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 Distance8 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

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.
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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.

La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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 Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2020.

My September 2020 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 offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Mount Pinos & Sawmill Mountain Trail Maps

Click Here To View Map

Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

Your best move to navigate this hike is to take a paper map, compass, and a GPS device. Load the GPX track from this hike onto your GPS to ensure that you’re on the trail. I’m a big fan of GPS watches; I just glance down at it to cross-check my position and use paper when I want a deeper dive. The GPS watch that I’m using now is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (price: REI or Amazon). It’s pricey but has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of other wellness, fitness, and smart-watch applications. For a more affordable option, check out the value-packed Garmin Instinct  (price: REI or Amazon), a similar watch without some of the features. There are also great smartphone GPS apps like GaiaGPS. If you end up getting GaiaGPS premium, I’ve arranged for a 20-40% discount for my readers.

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.
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The trail winds around, with the parking lot down to the right.
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Go through the gate
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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.

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Unlike the last trail, this one is a single-track. It winds away from the peak and then loops back.
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You’ll see the trail unfold in front of you up to Mount Pinos summit.
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At the top of the hill you reach the summit of Mount Pinos. Unfortunately it’s covered with radio towers.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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The observation point has a viewpoint and nice interpretive display.
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The views from here into the Sespe Condor Sanctuary are spectacular.
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Head back to the Tumamait Trail and hike straight.
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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.
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And then immediately start heading uphill from the saddle.
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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.
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At the fork, bear right to head up to the summit of Sawmill Mountain.
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The trail is a little less worn than the others, but is still easy to follow.
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Soon you’ll see the massive stone marker in the distance.
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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.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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