SoCal Summits: Hike to Mount Wilson Observatory via Chantry Flats

In preparation for Mount Whitney this summer, I took on the Six Pack of Peaks Challenge, a series of hikes designed by Jeff Hester of featuring a progression of six peaks in Southern California. I also started an adventure club called Shoestring Adventures LA and invited you all to join me. Here are the tales of our journey.

The first hike of the SoCal Six Pack of Peaks is Mount Wilson via Chantry Flats. The challenging 14-mi scenic loop through the San Gabriel Mountains will take you to Sturtevant Falls and climb 4,200-ft to the historic Mount Wilson Observatory at an elevation of 5,712′.

In March, we began the hike along Winter Creek through a village of tiny hike-in cabins. My friend Rachel and I toured the neighborhood and picked out our favorites. The trail was crowded with families as we made a detour to Sturtevant Falls. After viewing the 50 foot waterfall, we backtracked and followed the Gabrielino Trail.

Hike along Winter Creek
Hike along Winter Creek
Winter Creek
Trail Wisdom
Trail Wisdom

We turned right at the fork for the more scenic Lower Trail. When we arrived at Spruce Grove Campground, we stopped to refuel before the intense climb to the summit.

Into the woods…
… Along the creek.

The lush green landscape turned into dead leaves and rocks, and we discovered why no one had followed us this far. The switchbacks were fierce, climbing 1,000 vertical feet in a short distance.

At last, a white telescope appeared above the trees, and we arrived at the summit. Entering the observatory felt like landing on the moon. We learned later the visitor center (including the restroom) is currently closed, but we still spent some time wandering around.

At First Sight
The Cosmic Cafe

The trail continued from the far side of the gravel parking lot to the right of The Cosmic Café. Before descending the mountain, we enjoyed some lunch at a beautiful vista point toward the back of the parking lot (past the large boulders).

Lunch Spot (Photo by Rachel Rockstroh)
Beautiful Views
Mount Wilson Observatory
Sea of Towers and Antennas

The trail was marked with caution tape, but after some scrambling, we decided we were on the right track. The path converged with Old Toll Road, which we followed for one half mile until we reached the junction for Winter Creek Trail, marked by a sign on the left. (Keep your eyes peeled. It’s easy to miss!)

We took the Upper Winter Creek Trail toward Chantry Flats and enjoyed the downhill portion of our hike as a reward for the grueling switchbacks.

Near the trail junction, we encountered a distressed hiker without water or food. They don’t call me the “Walking Pantry” for no reason. I had plenty to share with a fellow hiker, even though he seemed a little creepy. (Be prepared. This hike is no joke!)

Overall, Mount Wilson was a strong introduction to our Mount Whitney training. Next up: Cucamonga Peak!

Mount Wilson via Chantry Flats

  • About This Hike: 14-mi round trip; 4,200-ft climb; 5,712 elevation
  • Trailhead Directions: Exit 210 Freeway at Santa Anita Avenue and go North (toward the mountains). Go to the end of the road and park in one of the parking lots. Adventure Pass is required. If you park along the road, be sure your car is completely behind the line or you will be ticketed or towed. Adventure passes are available at the Pack Station near the trailhead.
  • Time: 8 hours
  • Fitness Level: Strenuous
  • What to Bring: Plenty of food and water (at least 3 Liters) and a filter to treat water from the creek.
  • Dogs allowed.
  • Sources:

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