Mt. Wilson Hike

Trail Head & Map
Mt. Wilson Hike
89 E. Mira Monte Ave
Sierra Madre, CA 91024
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Type: Outdoors
Category: Fitness, Hikes
Company: Average hikers will get through it, more experienced hikers will actually enjoy it
Cost: Free

Quickie: This is not for anyone faint at heart / weak in the legs. It's 14 miles to the observatory and back (the first 7 miles is where you get your 4500 ft gain in elevation). Yep, Wilson is called a mountain for a reason. Don't forget your camera!

OTC Tip: For the love of NOT becoming bug food, BRING BUG REPELLENT. Speaking of food, at the summit the Cosmic Cafe is open on weekends for lunch (10am-4pm).

Perhaps it's the swimmer in me, but there is something about complete immersion in nature that I'm always drawn to. So when the opportunity to set myself loose at the bottom of a mountain with the task to climb up and back down again in one day - I take it.
Billy Goats

Like most hikes, the trailhead for Mt Wilson is tucked in the backyard of a residential area at the boot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Park on the street, and head in. Like most day hikes, start early - probably no later than 8 am.

OTC Tip: Your backpack should include a liter of water, snacks, BUG SPRAY, sunscreen, band-aids, a hat, sunglasses, money for the cafe - and maybe a change of clothes (explained below).

The hike to the top can be broken in to four "legs" (ha).

1) The first is the winding ascent up the side of the hill to "first water"- our view was completely obstructed because of the dense fog, which was actually my favorite part - it gave the 1.5 mi "warm-up" a Tim-Burton meets Alice in Wonderland feel (great for pictures).

2) The second is the next 2 miles to Orchard Camp (3.5 mi mark). You will first cross a trickling stream, and then find yourself climbing steeper and deeper in to various canyons.

3) The third is about 2 miles to Manzanita Ridge (mile 5.4 mark). This is where is starts to get dusty, rocky, and it's right about where you start to think "I'd be OK if this were the top..." - but no. So close you can see it, yet - still 2 miles out. Take a deep breath, and plug on.

4) The fourth is the last 2 miles to the top. This was the hardest portion for me for several reasons: the BUGS (biting flies) seem to love this part of the trail, it's steep, and the fact that about 1 mile away from the observatory the trail hits a junction that will give you the option of hiking on a fire trail that appears to lead directly to the observatory OR following an arrow made from rocks. Confusing, and not the type of riddle you want to entertain 6 miles in to your summit.

OTC Tip: Follow the rock arrow, no matter how alluring the option to take the fire road may be.

Following the arrow, you will make a mile trek and climb to the top.You will get deposited in to a parking lot, where it will dawn upon you that you will be lunching with people in dresses and sandals who drove up the other side for a quick afternoon picnic. All is forgiven, because without car access there would not be the Cosmic Cafe selling popsicles, chili corn-chip nachos, sandwiches and hot chocolate. Oh, and a real bathroom.

OTC Tip: Wear layers - at the summit, we changed out of pants and in to shorts since the fog had cleared and the sun was out in full-force. Take a break, have some lunch, fill up your water bottles, and take pictures. We stayed for about 1/2 an hour.

The hike down is significantly easier, minus the potential to slip is a lot higher. We all slid in the gravel/dirt at least once. The entire hike took us about 7 hours (generous, as we stopped for pictures several times). Definitely give a full day to this hike, and plan a delicious dinner for yourself afterward.You will have earned it, and have little energy for anything other than that, anyways.


JSerra11 said...

Thanks for the 411! looking forward to hiking the trail this coming Saturday :)

Anonymous said...

Would this be a good hike to go on at night? Is this a good place where you can see the stars at night? If this place isn't open at night to go on a hike, do you know of any other good places to go on a hike at night to see the stars around LA or around this place? Do you have any suggestions? (If you haven't noticed, I'm not from around here). Thank you so much for your suggestions! =)

Sallie said...


Uhm, beautiful END location (the observatory, which you can actually drive to) but I would highly recommend NOT hiking this at night! Very steep, places to get lost -- yea. If you want to star gaze definitely drive to the top. Hiking for stars -- hmm... You can always go to the beach, or maybe the Griffith Observatory? I think Mt Baldy hosts evening hikes...Check out the website for more details. Good luck! Let us know what you find...

Hrishi said...

thanks for the tips. Very good explanation. Planning on doing this hike tomorrow.

Sallie said...

Have fun! Bring layers, it will be COLD...don't forget to follow us on facebook!

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