Cattle farmers and horse thieves arrived in the west simultaneously. In Los Angeles, Bandidos would steal cattle in the valleys and escape capture by climbing into the rugged San Gabriel Mountains. The infamous Tiburcio Vasquez used the alpine valley at Chilao as a safe haven from pursuers. With a lookout above the mountain hideout, the horses and cattle would graze in the pastures, as Vasquez and his men would rebrand the horses. Once the branding is complete, the herd was lead down the eastern flanks of the range into the desert where the mining industry was in constant demand for animals.
What Makes It Great
You’ll never want to leave the surreal vistas from your campsite and the alpine scenery will make you think you’re in the Sierra Nevada. The hikers will remember beautiful trails that are too numerous, taunting you with the temptation of doing them all.
The Silver Moccasin Trail crosses the Chilao entrance road (approximately 500 ft from the CA-2) and is justifiably the most popular hiking trail. If you travel north it will take you past Newcombs Ranch, a famous roadhouse, and connect to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that will take you to the summit at Cloudburst. From there you can either turn back or continue on along the PCT all the way to Canada. For hikers and cyclists, the network of fire roads are excellent riding.
Visitors should be prepared to potentially encounter snakes and, believe it or not, Poodle-Dog Bush. The ecosystem is designed to burn regularly, this aids germination of the chaparral, but also facilitates growth of the Poodle-Dog Bush which can cause severe skin irritation. These plants grow for the first few years following fire and are medium d, typically with purple flowers and hairy. The forest service does a great job clearing them off of trails and isn’t an issue for most visitors.
The campground is a perfect car camping spot: relatively cheap campsite ($12), clean water, bathrooms, vistas from your campsite, and many recreational opportunities. The mountains continue to rise to the north of Chilao and are tree lined, while the southern view from the campground is high desert with limited vegetation.
Who is Going to Love It
Chilao is great for both families and the outdoor specialists. Visitors can easily use the site as either a basecamp for activities higher up on the mountain or stay at their site and have a restful weekend.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Chilao Campground is located at 5300ft and is a 40-minute drive up the Angeles Crest Highway (Route 2). From the 210 Freeway, exit at the CA-2/Angeles Crest Highway exit, and drive north on ‘the crest’ for 26 miles. The Chilao entrance is on the left and is well indicated. The drive to the campground is a worthy trip in its self. The climb up Angeles Crest Highway takes you past granitic mountaintops and steep canyons of consummate beauty.
The campground is seasonal, closing most winters, so check with the forest service before visiting in the late autumn or early spring. Campsites are walkup only. There is overflow during the summer, but if full there is nearby Buckhorn Campground and dispersed camping is also legal in the forest.