Fire Tower Hikes
These hikes take you to the fun summit experience of a fire tower. While fire towers may largely be a thing of the past, some are still manned and actively working to spot wildfires. Some of the fire towers also allow visitors; read the individual guides for more info.
|Slide Mountain Lookout Hike||10.8||Hard||Castaic||2620||Y|
|Hike Josephine Peak From Colby Canyon||8.4||Moderate||Tujunga||2300||Y|
|Boucher Fire Tower Loop (Palomar Mountain)||3.5||Easy||Palomar Mountain||630||N|
|Sunset Peak Trail Hike (Angeles National Forest)||7.5||Moderate||Mt Baldy||1300||Y|
|Hike Keller Peak on the Exploration Trail||12.5||Moderate||Big Bear||2200||Y|
|Hot Springs Mountain Trail Guide (San Diego)||10.5||Hard||Warner Springs||2500||Y|
|Mt Hawkins Loop Hike (Hawkins, Middle, and South Mount Hawkins)||13||Hard||Irwindale||3750||Y|
|Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout (Idyllwild, CA)||8||Hard||Banning||2820||Y|
|Hike Mt Islip From Crystal Lake||10.5||Hard||Azuza||2800||Y|
|Tahquitz Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail Hike||8.5||Hard||Idyllwild||2350||Y|
The Slide Mountain Lookout Trail isn’t near many other hikes and is a bit of a trek to get to, but it is well worth the effort. The hike is unique in a lot of ways. First, you’ll hike through the dramatic Piru Gorge, but you’ll do it on an abandoned highway, giving the stretch a surreal post-apocalyptic feel. Then you’ll sweat as you climb over 2000 feet on dirt trails toward the summit. Along the way, you’ll get spectacular views into the rugged backcountry of the Sespe Wilderness. At the top is a fire lookout, manned by volunteers and only accessible by hiking.
Castaic, CA - 10.8 miles, Hard
Standing prominently in the western San Gabriels, Josephine Peak offers a cool summit with sweeping views. There are a few ways to hike to the summit, and this guide covers my favorite route, which takes the (single track) Colby Canyon Trail (instead of the fire road). This is a great “off-the-beaten-path” hike where you never see crowds, making for a peaceful and pleasurable experience.
Tujunga, CA - 8.4 miles, Moderate
This short loop hike to the Boucher Fire Lookout Tower offers a lot to see in a short distance. The climb to the tower is gentle, and at the top, on a clear day, you can see from Mexico, to the Coronado Islands, to Mt San Jacinto. I’d venture to say the best views from Palomar Mountain State Park are from Boucher Hill. Then rom the tower, we’ll hike in a loop and visit the remains of a historic homesteader’s cabin.
Palomar Mountain, CA - 3.5 miles, Easy
The Sunset Peak hike, with its gentle yet steady uphill, offers lots of beauty for all levels of hiker. For beginners, Sunset Peak lets you dip your toe into the high peaks of Angeles National Forest without anything too hairy. And for the experienced hiker, the sweeping panoramic views give you a unique perspective of all the big-name peaks. Overall Sunset Peak is a great hike that I recommend for everyone to enjoy.
Mt Baldy, CA - 7.5 miles, Moderate
Off the radar of most hikers, the Exploration Trail to Keller Peak is a scenic adventure that’s not too hard but also packs in some great trail highlights. The entire area you hike through was devastated by the 1970 Bear Fire; today, as you hike, you can experience what a half-century of recovery looks like (it’s good). Along the way, you’ll get some epic views of the Angeles National Forest and the surrounding high peaks. At Keller Peak, you can experience the oldest standing fire tower in Southern California, dating back to 1926.
Big Bear, CA - 12.5 miles, Moderate
Hot Springs Mountain, the highest point in San Diego County at 6,535 feet, would be worth hiking just for that fact, but there’s so much more to enjoy. After a tough initial climb, the trail is peaceful and scenic as it winds through conifers, giving the feel of a higher alpine area. And at the summit, you get to visit the oldest standing fire tower serving Cleveland National Forest, dating to 1942, and then enjoy a ladder climb up to the actual summit. It’s a fun and beautiful hike that’s tough but not too tough.
Warner Springs, CA - 10.5 miles, Hard
This challenging and lightly-trodden loop hike offers three summits along the route: Mt Hawkins, Middle Hawkins, and South Mount Hawkins. The hike offers sweeping views of the peaks of Angeles National Forest, an interesting history, beautiful trails, a long descent down Hawkins Ridge, and three different peaks to bag from the Sierra Club’s 100 Peaks list. Escape the crowds on the nearby peaks and give the Mt Hawkins loop a try.
Irwindale, CA - 13 miles, Hard
Located just outside of Idyllwild, CA in San Bernardino National Forest, the Black Mountain Trail hike to the fire lookout is a hidden gem. Often overshadowed by hikes like Tahquitz, it offers a healthy mountain climb, great panoramic views, a fire lookout, AND a secret grove of Giant Sequoia trees. You heard that correctly.
Banning, CA - 8 miles, Hard
Tucked into Angeles National Forest away from the crowds, this loop hike to Mt Islip from Crystal Lake offers a little bit of everything in a very doable package. Starting at one of the only natural lakes in Angeles National Forest, Crystal Lake, the hike follows well-marked trails, offers spectacular views, and summits Mt Islip at 8,250 ft. After soaking in the sweeping views from Catalina to the Mojave, you have a long, gradual downhill cruise back to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.
Azuza, CA - 10.5 miles, Hard
The Tahquitz Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail hike is one of the most popular hikes in the San Jacinto area for a reason. The scenery and views are incredible, the trails are in excellent condition and are well-marked, and the summit includes a visit to the highest fire lookout in San Bernardino National Forest at 8,846 feet. Because of its popularity, there are times when you need to apply for a permit and other times that you don’t. I’ll explain it all in the guide.
Idyllwild, CA - 8.5 miles, Hard