Federal officials launch shuttle service from the San Gabriel Valley to the San Gabriel Mountains

Hikers get ready to hit the trails after riding a shuttle bus from Arcadia to Chantry Flat in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Hikers get ready to hit the trails after riding a shuttle bus from Arcadia to Chantry Flat in the San Gabriel Mountains.
(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Angeles National Forest supervisor Jeffrey Vail and a host of other officials clambered aboard buses Saturday at the Gold Line stop in Arcadia to make the five-mile trek up to Chantry Flat.

It was supposed to be a test run for a shuttle program aimed at reducing congestion at one of the most popular hiking and picnic spots in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

But the U.S. Forest Service officials were so alarmed by the cars left haphazardly along hairpin turns — and the flood of vehicles heading back down the mountain because there were no more parking spots to be had — that they turned the scheduled dry run into the maiden voyage of the Chantry Flat shuttle.


Beneficiaries of the move included hundreds of people who had given up hope of being able to spend Saturday on scenic hiking trails like the 1-3/4-mile Chantry Flat to Sturtevant Falls route or the longer, more challenging path to one of the world’s largest telescopes atop Mt. Wilson.

“We had already decided to drive back home when a forest ranger at Chantry Flat told us where we could get on board one of their free shuttles down in Arcadia,” said 22-year-old Sarah Bubka of Redlands, who was among a group of eight preparing to hike to Mt. Wilson. “It was a surprise to learn that the shuttles were experimental. Amazing. We hope they continue them. Why not?”

Vail said that decision would depend on the effectiveness of the pilot program that will formally run on three consecutive weekends beginning Sept. 24..

Shortly after sunrise Saturday, Vail and the other officials settled into their seats, enjoying panoramic views during the roughly 16-minute ride to Chantry Flat.

Awaiting them were lush canyons shaded by oaks, alders and maples and wrinkled canyon lands laced with streams — home to rare and endangered species including California condors, Nelson’s bighorn sheep and mountain yellow-legged frogs. The area’s treasures include native American rock art and the Mt. Wilson Observatory, where Edwin Hubble discovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way.

“The success of this project will be determined by the number of people who leave their cars at home and get on board our shuttles,” Vail said. “Our ultimate goal is to establish public transportation service throughout the monument,” which stretches from peaks north of Cucamonga west to rugged areas above Santa Clarita.

It will also hinge on whether the Forest Service and its supporters can persuade major donors to subsidize the shuttle service.

For now, the free buses will run between the Gold Line stop in Arcadia and Chantry Flat, arriving and departing every 30 to 45 minutes between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., officials said.

“This program is a good first step toward instituting public transit systems in a national forest adjacent to 17 million people,” said Steven Evans, a consultant for the nonprofit California Wilderness Coalition.

“It just makes sense. By reducing the rows and rows of parked cars along our mountain roads, we’re enhancing safety and creating more space for people and wildlife.”