Mt. Wilson via Chantry Flats

Panorama of the LA basin from Sturtevant Trail

Standing prominently above Pasadena, Mount Wilson is a Southern California landmark. The 5,710 foot summit is home for an observatory responsible for the most detailed photos of Mars as well a vast array of antennae for local LA radio and television stations. While the summit is steeped in astronomical wonder and tremendous views of Los Angeles, the trails are the real beauty of this hike.

Trail Details
Distance: 14 miles
Time: ~6 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 4,200 ft
Dogs: OK
When to go: Fall through Spring
There are several trails you can take to the top of Mt. Wilson, but this 14 mile loop is the most beautiful. We start at the Chantry Flats trailhead above Arcadia, and take a one mile detour to view the beautiful Sturtevant Falls.

The trailhead can be found at the southern end of the lower parking lot down the steps to the right of the chemical toilets.

Note: this trail is quite popular and fills up early on the weekends. If you get there at 7am, you might find the lot already full. There is overflow parking at the Chantry Flats Pack Station, but they will charge you ($10 when I parked there in Nov. 2009).

Sturtevant Falls

After a few photos, we retraced our steps from the falls to the junction with the Gabrielino Trail. There are two options, both about the same distance. The “high” trail is for horses and less scenic. Instead, take the trail to the right which parallels the babbling creek. You’ll follow this up to the Spruce Grove campground — a good spot for a bio-break. These campsites are popular and would make a great introduction to backpacking, though you’ll get a lot of foot traffic (and mountain bikes) passing right by your campsite.

One of many stream crossings

The Sturtesvant trail to the summit follows the creek for a couple more miles, then begins a fairly steep switchback ascent up the side of the ridge for the last 1,000 of elevation gain.

Mt. Wilson Observatory

The top of Mt. Wilson is somewhat anticlimatic. There are buildings, observatories and paved roads. There is a water fountain where you can refill your water bottle near the bridge.

The top of Mt Wilson is a jumble of buildings, paved roads and paths that can be confusing. It’s a little tricky to find your way across the top to the other trailhead to Winter Creek. I highly recommend printing out the visitor’s guide (PDF) for a detailed map. On this you’ll see a reference to of the “main parking lot.” It’s a gravel lot about the size of a football field. The marker for the trail down is near the 50 yard line on the opposite side.  But before you head down, walk over to the boulders at the far end of the lot and soak in the views of Los Angeles. You’ll find a USGS benchmark at the southwest corner of the lot.

View from Mt. Wilson

Heading back down

Going back down the trail connects with a gravel road known as the old “Toll Road.” You’ll follow this for about 1/2 mile to the Winter Creek trail on the left. It comes at a right-hand bend in the road, and if you’re not watching for it, you could easily miss this trail. This downhill will seem like a cakewalk after the long uphill climb to Mt. Wilson. As you descend , you gain a real appreciation of  just how much elevation you gained on the first half!

Winter Creek trail

Eventually, you’ll reach Winter Creek and Hogee’s Camp. Here you’ll have a decision. You can take the mile-longer Upper Winter Creek trail for a 3-mile all downhill trek to Chantry Flat, or the shorter Lower Winter Creek Trail which follows the creek, but actually takes you below Chantry Flat, with an uphill climb for the last 1/2 mile. I’ve done both, and actually prefer the creekside trail.

Lower Winter Creek trail

Back at Chantry Flats

There are chemical toilets at the trailhead, but if you want real toilets with running water, walk up above the upper parking lot to the picnic area. It may be well worth it, and you can wash up a bit afterward. Also about 50 yards past the upper parking lot is the Chantry Flats pack station. They have a small store where you can buy drinks and food, and on weekend will often have a BBQ going. A great way to cap off your hike!

Trail Map and Elevation Profile

Photo Gallery

Getting to Chantry Flats

From the 210 freeway, take Santa Anita Blvd. east (toward the mountain). After a few miles, it becomes a Forest Service road. Follow this windy road up the mountain for a few more miles and you’ll reach Chantry Flats. You can lookup turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps.

Additional Mt. Wilson Resources

Special Thanks

I last hiked this trail on May 23, 2010 with friends from Hiking OC. We had beautiful weather, though it was quite chilly at the top (we even had a few little snowflakes!). Thanks to Joan, Uni, John, Daniel, Leslie, Lily, Tari and Adam for joining me.

Comments

  1. says

    You’re welcome, Marie! I’m glad the website has been helpful. If you have any ideas on areas you would like to see more hiking guides for, please let me know.

  2. Elizabeth says

    Do you know if the Mt. Wilson water fountain is available during the winter?
    (I’m planning a front range hike (backpack) for Dec 29-31, 2010) (yes I know it will be raining and/or snowing).

    “The top of Mt. Wilson is somewhat anticlimatic. There are buildings, observatories and paved roads. There is a water fountain where you can refill your water bottle near the bridge.”

  3. says

    Elizabeth, I just returned from a holiday. I suspect that the water is still available in the winter as well (the buildings at the summit are in use year round), but I cannot guarantee that. To be safe, bring enough water for the entire hike.

    I have hiked this in early December and the water was available. The smart thing to do is to bring enough water for the entire trip, and consider that source a backup.

  4. Russ says

    Jeff,

    Thanks for posting all this good info on these mountains. I’m assuming that its too late this year for a pleasant hike to the top of any of the higher mountains (San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Mt. Baldy etc.) but was thinking of doing this one in the next two or three weeks before winter really sets in. But what king of temperatures could I expect at the 3000, 4000, 5000, and summit elevations? I want to day hike (fast) with a waistpack + water, not a back pack full of clothes. Could this be done in shorts or would long pants be necessary? I assume I would need a windbreaker type jacket anywhere near the summit for sure. Any advice would be much appreciated, thanks.

  5. says

    Russ, I’ve hiked Mt. Wilson on the first week of December in shorts, but there were wispy flakes of snow falling at the top, and it was chilly! Be prepared for the worst. You may carry a bit more weight, but you’ll be ready in case it’s really cold at the top.

    I suggest convertible pants with zip-off legs for the best of both worlds, and then layers, including something to cut the wind (or rain, or snow). A knit cap will do a lot to keep you warm when it gets really cold.

    Watch the forecasts. If there is rain down here, there may be snow up top!

    And check with the ranger station for better estimates on temperatures.

  6. Russ says

    Thanks Jeff – I got a pair of those convertible pants at A16, (didn’t know they existed till you mentioned them) and I plan on getting a suitable light weight jacket, gloves, cap, etc. and then keep checking for decent weather.

  7. Bruce says

    In training for Whitney I hiked this trail yesterday from Chantry to Mt Wilson and back. Great hike! The switch backs were a little tough as I had a 33lb pack on. it was doable and I learned a lot about myself. actually hiked it with one of the rangers, Dan. Awesome views of LA and the snow blowing off the top of Mt Baldy. Will try Baldy next weekend.

  8. Bruce says

    Forgot to mention in above post. Yesterday was Dan’s 501st hike up this trail. Thanks for the company and psychological push up and back.

  9. says

    Bruce, hiking with a 33-lb pack is definitely going to make a difference! That’s awesome training though, and something we learned when preparing for the JMT–don’t underestimate the value of training with a load.

    Very cool about Ranger Dan. 501 trips up Mt. Wilson? I wonder if that’s some sort of record?

  10. says

    Jeff, we hiked this on 2/22/2014 using your trail guide. The detailed instructions were perfect and we had a great hike. Thanks for posting this. I agree that an early arrival on a weekend is key to parking anywhere near the trailhead.

  11. Rob says

    Jeff, my wife and I are planning on doing this hike in April, with an overnight stop at Spruce Grove, and taking Upper Winter Creek back to Chantry. Is the trail signed at the Toll Road? Or do we just have to keep our eyes open for it? Thanks!

  12. says

    @Rob, yes and yes. The trail IS signed on the Toll Road, but it’s easy to miss. Keep a close eye on the left side of the road for a post marking the trail down.

    It’s not really hidden, because a lot of people travel on it, but you can get “comfortable” cruising down the wide, easy Toll Road and breeze right past it if you’re not looking for it.

  13. robow8 says

    Thanks Jeff! I didn’t want to end up in Altadena with my car at Chantry Flats! I noticed in some of you photos that there was quite a bit of poison oak. We hiked over Newcomb Pass last weekend and it’s starting to get thick on the Gabrielino Trail too.

  14. Rob says

    Jeff, We just did this hike and a couple of things – The Mt. Wilson trail is washed out at the parking lot, but has a reroute so it’s no problem. And there are a couple of rock slides blocking the road down by Mt. Harvard, but you can get by them with little problem. And there is lots of poison oak along the trails!

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