Hiking Up Mt. Wilson
I wanted to hike Mt. Wilson the second I found out about it. Since moving to Southern California, I’ve missed running and hiking up mountains. I recently discovered Mt. Wilson on the SoCal Hikes Challenge and decided to take on the challenge. The SoCal Pack of peaks has 11 different peaks in Southern California, and you can choose to climb 6.
The truth is, maybe I thought I was in better shape than I was. I thought I would be able to run some going to the top of Mt. Wilson…LOL.
About Mt. Wilson:
14 miles round trip (you can see Strava)
Total Climb: 5640 feet
Located in the San Gabriel Mountains near Pasadena, Mt. Wilson is home to The Mount Wilson Observatory (MWO), an astronomical observatory in Los Angeles County, California, United States.
The Mount Wilson Observatory contains two historically essential telescopes:
- 100-inch Hooker telescope: the largest aperture telescope in the world from its completion in 1917 to 1949
- The 60-inch telescope was the most significant operational telescope in the world when it was completed in 1908.
What surprised me was the Mount Wilson Observatory was: I would have thought there was too much smog in LA to see much into space. It shocked me when I found out they had huge telescopes at the top. But due to the inversion layer that traps warm air and pollution over Los Angeles, Mount Wilson has a steadier atmosphere than any other location in the United States. That makes it ideal for astronomy. Who knew.
About the Mt. Wilson Trail:
Mt. Wilson is the oldest route to the summit. You can drive to the top of Mt. Wilson, but how fun is that? Unlike the Chantry Flat route, the Mt. Wilson trail is much quieter and more challenging. This means fewer crowds. You get a beautiful view of Los Angeles, but it’s not easy. I can’t say that enough. This was one of the more grueling climbs I’ve done.
Mt Wilson Trail Address:
Mt Wilson Trail Park, 189 E Mira Monte Ave, Sierra Madre, CA 91024
Gear I used for the Mt. Wilson Hike:
My Experience at Mt. Wilson:
The trail is fairly straightforward to follow. You go up for 7 miles and then go back down. To be honest, and laughing about it now, I thought it would take me roughly 4 hours round trip. I also thought I would be able to run parts of it. When we climbed Mount Diablo and the Four Peaks Loop, we did a substantial amount of running and finished in just under 4 hours. I thought it would be similar. I thought wrong.
The first couple of miles of the Mt. Wilson trail climbs along the Little Sanita Canyon. It’s sandy and steep, and you get beautiful views of Los Angeles. When we went in November, Los Angeles had a heat spell, and it was even hotter than the desert. Why the heck was I hiking in 91 degrees? The views for the first few miles are gorgeous, and you are looking at Los Angeles.
Finally, about 3.5 miles into the Mt. Wilson trail, you get to Orchard Camp. I thought of this as the half. After the camp, you’ll find it cooler and with more shade. We even saw fall leaves!
The next section of the Mt. Wilson trail gets steep and rocky. I didn’t think it could get any steeper, but it definitely does. Plus, with the rocks, it’s hard to get a lot of running. By that point, I had decided maybe it would be more of a hike day. I found myself scrambling over a few boulders which were slightly terrifying.
Finally, we arrived at the Manzanita Ridge, aka “The Bench.” I decided to take a break, eat some of my sweet rolls, and hydrate. I had been hydrating all along, but this was a nice place to break. I saw a sign that said “1.5 miles to the top”. I was ecstatic to think “everyone was wrong,” and it would only be 6.8 miles to the top. LOL, that sign is wrong, or I’m missing something.
We headed up the Gabrielino Trail, where it was steep but not unmanageable. But at this point, it felt like we were “almost there.” You’ll see the Old Mt Wilson Toll Road and get on there for a little bit. The sign reads 7 and 1/4 miles. The Old Mt Wilson Toll Road is wide enough to fit a car and one of my more favorite parts of the hike. It felt like the incline was slightly less than the previous parts.
Finally, we made it to the Mt. Wilson peak. I was excited to get to the Cosmic Cafe. We chose the Mt. Wilson peak first on our SoCal hike journey because the Cosmic Cafe closed on November 20th. Sadly, for whatever reason, the Cosmic Cafe was closed. There was water at the top, and I was thankful for my impulse purchase of sweet rolls at the gas station.
If I hadn’t bought extra fuel, I would have been under-fueled, and it would have been a rough way down.
Going Back Down Mount Wilson:
The way down was not as pleasant as I dreamed it would be. In my head, I dreamed I would cruise down Mt. Wilson, averaging ten or 11-minute miles. The truth was my legs were tired, and running felt incredibly challenging. I ran as best as I could but wasn’t much faster on the way down. It took us about 2:30 to get up and 2:00 to get down. I like to think I’m in fairly decent shape, but I was not expecting to spend 4:30 on my feet.
That’s ok; I enjoyed the Mt. Wilson hike and would do it again. If you are looking for an extremely challenging hike/run, Mt. Wilson is a great option. I’m looking forward to exploring new SoCal hikes and summits.
You can see more hikes and trail runs here.
Questions for you:
What’s the most challenging hike you’ve done?
Have you hiked Mt. Wilson?