The Mt Baldy Visitor's Center trailhead is about 1 hour east of downtown LA.
The route up starts in Bear Canyon and then quickly goes uphill. After the first half of the hike, you are exposed and above the tree line. The last mile or so to Baldy is actually some of the easiest hiking.
This hike is very steep. The hardest part is from mile 1 to mile 4, where the gradient is around a steady 18%. Unfortunately the steep slope makes the descent a little tricky too. I recommend using trekking poles on this hike.
Unlike the main hike up Mt Baldy (via Baldy Notch), the Bear Canyon Trail is usually not as crowded. That’s because it’s harder. It climbs 5740 feet in 6 miles. There are sections that are very steep. It’d doable with a decent level of fitness. This hike is a good choice for those who have hiked Mt Baldy from Manker Flats and now want to do it again, without all the hub-bub.
This is not a hike to do in bad or winter weather, unless you are very experienced in those conditions. The Bear Canyon Trail is exposed for much of the way, with some sheer drop-offs on either side. People die here, don’t take any risks.
If you didn’t know it, Mt Baldy (Mt San Antonio) is the tallest peak in Los Angeles County at 10,064 feet.
The Bear Canyon Trail, built in 1889, used to be the main route to hike Mt Baldy, which is why they call it the Old Baldy Trail. When the road to Manker Flat was built in 1936, the shorter Ski Hut and Devil’s Backbone routes became more popular.
The Old Baldy Trail used to be main way to the Baldy Summit Inn, opened in 1910 by William B. Dewey, who was the first gringo to summit Mt Baldy in 1882. It cost $1 a night to stay at the inn, but burnt down in 1913.
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.
A Note on Parking
You should only park in the official ranger station lot (see below in directions). When I finished this hike, I ran into some upset hikers. They had arrived before dawn, when all the parking options and signs weren’t so obvious. They saw a sign at the start of Bear Canyon Road that said “Private Road – Hikers Welcome” and assumed that meant they could park at the trailhead.
When they got back from their hike, a local (named “Mark” who lives on Bear Canyon Road) had left a really nasty and threatening note on their windshield. Yes, they made a mistake and parked in the wrong place. No, they didn’t deserve a profanity-laced missive on where to park. So take care when parking and avoid the grumpy locals. And stay classy Mark.
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.