This 11 mile Mt Baldy hike brings you to the highest point in LA at 10,064 feet. With about 4000 feet of climbing, it’s a tough yet popular hike, and well worth the effort. You can see from the Pacific to the Mojave on a clear day. There are a few ways to hike Mt Baldy, and this guide takes you on the most popular route.
Mt Baldy is a popular hike because it takes you to the highest point in Los Angeles County. The hike is very doable for lots of people and gives you the accomplishment of having bagged the highest peak. On a clear winter day in LA you can sometimes see snowcapped mountains looming in the background. The tallest one is Mt Baldy (and the tallest mountain in SoCal is San Gorgonio, which you can hike too).
Mt Baldy is also known by it’s official name of Mt San Antonio, but everyone just calls it Mt Baldy. It was named for the bald (treeless) face of the Baldy Bowl which is visible when you see the mountain from LA. Mt Baldy is located in the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, as well as Angeles National Forest.
When to Hike Mt Baldy
Do the Mt Baldy hike as early as possible to avoid the crowds. It’s one of the most popular hikes in LA. I usually leave at sunrise. The later that you leave, the tougher it will be to park at Manker Flats. If you can do the hike on a weekday, you’ll encounter even less crowds. If you’re starting later in the day, don’t forget to look at the sunset time. Getting caught on the trail after dark is a recipe for disaster.
So there’s no official way to know if there’s snow at the summit of Mt Baldy, but there are some roundabout ways to figure it out. If you’re in the summer months, say late May to October, the chances are that it’s clear.
When I want to check for snow and bad conditions, I do a couple of things.
Then I check the Mt Baldy summit weather. These forecasts are a favorite because I can see not only the high and low temperatures, but also the winds. If there are high winds or very low temperatures at the summit, I know conditions are not great.
If there’s snow or bad weather, hike Mt Baldy on another day. People have died on these trails in bad and wintery weather. Let me say that again – hikers die every winter on Baldy. It’s real, take it seriously and wait until summer if you don’t have mountaineering experience.
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.
There have been reports of thefts at the trailhead parking lot. Be smart and don’t leave valuables visible in your car.
Gear For the Hike
Even though this is a popular hike that lots of folks do, it’s still a serious mountain hike. The conditions at the top of Mt Baldy are famous for being hard, mainly windy and cold. You should be prepared accordingly. Here’s what I bring:
3L of water, ideally in a good hiking daypack
Good hiking boots
Enough layers to last overnight on the mountain should you become lost. Consult the weather to see what the low temperatures are and then shave 20-30 degrees off that. It also helps to have some gear to help you spend the night (see my guide).
Food to keep your energy stores up for a 7+ hour hike
There are two popular ways to do the Mt Baldy hike, the Ski Hut Trail and the Devil’s Backbone Trail. This hiking guide starts on the picturesque Devil’s Backbone Trail and then descends the steeper Ski Hut Trail. I find this routing to be the most enjoyable. If you want to avoid the crowds and do a much tougher hike, try the route on Bear Canyon trail.
Because a lot of the trail markers on this hike get stolen, I highly recommend having a paper and electronic map for the hike.
Some hikers get lost when descending the Ski Hut trail. The trail splits apart, comes back together, and can be confusing (more below). If you are descending and you see airplane wreckage, you’ve gone off the trail, immediately turn around and head directly uphill to rejoin the trail. If it doesn’t look like you’re on a trail, you’re not, turn around before you get stuck on a ledge.
If you do get lost, stop, collect yourself, consult your maps, and regroup. If you don’t find the trail after a little while, stop, stay put, and fire up your rescue beacon. Don’t move when you set off your beacon, stay where you set it off.
Turn by Turn Mt Baldy Hike Directions
These directions have you hiking the entire way, but you can also cheat and take the chair lift to Mt Baldy Notch. It doesn’t cut that much off the hike, so I recommend just doing the hike.
Here are tow images of new trail signs before you reach the ski hut (thanks to my friend Amit). Whether they’re still there when you do the hike, who knows…
If you are going to bag Mt Baldy, why not set Mt Whitney as your next goal? You won’t be disappointed, it’s awesome.
A quick note. These directions are meant as a guide for the hike, and not a definitive source. Conditions change, and the information here can be different based on time of day, weather, season, etc. There can be small side trails that you might see but I missed. I have made every effort to include all the information you need to complete the hike successfully. I recommend using this guide in conjunction with a map, GPX file, common sense, and call to the ranger station or park office. If you do the hike and notice something has changed, please contact me and I will update the guide.