Mt Wilson Trail - Hiking

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About

Summary

An ascent of the historic Mount Wilson that takes you along switchbacks and granite cliffs to the national observatory at the top.

Written by

Brian Townsend

Distance

13.6 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

14.0 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

0 days

Half to full day

Seasonality

All Seasons

Dog Friendly

Yes

Fees Permits

No

Review

Intro

The large mountain looming over a city center is a global motif. It is a product of human development, as settlers wanted productive soil and the mountains produce fertile lands. The urban landscape has overtaken the agriculture or pastures in many parts of the world, but still the mountains remain iconic. Tokyo has Mt. Fuji, Aconcagua towers over Santiago, Rainier shadows Seattle, Table Mountain inspires Cape Town, and Mount Wilson is peak that Angelinos look to each day.

What Makes It Great

Mount Wilson is prominent, rising from 1,100’ to 5,712’ over Pasadena; such an extreme elevation change means that it is visible throughout the region. In 1864, when the region was first becoming settled, there was a limited supply of timber for the growing community. The steep grades in the San Gabriel Mountains and aggressive grizzly population kept loggers at bay.  Ben Wilson saw the timber high up at elevation, but none had blazed a trail. He set out to build a camp, kill the grizzly bears, and begin logging, which is exactly what he did. In 1889, after the timber operation had run its course, astronomy became the focus of the mountain. Harvard shipped a telescope west and it was hauled up Wilson’s trail by Judge Eaton. Two larger 60” and 100” telescopes were later brought up and the area was established as the science center that it is today.

The hike up is a long and steady climb. It is just shy of 7 miles from bottom to top and climbs ~4500’. The hike starts in Sierra Madre. From the 210 Freeway, exit at Baldwin Avenue, take the first right on Foothill Boulevard, and then the second left on San Carlos Road. Stay on this for 1.9 miles (San Carlos changes name to Mountain Trail Avenue), then it turns slightly left and becomes E Mira Monte Ave, continue on this for a few hundred feet before turning right onto Mt Wilson Trail. The trailhead is just ahead on your left.

The lower section is exposed to the sun, but, as you ascend, the trees grow thicker and the canyons deeper. The upper section feels like the Sierra Nevada, with large rock outcrops and evergreen trees. On weekends the café at the top is open and has great chili; this is also a great spot to stop and fill water bottles.

Who is Going to Love It

If you love long hikes or need a summit as motivation, then this is for you.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From the 210 Freeway, exit at Baldwin Avenue, take the first right on Foothill Boulevard, and then the second left on San Carlos Road. Stay on this for 1.9 miles (San Carlos changes name to Mountain Trail Avenue), then it turns slightly left and becomes E Mira Monte Ave, continue on this for a few hundred feet before turning right onto Mt Wilson Trail. The trailhead is just ahead on your left.

Location

Mt Wilson Trail - Hiking

521 Mt Wilson Trail
Sierra Madre, CA, 91024
34.172105, -118.046853

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