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Mount Pinos Trail And Sawmill Mountain Hike Guide

Mount Pinos Trail and Sawmill Mountain Hike Guide

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • How To Get To the Mount Pinos Trailhead
  • Gear Recommendations and Tips for the Hike
Total Distance (?)8 miles (12.9 km)
Other Options 4 miles
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,600 feet (488m)
Highest Elevation8,848 feet (2697m)
Fees & PermitsParking Permit
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Los Padres National Forest
Park Phone805-865-0416
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions
Stay SafeCopy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.

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.

Mount Pinos Hike Directions 3
The parking lot at Nordic Base is massive.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 2
Here’s the Nordic Base building, which is usually occupied in the winter when this is a hub for snow sports.

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.

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Garmin Inreach Mini 2

Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI

Lone Peak 6 Yellow

Altra Lone Peak 6
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Terraventure 3 or Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon 
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon 

Gregory Zulu 30

Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.

Women’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated June 2022.

My June 2022 Top Gear Picks

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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Mount Pinos & Sawmill Mountain Trail Maps

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.


How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
Here’s what I use. If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 7 or Epix. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

To access this guide when out of cell phone range on the trail, simply save the webpage on your phone ( iPhoneAndroid ).

Elevation Profile

Mount Pinos Sawmill Elevation Profile
If you go all the way to Sawmill Mountain, you have some up and down. On paper the hike doesn’t look too tough, but if you’re coming from sea level, the up and down can be harder than you expect since you’re at 8000+ feet.

3D Map

Mount Pinos Sawmill 3d Map
Since you start the hike at about 8340ft, there isn’t a ton of climbing, but there is some up and down as you hike along the ridge.

Hike Brief

Keep your eyes open for the critically endangered California Condor, North America’s largest bird with a wingspan of over nine feet.

Mount Pinos Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Mt Pinos Trailhead
The trailhead is at the beginning of the parking lot, on the left hand side.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 1
Look for the sign at the trailhead for Mt Pinos Summit. For the first part of the hike, you’ll be hiking up a dirt forest road.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 4
The trail winds around, with the parking lot down to the right.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 5
Go through the gate
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 6
At the fork in the trail, bear to the left.

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.

Mount Pinos Hike Directions 7
The next mile or so is a nice windy dirt road up through the pine trees. It’s a gradual climb and not too tough.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 8
When you come out of the pines, bear to the left on the main road. The side trail to the right leads to a viewpoint, but you’ll have plenty of great views shortly.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 9
At the top of the climb you’ll come out on this nice meadow. The radio towers of Mt Pinos in the distance. Almost there. We’re cutting right across the meadow in front of us at the next turn.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 10
Now we could take the dirt road all the way to the summit, but what fun would that be? Make the right onto the small trail for a scenic detour.

When you return, just come back on the dirt road and skip the side trail if you’d like.

Mount Pinos Hike Directions 11
Unlike the last trail, this one is a single-track. It winds away from the peak and then loops back.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 12
You’ll see the trail unfold in front of you up to Mount Pinos summit.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 14
At the top of the hill you reach the summit of Mount Pinos. Unfortunately it’s covered with radio towers.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 13
From here on out you’ll be treated to incredible views. Mt Pinos is the highest point in the mountains to the west of the Tejon Pass (the big mountain pass on I-5) and has the 11th greatest prominence in California. You can see the Central Valley and up to the southern Sierras on a clear day.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 15
There’s a geological marker on a pile of rocks marking the summit. There’s also another pile of boulders about 80 feet away of the trail that some folks think is the real summit.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 16
After you’re done at the summit, continue straight down on the dirt road.

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.

Mount Pinos Hike Directions 17
In a few minutes you’ll reach the clearing for the Condor Observation Point. The actual trail (the Tumamait Trail) is going to be a hard right from here, while the bench and interpretive display are straight.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 18
The observation point has a viewpoint and nice interpretive display.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 19
The views from here into the Sespe Condor Sanctuary are spectacular.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 20
Head back to the Tumamait Trail and hike straight.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 21
At the junction you can make a short trip to the right for a viewpoint, and the main trail to Sawmill Mountain goes left.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 22
The viewpoint is impressive and offers unobstructed panoramic views. That’s Sawmill Mountain in front of you, our next stop.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 23
Heading back onto the main trail, you descend on some wide sweeping switchbacks.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 24
And soon you enter the Chumash Wilderness.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 25
Eventually you descend the last stretch onto the saddle.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 26
And then immediately start heading uphill from the saddle.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 27
Toward the top of the climb, bear to the right, passing the false summit to the left.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 28
And then the trail flattens out and you find yourself walking through the pines.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 29
At the fork, bear right to head up to the summit of Sawmill Mountain.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 30
The trail is a little less worn than the others, but is still easy to follow.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 31
Soon you’ll see the massive stone marker in the distance.
Mount Pinos Hike Directions 32
And here you are, Sawmill Mountain!

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.

This guide last updated on June 1, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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