echo phone on echo mountain

Echo Mountain Hike on the Sam Merrill Trail

In This Guide
  • How to Get to Echo Mountain
  • Echo Mountain Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • What You Need To Do the Hike
Distance5.4 miles (8.7 km)
Time2.5 Hours
DifficultyHard
Total Climbing1,500 feet (457m)
Highest Elevation3,207 feet (978m)
Dog FriendlyLeashed
ParkLos Angeles River Ranger District
Park Phone818-899-1900

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.

Echo Mountain Hike Mt Lowe Railway
The hike will parallel some of the old Mount Lowe Railway route. Here you can see the electric trolley filled with tourists climbing to Echo Mountain. This hike has an interesting history.

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.

Echo Mountain House
The Mount Lowe Railway led to the Echo Mountain House, which was a 70 room Victorian hotel built to rival the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. It was intended to be a full service resort “a mile up in the sky.”

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.

parking for echo mountain hike
There’s plenty of street parking. 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. Here’s what I bring:

Garmin inreach review

If you want hiking gear recommendations, check out my full gear list. I only recommend and review gear that I actually use. No company pays me to push their product. Everything on my gear list is battle tested on the trails, and should work well for you too.

See The Gear I Use

Echo Mountain and Sam Merrill Trail Maps

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing some form of paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

echo mountain 3d map
It’s an out and back hike to Echo Mountain. If you continue to Inspiration Point, there’s a scenic loop.
echo mountain hike elevation
The hike to Echo Mountain climbs steadily. This chart includes the hike extension to Inspiration point.

Echo Mountain Hike Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

echo mountain hike trailhead
The trailhead is at the corner, where the road makes a 90 degree turn.
cobb estate sign
Go though the Cobb Estate gate and start walking. There’s a sign for the Sam Merrill Trail, which is what you’re going to take.
trail on echo mountain hike
The beginning of the hike is probably the hardest to follow, with some weird twists, turns, and junctions. To start, just head up the old road.
trail on echo mountain hike
After a minute or two, you’ll see a sign with a turn to the right. Hike to the right here.
trail sign on echo mountain hike
Here’s a closeup of that sign where you make the right turn off the road.
trail on echo mountain hike
In a minute after that, you come to a big intersection. Make the hard left at the very edge of the ravine.
trail on echo mountain hike
You’ll hike above a dry river bed. Stay on this short section of trail as it goes past a dam in the riverbed to the right.
trail on echo mountain hike
The trail dips down across the dry riverbed. Avoid side trails and go across to continue on the trail.
trail on echo mountain hike
The confusing part is almost over. Avoid any side trails and stay on the main trail. If a trail fizzles out, you probably made a wrong turn and ended up in a place where teens drink beer. Turn around and head back if that’s the case.
trail on echo mountain hike
The trail become simpler and winds it’s way up switchbacks toward Echo Mountain. It’s steep. Take time to catch your breath and enjoy the view.
cris hazzard on echo mountain hike
I stopped for a selfie but really I was tired. You can see the trail below. Keep on climbing.
two mile marker on echo mountain hike
Keep an eye out for the 2 mile marker. When you see this post, you’re almost there!
trail junction on echo mountain hike
At about 2.5 miles, make the right at this trail junction to head toward Echo Mountain.
trail on echo mountain hike
The trail makes it’s way toward the resort. Avoid any side trails and stay straight.
ruins on echo mountain
As you approach the resort, you’ll see the ruins of the old railroad.
sign on echo mountain hike
One of the cool things about this hike is all the informational plaques. You’ll see the ruins of the old resort, and usually there’s a sign explaining what used to be there.
ruins on echo mountain
This huge gear is from the old railroad. The Mount Lowe Railway was the only scenic mountain, electric railroad ever built in the United States.
view from echo mountain
You made it! Explore the ruins and take in the views.
sign on echo mountain
Climb the stairs to find the picnic benches. Behind here is the echo phone.
peace sign art echo mountain
There’s lot’s of ruins and hiker-made art to see when you explore here.
echo phone on echo mountain
At the back of the resort area, you’ll find the echo phone. You can allegedly yell into this and they’ll hear you at Inspiration Point (see below). There’s also an echo off the mountain. It’s obnoxious but all part of the fun.
cris hazzard on echo mountain
Get your selfies and head back down the way you came to finish the hike. If you have the energy, I’d recommend continuing your hike up to Inspiration Point.
trail on echo mountain hike
Head back out the way you came. If you want to finish, go straight back the way you came. For Inspiration Point, look out for the first trail on your right.
trail on echo mountain hike
The Castle Canyon trail to Inspiration Point is to your right. It’s smaller and overgrown, so keep your eyes open. It comes a minute or two after leaving the resort ruins area.
trail on echo mountain hike
There’s an old stone plaque just past the trail. Make sure the sign says Castle Canyon. The next trail to the right is identical, so check the trail name.
trail on echo mountain hike
The Castle Canyon trail is smaller and lacks the crowds of the Echo Mountain hike.
trail on echo mountain hike
After a few minutes, the trail follows the left side of a canyon. It’s really scenic.
view of la from echo mountain hike
Turn back for some great views of downtown LA.
trail on echo mountain hike
The trail gets thin at some points. Take it easy and watch your step.
trail on echo mountain hike
The trail starts to get steep as it makes it’s way up switchbacks.
cris hazzard on echo mountain hike
It gets steeper as you get closer to the top. Baby steps…
trail on echo mountain hike
At around 4.9 miles, you’ll start to see the Inspiration Point pavilion. Almost there!
inspiration point on echo mountain hike
You made it! You will reach Inspiration Point in a little over 5 miles.
inspiration point on echo mountain hike
One of the neatest things here are the viewing tubes. Each tube is pre-set with the right direction to look for the respective sights. Keep an eye open for the viewing tube for Inspiration Point – it’s pretty funny.
inspiration point on echo mountain hike
The pavilion is pretty cool, with awesome views. Opposite the pavilion are view of Mt Wilson, which is also a great hike (see end of article).
inspiration point on echo mountain hike
When you’re done soaking it all in, head straight down the road (left if you’re looking at the trail from inside the pavilion). There’s a sign pointing you in this direction for the Sam Merrill trail too.
trail on echo mountain hike
The trail is pretty wide here. Continue straight to start your well-earned downhill.
trail on echo mountain hike
At about 0.3 miles from the pavilion, you’ll reach a junction. Make the hard left onto the Sam Merrill trail. You won’t be able to see it easily as you approach.
trail sign on echo mountain hike
Here’s the sign marking the beginning of the trail.
trail on echo mountain hike
While you could have retraced your steps from the pavilion at Inspiration Point, this route has a much more scenic descent, but the trail is a little more primitive.
sunset point sign
Take a break at Sunset Point for some great photos of LA, Catalina, and the surrounding mountains.
trail on echo mountain hike
At around 6.5 miles in, there’s a split in the trail. Head left. If you want a quick detour with views, go to the right on the ridge. A lone pine tree marks a great vista point. Head back after checking it out.
trail on echo mountain hike
As you descend, you’ll see the Sam Merrill Trail unravel beneath you. If you look closely, you’ll also be able to see the ruins of the resort.
ruins on echo mountain
Shortly before you arrive back at the resort ruins, you’ll see some more ruins including an old fireplace.
trail on echo mountain hike
And you’re back at Echo Mountain! Head left and go back down the way you came up.

You can help other hikers. If you do this hike and something has changed, snap a few photos and email me the details. I’ll update the guide so that others can do the hike safely.

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