fall foliage mt wilson

Hiking to Mt. Wilson via Chantry Flats

By Heather

I snuck in another big hike before the high elevations get dicey, this time to Mt. Wilson! Yeah! This brings me to 50 percent completion of the SoCal Sixpack!

It was supposed to happen on Saturday, but LA finally decided to rain instead. I actually wore a sweater. The Sunday forecast was sunnier, so I just crossed my fingers that there wasn’t any snow, hopped in my car and took off for the mountains.

hiking sign mt wilson

It was glorious. And better yet, Mt. Baldy was the only peak with any snow on it. You can’t see it as well as I could see it in person, but trust me:

mt baldy view from mt wilson

I enjoyed this trail a lot. A word to the wise – if you were planning to start your hike any earlier than 6 a.m., plan again. The road leading to the Chantry Flats is closed until then.

The trail begins with a hike down a paved road into a canyon. About one half mile in, you’ll come to a convergence of trails. The nice thing about this trail is that it’s really well marked.

sturtevant trail mt. wilson chantry flats

Just when you’re wondering if you’re still on the correct trail, boom, there’s a sign telling you to continue on, Mt. Wilson this way (or in the case of the above photo, showing you the way back to your car).

Most of the hike was very, very shady. I never took off my jacket and wished I had a pair of gloves, too.

The ground was still muddy from the previous day’s rain, but not horribly so.

And there was fall foliage galore. Look at those beautiful leaves! I haven’t seen colors like that since leaving Richmond, Va., ages ago. I didn’t realize that I missed them and that it would be so nice to see them again.

Eventually, you will come up to the Spruce Grove backpackers’ camp. It’s a perfect resting spot before continuing the final push to Mt. Wilson. There are bathrooms. They’re horrible bathrooms that haven’t been stocked or cleaned recently, but anything beats having to dig a hole and just pray no one walks by.

After Spruce Grove come the switchbacks to the summit. To keep myself going, I kept count. If memory serves, there are about 12 to 15?

mt wilson observatory

And then you’re there.

I was warned the summit is totally anticlimactic. This is true. At the top of Mt. Wilson is a complex of radio towers and telescopes, so forget any panoramic views. Also, forget sending a text! With all that communications equipment, I couldn’t text Darren to let him know I was standing roughly 6,000 feet above him. Boo to that.

I spent a few minutes up there, drank some water, ate a granola bar and then headed back down.

Pros and cons

  • Pro: It’s a very pretty hike and there is a lot of varying scenery and terrain.
  • Pro: The trail was not very crowded at all. Although this is a popular spot, once you park and start hiking, people become fewer and further between.
  • Pro: Very shady trail, for the most part. It’s perfect for blazing hot days. You might want to bring extra warmth on chilly days.
  • Pro: A very, very well-marked trail. You will not get lost.
  • Con: Lots of trail runners and mountain bikers on what is a very narrow trail at points.
  • Con: Watch out for bad and aggressive behavior from trail runners and bikers, including going way too fast around blind corners on bikes, not yielding to hikers going up and not saying things like “On your left,” which made for some really startling encounters. Common courtesy, people.

What to know

  • There are at least two opportunities for bathroom breaks in proper, yet chemical, toilets on the way up.
  • Have very grippy shoes!! There’s lots of granite and a few stream crossings.
  • Look out – there’s one section where the trail disappears and you have to climb over some rocks. One false move, and you’ll fall into the creek 30 feet below. Yikes. On the way back, when I was really tired, it was a tad nerve wracking. Just be patient, don’t panic, take your time and you’ll get to the other side!
  • The road leading to the trail head doesn’t open until 6 a.m., sometimes a little bit earlier (one day, I got there around 5:30 and they had opened it).
  • Get there as close to 6 a.m. as you can if you want to have any hope of finding a parking spot. By 7 a.m., forget it.
  • You need a CA Adventure Pass to park in the lot; don’t skip out on it because you could get a big fine. Day passes are $5, year passes are $30.

Final stats

According to my FitBit, this hike clocked in at 33,382 steps, 14.84 miles, and roughly 480 flights of stairs (FitBit didn’t record that for posterity, for some reason). It took me almost exactly five hours and 30 minutes from start to finish, but I’m not a leisurely hiker, so your mileage may vary.