More than 100 years ago, John Muir wrote: "Go where you may within the bounds of California, mountains are ever in sight, charming and glorifying every landscape."
Muir, of course, rarely met a mountain he didn't climb. Even today--despite all the attractions and distractions of the modern world--people set out every day to climb those mountains. People seemingly will always have an interest in seeing what's on top. Four of the peaks listed below are good day hikes. When snow is absent from the trails, these hikes require no technical skills, although a good degree of physical fitness will make it much more enjoyable.
Nor is there anything particularly dangerous about these hikes--except for the threat of heat stroke, hypothermia, lightning strikes and, very occasionally, wildlife. These threats can be mostly eliminated with a healthy dose of common sense and a backpack carrying essentials. (Details, S12.)
Inevitably, it happens to all of us. A friend or relative arrives in L.A., determined to hate it before they even see it. You've heard their rap: Too much traffic. Too much sun. Too many freaks.
Blah, blah, blah.
One way to keep them quiet: Take them to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains, at 3,111 feet. Better yet, take them to Sandstone Peak for a sunset--the peak rarely fails to deliver a stunning vista of the sun sinking into the sea--not to mention striking views of the coastline, the Channel Islands and the Conejo and San Fernando valleys.
How to get there: From Pacific Coast Highway, take Yerba Buena Road for five miles to the entrance to Circle X Ranch (on the right). Keep going for one mile and then turn left into the gravel parking lot for the Backbone Trail. Beginning at the locked gate, follow the fire road uphill for 1 1/2 miles until it levels out--then turn left onto the signed summit trail. It's three miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 1,061 feet.
Contact: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, (805) 370-2300.
Here's a calorie cruncher with a view. Mt. Baden-Powell stands 9,399 feet, making it the second largest mountain in the San Gabriels, behind 10,064-foot Mt. San Antonio (better known as Mt. Baldy).
The payoff from the summit is a glimpse into just how wild and woolly the San Gabriel Mountains really are--take a gander down into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. John Muir once called the San Gabriels "more rigidly inaccessible in the ordinary meaning of the word than any other that I ever attempted to penetrate." From the top, it's easy to see that Muir's words still hold up today.
How to get there: Take the Angeles Crest Highway (California 2) north from La Canada Flintridge for 53 miles to the parking area for Vincent Gap, on the right side of the road. The trail begins at the parking area. It's eight miles round-trip with a 2,800 foot climb.
Contact: Angeles National Forest, (626) 574-5200.
MT. CERRO NOROESTE
Here's a chance to limber up by bagging two peaks in one day. Mt. Pinos, 8,831 feet, is the tallest in Ventura County and only requires an easy 2 1/2-mile hike to the summit. So, while in the neighborhood, why not hike another 3 1/4 miles to 8,286-foot Cerro Noroeste (also known as Mt. Abel)?
Both mountains are within the Los Padres National Forest and the setting is as close to alpine as you'll find in these parts. The view from the top of both mountains includes vistas of the rugged Sespe Wilderness to the south and the Great Central Valley to the north.
How to get there: From Frazier Park, take Frazier Park Road west to Cuddy Valley Road, which leads to a forest service road up Mt. Pinos. Drive 10 miles up the mountain to the Chula Vista parking lot. Follow Forest Service road 9N24 from the parking lot to Mt. Pinos' summit and then take the signed Vincent Tumamait Trail to the top of Cerro Noroeste. It's 11 1/2 miles round-trip, with considerable ups and downs along the way--there is a strenuous 500-foot gain in the last half-mile of trail up Cerro Noroeste.
Contact: Los Padres National Forest Mt. Pinos Ranger District, (805) 245-3731.
Once upon a time, a train known as the Mount Lowe Railway climbed three-quarters of the way up Mt. Lowe, depositing tourists at a hotel and bar called Ye Alpine Tavern. The train was an engineering marvel and, at the turn of the century, was often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world.
The train was wiped out for good by the 1938 flood, but a graded fire road still follows the railroad's path to the tavern and then to a trail leading to the summit. The top--elevation of 5,603 feet provides one of the best views of the geography that shapes the L.A. metropolis. Bring a pair of binoculars and see if you can pick out the Queen Mary. On really clear days, the naked eye can see Catalina.
How to get there: From Altadena, take Lake Avenue north until it dead ends at Loma Alta Drive. Walk through the concrete archway of the old Cobb Estate and follow the driveway for about 500 feet to the Sam Merrill Trail. The route to the top: The Sam Merrill Trail to the Mt. Lowe Railway Trail to the summit trail. Use a map to find this route.
It's 14 miles round-trip with a 3,800-foot elevation gain. Bring plenty of water and a hat.
Contact: Angeles National Forest, (626) 574-5200.
Mt. Whitney is, admittedly, a wee bit outside the local environs. Then again, how many people can say they live just a three-hour drive from the tallest peak (14,495 feet) in the Lower 48 states?
Whitney was first climbed in 1873 and since then tens of thousands have followed. When the trail is not covered by snow (it might take until July or August this summer), there is nothing technical about the climb up the most popular route, the Mt. Whitney Trail. But it does require some serious huffing and puffing. The trail begins at 8,361 feet and travels 10.7 miles to the summit, gaining 6,134 feet.
The view, of course, speaks for itself. To the east is the Owens Valley, the White Mountains and, beyond, Nevada. To the north, south and west is the Sierra Nevada, the range of light and, in our humble view, the prettiest mountain range of them all.
Some people try to do the whole thing in a day, but rangers and guides recommend making it a two-or three-day trip. Although many use the trail, keep in mind that climbing Whitney is a serious endeavor.
Permits are required for both overnight users and day hikers--phone the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Reservation System for availability; (760) 938-1136 or (888) 374-3773.
How to get there: Take U.S. 395 to Lone Pine and turn left at Whitney Portal Road. Drive 13 miles to Whitney Portal campground, where the trail begins. A tip: Spend a night or two at the campground before hiking to acclimate to the altitude.
Contact: Inyo National Forest Mt. Whitney Ranger Station, (760) 876-6200.