A popular contemporary trail building method has been for communities to convert old, unused railways into a network for bikes- this is often referred to as rails to trails. Mt. Lowe in Pasadena is an example of this transition, but also is an exception. At the end of the 19th century, a fad among entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of American’s developing interest in outdoor recreation was to create alpine getaways that could only be accessed by scenic mountain railways. One of these cable-operated trams was built above Pasadena on Mt. Lowe. In it’s heyday, the tram accessed four different hotels that were built high up on the mountain. A series of natural disasters and financial difficulties resulted in the closure of the railway and its subsequent dismantling.
What Makes It Great
Today the remains of this historic site are still scattered across the mountainside along with numerous trails that were created during its production. The old railway track is a great climb on the mountain bike. The Mount Lowe Railway Trail has numerous stopping spots with interesting history and the entire ride has great views.
This trail climbs out of Pasadena at ~2000' to just below San Gabriel Peak at 6,000’. Along the trail there are numerous stopping spots that riders can set as a goal if the summit is too ambitious of a destination, although, there is a cherry on top for anyone who complete the climb. During the railway production they built a tunnel at 5,900’ right through the granitic San Gabriel Peak. This is an insane sight, which makes the climb worthwhile.
Starting in Pasadena, drive 2.4 miles up Chaney Trail, then, as the road begins to drop down into a valley, you will see a parking lot on the right - this is the Mt. Lowe trailhead. Begin riding up the fire road, you will stay on this the entire ride. The climb is 8 miles long and snakes up the ridge. Remember to stop at Inspiration Point, former home of the Echo Chalet, a Victorian estate.
Who is Going to Love It
If you’re into climbing and love exploring old Americana then this is for you. The ride is a comfortable, but still challenging, fire road. From bottom to top you will encounter old remnants of the tramway that was operating one hundred years ago. Look out for old trestles, as well as any of the gearing and guide wheels that were once operational. It is quite bizarre encountering a rail-mounted snowplow on a fire road in southern California, but the most unexpected sight is the beautifully engineered tunnel through the rarely traveled San Gabriel Peak. This ride provokes great nostalgia for the past and makes visitors think about society’s affect of the landscape.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From the 210 Freeway, exit at Lincoln Avenue in Altadena. Continue on Lincoln for 2.5 miles, then turn right Loma Alta Drive. After one half mile, turn left onto Chaney Trail. Drive 2.4 miles up Chaney Trail, then, as the road begins to drop down into a valley, you will see a parking lot on the right - this is the Mt. Lowe trailhead.