Everyone hikes Mt Baldy from Manker Flats, but have you done it on the Bear Canyon Trail? Also known as Old Mt Baldy Trail, this hike leaves from Mt Baldy Village on it’s way to the summit. Unlike the main hike up Mt Baldy (via Baldy Notch), the Bear Canyon Trail is usually not as crowded. That’s because it’s harder. It climbs 5740 feet in 6 miles. There are sections that are very steep. It’d doable with a decent level of fitness. This hike is a good choice for those who have hiked Mt Baldy from Manker Flats and now want to do it again, without all the hub-bub.
The Bear Canyon Trail, built in 1889, used to be the main route to hike Mt Baldy, which is why they call it the Old Baldy Trail. When the road to Manker Flat was built in 1936, the shorter Ski Hut and Devil’s Backbone routes became more popular.
Bear Canyon was also the main way to access the Baldy Summit Inn, opened in 1910 by William B. Dewey, who was the first gringo to summit Mt Baldy in 1882. It cost $1 a night to stay at the inn, but burnt down in 1913.
You need a parking pass for the lot. I use the affordable National Parks Pass, which gets me in every park, monument, and national forest. You can also use an (Southern California only) Adventure Pass, or buy a $5 day permit from the ranger’s office.
A Note on Parking
Parking here is tough. There are six spots in front of the Mt Baldy Visitor’s Center where you can park and leave your car. You can try your luck along the road in other places, but beware of the “no parking” signs. The Mt Baldy Visitor’s Center lot has a 20 minute maximum time. I would recommend calling the Mt Baldy Visitor’s Center number (above) to confirm. The parking situation seems to change every so often here.
When I finished the hike from this trip report, I ran into some upset hikers. They had arrived before dawn, and the parking options and signs weren’t so obvious. They saw a sign at the start of Bear Canyon Road that said “Private Road – Hikers Welcome” and assumed that meant they could park at the trailhead.
When they got back from their hike, a local (named “Mark” who lives on Bear Canyon Road) had left a really nasty and threatening note on their windshield. Yes, they made a mistake and parked in the wrong place. No, they didn’t deserve a profanity-laced missive on where to park. So take care when parking and avoid the grumpy locals. And stay classy Mark.
Gear for the Hike
This is a tough backcountry hike and you should have proper hiking gear. Here’s what I bring:
This is not a hike to do in bad or winter weather, unless you are very experienced in those conditions. The Bear Canyon Trail is exposed for much of the way, with some sheer drop-offs on either side. People die here, don’t take any risks.
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.