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.
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.
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:
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.
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.