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Three best hikes in soon-to-be San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Three best hikes in soon-to-be San Gabriel Mountains National Monument
Trees are reflected in the creek along the trail to Sturtevant Falls. (Christina House / For The Times)

The San Gabriel Mountains have been L.A.'s overlooked great outdoors -- until now. President Obama on Friday is to designate a big chunk of the city's mountain backdrop a national monument.

While photo books abound on the Sierra and Yosemite, the San Gabes in the Angeles National Forest have received scant attention. If you want to discover what makes 350,000 acres of these peaks north of downtown worthy of national protection, take a closer look.

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Here are three destinations in the front range that are a good introduction.

Sturtevant Falls: The 50-foot waterfall is probably one of the most popular places in the San Gabriels. The sign-posted woodsy trail to the falls winds along Big Santa Anita Creek, past native oaks and sycamores, and a string of rustic cabins.

It's a stunning walk -- and one where you might see a mule-pack train making its way down the canyon. The 6-mile round-trip hike begins at Chantry Flat off Santa Anita Avenue north of Arcadia.

Echo Mountain: This 5-mile hike with about 1,500 feet of gain is a great workout and offers a glimpse into L.A.'s outdoorsy past.

Echo Mountain was a hopping mountain resort in the 1920s and '30s, a Yosemite-like retreat during L.A.'s great hiking era.

It was known as "The White City" and had a railway that took visitors to the top.

When you reach the summit, you can still see stone floors and staircases, and vintage photos of what the resort looked like. The trail starts at the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena.

Orchard Camp: The Mt. Wilson area is another place where Angelenos hiked in the early years of the 20th century.

Start at Mt. Wilson Trail Park in Sierra Madre and hike up steeply along Little Santa Anita Canyon. At a mile and a half, you can drop down to the creek at what's called First Water Junction or press on another mile and a half to the old Orchard Camp.

Oaks rule on the trail that goes all the way to Mt. Wilson. (It's very strenuous, so you'll want to work up to that).

Best hiking guide to take you there is "Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels." Author John Robinson early on wrote about the beauty and history of the nearby range, with detailed hiking routes for those who eager to explore.

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