Mt Wilson, at 5,712 feet, is the peak with all the radio towers that sits behind the LA skyline. It’s not the tallest peak in LA, but it’s a great hike with a fun summit. Multiple hiking trails ascend Mt Wilson. This hike starts at Chantry Flat, which gives you a gentler climb to the Mt Wilson summit, a trailhead store, bathrooms, and great views of LA on the way down. It’s a fun hike and a good long hike for beginners.
The Chantry Flat parking lot fills up early. Get here as close to opening at 6am as possible to ensure that you have a spot. Some times it opens early. It’s not uncommon to have people waiting for the gate to open.
You also need a parking pass for the lot. I use the affordable National Parks Pass, which gets me in every national park, national monument, and national forest. You can also use an (Southern California only) Adventure Pass, or buy a $5 day permit from the general store in Chantry Flats.
When the lot is full, people park down on the side of the road and walk up to the trailhead.
If you want to take public transportation, there are sometimes weekend shuttles from the Arcadia Gold Line station. Check out the website or give them a call to see if it’s running when you want to go.
Gear for the Hike
Even though Mt Wilson is a beginner friendly hike, its long and you should have hiking gear, not just workout clothes. It’s rare for Mt Wilson to get snow, but it does sometimes. And in the summer, there can be thunder storms. Check the summit forecast before you go.
It also helps to have insect repellant in case the flies are out. They can get annoying.
Joby tripods attach to anything. The legs are adjustable and grippy, so you can put them on trees, packs, rocks, whatever. And they work like regular tripods too. Works with everything from smartphones to DSLRs.
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There are multiple routes up to the Mt Wilson summit, and this guide covers one of the most popular routes from Chantry Flats. It’s a scenic route that follows “trail trails” for most of the way and avoids wider dirt roads (aside from a few short sections).
This thing does everything: maps, GPX tracks, compass, barometer, altitude, heart rate, blood oxygen, fitness tracking, sleep tracking, and the list goes on. I keep a GPX route on the watch so I can quickly glance down and make sure I’m in the right place.
I load a few types of offline maps onto my smartphone when I need to interact with the map in detail. I also use it before my hikes as a planning tool for all kinds of things, including finding free government land to camp on. The benefits are many, I highly recommend it.
Don’t be caught out if your batteries die. Take a topo map with you on the trail and learn how to read it. Some people also print my guides out for use on the hike. I’m a map geek and I love to pour over maps and guide books when planning my next adventure.
Don’t just rely on a cell phone, especially if you are hiking in the backcountry.
What to Know Before the Hike
The dams you see throughout the hike to Mt Wilson were built in the 1960s to keep sand and rocks from traveling downstream to the larger Big Santa Anita Dam and reservoir. The paved road that the hike starts on used to head up along many of the smaller trails that you’ll hike on, and was used to bring up the cranes, cement mixers, and other trucks needed to create the dams.
Most big dams have a smaller “sill dam” downstream that is used to protect the foundation of the larger dam upstream. When you see any lower dam missing, it means mother nature went ahead and blew it out. The first sill dams blew out in 1969 during a wet El Nino year.
Many of the (private) cabins that you see on the hike were built in the 1910s-1920s when the U.S. Forest Service encourage people to build them. The supplies used to build them were brought in by mules, and still are today by Adams Pack Station. Over the years the elements have destroyed many cabins, and today there are less than 80 of them. You can stay in some of the ones at Sturtevant Camp.