The crown jewel of the San Gabriel Mountains, majestic Mt. San Antonio (10,064 ft. elevation) towers over all other peaks in the range. More popularly known as “Mt. Baldy” or “Old Baldy”, it is the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains. It is not, however, the highest mountain in Southern California. That distinction goes to 11,502 ft. Mt. San Gorgonio, popularly known as “Old Grayback”, which is in the San Bernardino Mountains within the San Bernardino National Forest. Mt. Baldy is visible from much of Southern California and conversely much of Southern California can be seen from its summit, air pollution permitting. Not only is Mt. Baldy high, it is massive, somewhat pyramidal in shape and fairly symmetrical it looks like a king of the mountains should look. It is one of the most photographed objects of the Southern California landscape. It’s snow-covered summit has appeared on post cards and tourist literature lauding the attractions of Southern California for nearly a hundred years. Seen with its snowy summit glowing like a live coal at sunset or with snow blowing in a great plume from the top, it is an awe-inspiring sight.
This hike description is the shortest and easiest way to the top, attainable by anyone of moderate hiking ability. Do not try this trip in winter. In winter, the passage over the Devil’s Backbone section of the trail is covered with snow and ice, with precipitous drops and strong winds which can be exceedingly dangerous. In summer and fall, during good weather, there is no danger for the average hiker. Your only discomfort may be a bit of shortness of breath if you are not used to high altitudes.
From the top of the ski lift, follow a path easterly a few hundred feet then turn left and follow the fire road up the ridge. The fire road ends at the Devil’s Backbone and it is trail from there on up. Total trip one way is about 3-1/2 miles and 2,200 ft. elevation gain. The first part of the trip is through sparse pine forest, giving way farther up to a few stunted Lodge pole and rare Limber Pines and bare rocky terrain. Keep an eye out for small alpine type plants along the way. An interesting short side trip from the summit is to walk over the nearly barren ridge southwest and 1/2 mile to West Baldy, a slightly lower summit. You may see a few scraps of wrecked aircraft along the way, left by an unfortunate few who didn’t quite clear the mountain. Enjoy the magnificent view from the top and return the way you came, although it is possible for properly equipped experienced hikers to return by other routes if car shuttles can be arranged. If the ski left is not operating or if you prefer to hike, you can follow the fire road up from the bottom of the ski lift past San Antonio Falls to Baldy Notch. This will add another 3-1/2 miles distance each way and about 1,500 ft. more climbing.
Drive up Mt. Baldy Road in San Antonio Canyon to the Mt. Baldy ski lift. Ride the ski lift up to Baldy Notch, about 7,800 ft. elevation. The lift operates weekends and holidays year-round and daily when snow conditions warrant.
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