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Inspiration Point and Muir Peak

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LA from Muir Peak

Trail Details
Distance: 11 miles
Time: ~6 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 2864 ft
Dogs: Yes
When to go: Year-round
Hiking to Muir Peak and Inspiration Point from the Cobb Estate in Altadena is challenging. The 11 mile trail climbs over 2800 feet, gives you a taste of LA history and some really great views. Even with a coastal haze, we spied Catalina Island poking up in the distance.

I hiked this with the Sierra Club as part of their introduction to the Wilderness Travel Course they hold each year beginning in January. I have several friends who have taken the WTC class, and I don’t know a single one who didn’t enjoy it and learn a good deal. If you’re interested in learning more about backpacking in the wilderness, the WTC is a great starting point.

Old image of the Mt. Lowe Railway
From an old poster advertising the Mt. Lowe Railway

The first 2-1/2 miles we hiked up the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain. It’s a great hike in it’s own right, and one I’ve covered earlier. We stopped at the shade near the power-lines (the half-way point to Echo Mountain) to regroup, then stopped again to regroup at the ruins of the Echo Mountain house.

There are interesting things to see here, and some great (albiet weathered) information signs explaining the background and history of Echo Mountain and the Mt. Lowe Railway. Over 100 years ago, a funicular carried wealthy tourists up the mountain to the hotel at this site, complete with fine dining, tennis, and even a bowling alley. From this site, a light railway traveled further still up the mountain to one of our primary destinations — Inspiration Point.

Take time to explore this area, refuel, rehydrate, and catch your breath.  You’ll need it for the next leg up Castle Canyon.

Echo Mountain Ruins

Ready to continue on, we retraced our steps to the Castle Canyon Trail, turning towards the mountain and heading to Inspiration Point.

Castle Canyon Trail Marker

The Castle Canyon Trail is one of several leading up to Inspiration Point. It’s the shortest and steepest route, but also has a good deal of shade — a worthy consideration on a warm day. As we made our way up Castle Canyon, we passed a small creek that actually had a small amount of running water.

Fall color in Castle Canyon

There were numerous agave, and then deep in the canyon sycamore and oaks, giving us a bit of fall color.

At the 3.6 mile mark, the trail begins the steepest climb up a series of switchbacks. We climbed over 900 feet in 3/4 of a mile. The trail rounds a bend, providing the first good look at the shade structure atop Inspiration Point (4714′).

Inspiration Point

We stopped here for lunch and soaked in the views. There are picnic tables, and viewports that help direct you to notable LA landmarks. Note the one for Inspiration Point. It seems someone had a sense of humor.

Find your favorite LA landmark

It’s interesting to note that this Inspiration Point is not a point at all — but a saddle. It is also one of five officially-named Inspiration Points in Los Angeles County!

View from Inspiration Point

After lunch, the more energetic group headed to Muir Peak. At 4,688′ Muir Peak is the highest point on the southeast end of what some people refer to as Inspiration Ridge. And as a matter of historical record, John Muir himself climbed the peak in 1877. The side trip to Muir Peak is a 1.2 mile round-trip from Inspiration Point and makes a great option. Compared with the climb up Castle Canyon to Inspiration Point, this short side-hike is a breeze.

To get to Muir Peak, head southeast on the fire road from Inspiration Point. After about 0.3 miles you’ll take a single track trail on the right that heads more steeply uphill. There’s only one place this trail goes — Muir Peak.

The summit is rounded, with a wooden marker and a small stone cairn but no summit register. But what views! Here’s the crew I hiked with at the summit. The opening image at the top of this post shows the view out to Catalina Island, but you also see Mt. Wilson, Mt. Lowe, Mt. San Gabriel and much of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Muir Peak

We soaked in the views and headed back to Inspiration Point.

From here, we headed back down to Echo Mountain, but this time taking the Upper Sam Merrill trail. From Inspiration Point, we took the fire road northwest to a wide open area with several trails converging.

You’ll see signs from the 2009 Station Fire. All the trails in the area of the fire have reopened, and new growth abounds. Unfortunately, with the fire damage comes an invasive plant known as the Poodle Dog Bush. This pungent plant is worse than poison oak, so avoid contact.

Upper Sam Merrill Trail sign

The Upper Sam Merrill Trail is easy to overlook. Watch for a single track trail on the left that heads down through shady trees.

Heading down the Sam Merrill Trail

The trail winds around the west end of Inspiration Ridge, then snakes down the ridge-line. At this point, you are high above the Castle Canyon trail that we took up to Inspiration Point.

There are a two notable stops on the way back to Echo Mountain. The first is Sunset Point, which is notable mainly as a great spot to catch the sunset (what else?).


V3N4LOWEOBSERVATORYThe second stop is the ruins of the Echo Mountain Observatory. The observatory was constructed in 1893, and was used continuously until the building was torn apart in a wind storm in 1928.

The 16-inch refractor survived, and remains in use today at UC Santa Clara.

Today, all that remains on the site are the foundation, seen below.

Old Observatory

From the old observatory, we continued down until we intersected with the railway bed trail. This will look familiar, because this is the same trail that took us out to Echo Mountain on our way up.

Look for the lower Sam Merrill Trail on the downhill side (south). From here, head down the same trail we ascended a few hours earlier.

I’ve hiked Echo Mountain several times, but this was my first time up to Inspiration Point and Muir Peak. It was a challenging and rewarding hike, and whet my appetite for exploring more of San Gabriel Mountains.

Inspiration Point and Muir Peak Trail Map

Download file: Inspiration-Point-and-Muir-Peak.gpx

Inspiration Point and Muir Peak Photo Gallery

Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.


Tips for Hiking Inspiration Point

  • Bring the Ten Essentials. Although you are near a major metropolis, you are in the wilderness. Be prepared.
  • Bring plenty of water. As a rule of thumb, I recommend 1 liter of water for each 5 miles, but add water on this trail due to the elevation gain and weather.
  • Know how to navigate, and bring a map. There are a lot of trails in this area, and it helps to have a good map and the skills to use it. I recommend Tom Harrison’s Trail Map to the Angeles Front Country, which is plasticized and foldable.

Related Links

Altadena Weather Forecast

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