can drive there. Like a regular person who doesn’t like self torture.
The one saving grace of this mountain is the fact that there is a cafe at the top where you can get coffee, Gatorade, and various food items, including chili cheese Fritos. If you’re David, the head of Lazy Ass Hiking, you’ll think is a good idea to eat that just before you have to hike 7 miles back down.
Also note that the Cosmic Cafe does not open until 10 a.m. and is closed during the winter. When Mike and I went we got there too early and were devastated by the news.
While at the top I also suggest you roam around to look at the exhibits. There’s a big giant telescope that is cool. Plus, on the far side from the cafe you’ll get better views at the lookout there.
After you’ve had your fill of goods and sight seeing, head back down the way you came.
Here’s a pro tip: if you want to avoid climbing the 400 feet at the very end of the trek, you can take the higher road back. Remember the junction before the death march switchbacks started? Go to the right instead of to the left where you ascended. The right will still have a pretty steady hill going up for quite some ways, but at least it’s not at the end of 14 miles. And BONUS: fewer flies
Parts of this road are exposed, but there are some nice shaded areas. You’ll also see the parking lot fairly early on this trail; however keep your enthusiasm bottled down because it’s going to take you longer to get there than you think.
The trail will let you off at a paved road. Continue down the road and you’ll see the sweet, precious camp on your left where you can get in your car, turn on the AC and swear you’ll never hike that stupid peak again, until next year when you talk yourself into doing the Six Pack all over again.