No mountain in Southern California boasts more terrific trails to its peak than Mt. Wilson, north of Pasadena and Sierra Madre. Hikers can choose from half a dozen memorable routes plus alternate trails, in combinations that never seem dull or repetitious.
One of my favorite climbs starts on Winter Creek Trail. It begins at Chantry Flat in Big Santa Anita Canyon, one of the most bucolic in Angeles National Forest, then rises steeply across slopes shaded by oak and big-cone spruce on the way to the 5,710-foot summit.
The trail's name comes from packer and entrepreneur Wilbur Sturtevant. In the 1890s he constructed Sturtevant's Winter Camp in a woodsy canyon on the south-facing slope of Mt. Wilson. The Winter name later was given to a creek that tumbles from the shoulder of Mt. Wilson into Big Santa Anita Canyon.
Winter Creek Trail can be combined with the ruggedly charming Mt. Wilson Toll Road and Old Mt. Wilson Trail. The classic climb is chronicled in a lively new book, "Sierra Madre's Old Mount Wilson Trail," by John W. Robinson, an authority on the San Gabriel Mountains.
The tale begins with Benjamin Davis Wilson, former Los Angeles mayor, who gazed at the forested peak above his San Gabriel Valley vineyard and figured those stands of pine and cedar would be an ideal source of timber. In 1864 he built the first trail to what then was called Wilson's Peak. About 40 years later, the Pacific Electric Railway extended trolley service to Sierra Madre, within a quarter-mile of the trail head. Weekend hikers came to tramp the path.
Today a steady stream of people still heads to Mt. Wilson. Hikers who want to try the Winter Creek Trail start at Chantry Flat. Follow Interstate 210 to Arcadia, exit at Santa Anita Avenue and drive six miles north to a parking area at road's end.
Warning: This street has been closed because of a mudslide and is not expected to reopen until late April, according to the Los Angeles River Ranger District office of Angeles National Forest. (Check the status of the road by calling the phone number listed with the above map.)
Once access to Chantry Flat is restored, look for Lower Winter Creek Trail across the road from the parking area. The paved fire road, part of the signed Gabrielino Trail, descends three-quarters of a mile into Big Santa Anita Canyon. At the bottom of the canyon, cross a footbridge near the confluence of Big Santa Anita and Winter creeks, then look left for the signed Upper Winter Creek Trail. It follows the bubbling creek under a tunnel of oak, alder, willow and bay trees.
You'll pass cabins, built in the early 1900s, that must have their supplies delivered by pack train.
After crossing Winter Creek, you'll arrive at Hoegees Camp. In 1908 Arie Hoegee and his family built a resort here that was popular with hikers until it was flooded in 1938. A trail camp named for Hoegee and his family stands on the site, offering a tranquil place to picnic or rest.
Farther on you will pass Mt. Zion Trail, then cross the creek again to reach a junction with the trail leading to Mt. Wilson. Climb for two steep miles through the forest to a ridge top and a junction with Old Mt. Wilson Trail. Follow this path half a mile, then take Mt. Wilson Toll Road to Skyline Park.
You can return the same way or descend on Sturtevant Trail. If you can arrange a shuttle car, you can descend Old Mt. Wilson Trail to Sierra Madre.
John McKinney offers other tips at www.thetrailmaster.com.