At Charlton Flats, in Angeles National Forest, spectacular views

L.A. Walks: After a winding drive into Angeles National Forest, 360 views await on a hike in Charlton Flats

Just 35 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, this Charlton Flats walk features spectacular mountain views and is a great introduction to the many Angeles National Forest hiking trails along the Angeles Crest Highway. Before you go, pick up an Adventure Pass at a sporting goods store.

1. Take the Angeles Crest Highway north from its base at the 210 Freeway in La Cañada Flintridge. Drive 24 miles, gaining altitude and magnificent views as you go, to the left-hand turn for Charlton Flats Picnic Site. Drive a tenth of a mile, staying to the left, and park at the trailhead. (There are also parking lots to the right if this small one is full.)

2. Heading uphill from the picnic area and parking lot, follow the paved Forest Service Road 3N16, climbing out of the pines into rocky scrub. Pay attention to warning signs for poodle dog bush, a pestilent plant that causes poison-oak-style itching.

3. Stay left at the three-way intersection, continuing at a gentle climb on 3N16 as it passes the first in a series of public restrooms. When you come to a wide white gate on the right, stay left as the paved road turns to dirt.

4. Climb through a section of the forest badly hit by the 2009 Station Fire. (You have that conflagration to thank for the poodle dog. It's a fire follower, the rangers say.) If you're huffing a little, it's the altitude. You're walking above 5,000 feet here.

5. At a left-hand bend in the road, just past a newly constructed restroom, take the stone stairs on the right and make the final ascent to the old Vetter Mountain Historic Fire Watch tower — or what remains of it. (You can avoid the stairs by continuing on the road as it bends around.) From here, enjoy 360-degree views that extend from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The peak studded with radio towers is home to the Mt. Wilson Observatory.

6. For the return, retrace your steps to the parking lot. For a longer walk, take a hard left turn at that three-way intersection and stay on the paved road as it winds all the way back down into the picnic area below your original starting point.

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The stats

Distance: 4.2 miles

Difficulty: 2, on a scale of 1 to 5

Duration: 2 hours

Details: Dogs on a leash are OK, as are mountain bikes. Adventure Passes, available at Sport Chalet, Big 5 and other locations, are $5 per day or $30 per year.

Fleming is the author of "Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles" and the just-published "Secret Walks: A Walking Guide to the Hidden Trails of Los Angeles."

charles.fleming@latimes.com

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