Mount Pinos Trail and Sawmill Mountain Hike Guide
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance||8 miles (12.9 km)|
|Other Options||4 miles|
|Hike Time||3-4 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||1,600 feet (488m)|
|Highest Elevation||8,848 feet (2697m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Permit|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Los Padres National Forest|
This two-peak hike is incredibly beautiful. First, you bag Mount Pinos, the highest point in Ventura County at 8847 ft. The Mount Pinos Trail is wide, shady, and pleasant. The real fun starts as you continue to Sawmill Mountain, the highest point in Kern County, at 8822ft. You’ll pass a condor observation point, enter the rugged Chumash Wilderness, and then enjoy sweeping views and a huge cairn on Sawmill Mountain. The hike is challenging, but it’s not a big mountain expedition; most folks can do this hike without much fuss.
If you just want to hike to Mount Pinos, it’s a relatively easy 4 mile roundtrip hike.
Where Is the Mount Pinos Trailhead?
The hike to Mount Pinos starts at the very exciting sounding “Nordic Base,” an operations base and first-aid center for the Nordic Ski Patrol. The Nordic Base trailhead is located within Los Padres National Forest, to the north of Los Angeles. Driving up to the trailhead is a beautiful experience as your vehicle climbs several thousand feet to the start of the hike.
Use this trailhead address:
Mt Pinos Nordic Base, Cuddy Valley Rd, Frazier Park, CA 93225
Some maps can be confusing, with a road going all the way to Mount Pinos. The dirt road that you hike on used to be open to motor vehicles, open from Nordic Base to the Condor Observation Point.
Sometimes there are porta-potties here. Otherwise, go to the right of Nordic Base to find Chula Vista Campground, which has vault toilets. If you want to stay the night, Chula Vista is considered one of the best stargazing spots in SoCal.
Visiting in the Winter
Compared to the rest of Southern California, Los Padres NF experiences pretty harsh winters, and most of the precipitation comes down as snow. You’ll want to check for any road closures if you are trying Mt Pinos in the winter. When the snow is bad, the road to Nordic Base will close. And of course, expect snow on the trail and prepare accordingly.
Gear for the Hike
While this hike isn’t a long mountain expedition, it is a backcountry hike and you should have proper hiking gear. I’d bring at least 2L of water. The hike back includes some uphill and can be tough, so having a snack at the halfway point is a good option. If you are doing the shorter 4 mile hike to Mt Pinos, you can get away with fitness clothing. There are a lot of vista points on the hike and binoculars are nice to have.
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.
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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.
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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 December 2020.
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.
Mount Pinos & Sawmill Mountain Trail Maps
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.
- Along the hike you’ll come to the Condor Observation Point, which gives you a panoramic overview of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. Condor only eat dead animals, and lead poisoning and micro-trash (plastic, bottle caps, etc.) have taken their toll; in 1987 only 22 California Condors existed. They were bred in captivity and reintroduced to this area in 1992. Today, there are over 200 California Condor living in the wild here.
- There’s some controversy regarding the actual highest point in Kern County. Is it Sawmill Mountain or Mount Pinos? The border between Kern and Ventura counties goes through Mount Pinos, and some folks think the pile of rocks on Mount Pinos is higher than Sawmill Mountain. Does it matter? If you bag both peaks on this hike, you’ll have the high points covered regardless.
- You’ll enter the Chumash Wilderness Area, named after the Chumash native peoples and created in 1992. Some Chumash place names you might already know are Malibu and Ojai. The Chumash consider Mount Pinos to be the center of the world.
- We’ll also hike on the Tumamait Trail, named after Vincent Tumamait, the Chumash spiritual leader who helped keep their culture alive. His daughter Julie is active in Native American culture and has some good YouTube videos that share Chumash culture.
- Pinos is the Spanish word for pines. As you might have figured out, this high altitude hike is home to many Jeffery and Limber pine trees.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Want to get into snowshoeing? The trail from Nordic Base to Mt Pinos on the Forest Service road is a great place to do it, especially for beginners.
When you return, just come back on the dirt road and skip the side trail if you’d like.
If you are just doing the 4 mile hike to Mt Pinos, make the left in the last picture and just continue back down the dirt road to the start of the hike.
From here you just turn around and go back the way you came. And remember, you can skip the summit of Mount Pinos and just go straight back on the dirt road if you like.
And if you want to get a few more miles in (about 3), you can continue back to the junction and head to Grouse Mountain, the next peak over. There’s actually something called the 321 Challenge for bagging all three peaks, and you can get a patch if you complete it. The summit of Grouse is not as spectacular as Sawmill, but the trail and wilderness are beautiful. I included the trail on the downloadable PDF.
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.