Echo Mountain Hike on the Sam Merrill Trail
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance||5.4 miles (8.7 km)|
|Other Options||10 miles|
|Hike Time||2.5 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||1,730 feet (527m)|
|Highest Elevation||3,207 feet (978m)|
|Fees & Permits||Free|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Los Angeles River Ranger District|
The Echo Mountain hike packs a lot of bang for the buck. You’ll hike up the Sam Merrill Trail, which follows the old Mt Lowe railway route up to Echo Mountain, where you can see the old ruins of the Echo Mountain mountain resort. USA Today included the Echo Mountain hike as one of the “10 Great North American Hikes” and Sunset Magazine called it one of the top 45 hikes in the west. The hike is easy to follow, has an interesting history, offers great views, is a good workout, and is close to LA. Overall it’s a win.
These directions have an optional hike extension to a scenic viewpoint at Inspiration Point. See directions for more info.
The Sam Merrill trail to Echo Mountain starts at the 1070-acre Cobb Estate, which is now public parkland, but was originally built by lumber magnate Charles Cobb. He passed away in 1939, and it became a retreat for nuns for a few years, and then the Marx Brothers bought it in 1956. They realized the property was not usable and had the structure torn down in 1959. In 1971 an anonymous donor purchased the property and gave it to Pasadena to turn into a park. And it’s allegedly haunted, so there’s that.
As you climb the trail, your route will parallel some of the old Mount Lowe Railway route, which was the only electric mountain railway ever built in the USA. At the time it was built in 1893, it was considered a modern marvel and had over 3 million visitors during its lifetime.
The railroad lead to the Echo Mountain House Resort (cool old pictures here), which you can see the ruins of at the summit of the Echo Mountain hike. There was a hotel, restaurants, tavern, observatory, million candlepower searchlight, and the famous echo-phones which you can still use today.
The resort and railway weathered some fires and natural disasters over the years, but the great flood of 1938 (the same one that created the Bridge to Nowhere) was the final nail in the coffin, washing much of the railway and resort away. From there, Sam Merrill, who lived with John Muir as a young man and was active in the Sierra Club, restored and maintained the trails to Echo Mountain. When he died in 1948, the Sierra Club named the trail after him.
Where is the Echo Mountain Hike?
Use this as the trailhead GPS address: 3302 Lake Ave, Altadena, CA, 91001, USA.
Parking is free on residential streets around the trailhead. It’s a popular hike so you might have to park a few blocks away.
Gear for the Hike
This is a bit of an in-between hike. You can certainly do this with fitness clothes and minimal gear, but I do recommend hiking gear if you have it. The Echo Mountain hike is a steady uphill, so prepare for the effort. If you’re going to do the extra loop to Inspiration Point, definitely use hiking gear.
My Goto Hiking Footwear: La Sportiva Wildcat
If you hike a lot or just want the best (but not the most durable) hiking footwear, the Wildcat trail runner is your best move. It’s fast and light on trails, the sole gives me good grip off-trail or scrambling, and they dry quickly.
Latest Price on Women’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Best All-Around Day Pack: Osprey Talon
I try so many backpacks and I can usually find something I love about all of them. But no matter how many I try, I always find that I come back to the Osprey Talon 33 (or for women, the Osprey Sirrus 36). It’s just the right balance between everything. You save weight because there is no frame, but the vented and padded back holds its shape, giving it a pseudo-frame. It’s big enough for long day hikes or overnighters, but when I don’t fill it on a shorter hike, it’s still nice and light. It’s got a sleeve for a hydration bladder and side pockets for Smartwater bottles. I’ve been using (and beating) the same one since 2017 and it’s still going strong.
Latest Women’s Prices: REI | Amazon
Latest Men’s Prices: REI | Amazon
Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2021.
No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Echo Mountain and Sam Merrill Trail Maps
- In general the trail is popular and easy to follow. If you are unsure of your position, you’ll probably see other hikers who can help you out.
- I’ve included an optional hike extension to Inspiration Point, which adds another 5 miles onto the hike. If you have the energy, go for it. Inspiration Point has great views and a unique viewing station. Read below for all the details.
- You’ll be sharing the trail with mountain bikers. Keep your eyes and ears open, especially on the decent.
Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map
How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). You can also use most smartphones. Check out my navigation recommendations and resources on my top gear picks page for options at all budget levels.
If you want to do the hike to Inspiration Point, use this GPX file: echo-mountain-hike-with-inspiration-point.
Echo Mountain Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Optional Loop to Inspiration Point
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Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.