As the steep road going up to the Angeles National Forest winds its way to the ridge line, beautiful views of the LA skyline remind you that at the foot of these mountains lies an urban sprawl populated by over 15 million people. The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is located within the Angeles National Forest, a 342,000 acres (138,000 ha) conservation area which guarantees the funding for infrastructure and protection of a place that provides local residents with 70% of their available open space and 30% of their drinking water. Beyond its importance for recreation and natural resources, the monument also protects a special biodiversity with as many as 300 California endemic species and a rare Mediterranean woodland habitat (read Presidential Proclamation for a better appreciation of the monument). Since this monument designated in 2014 is so close to such a large human population, it will also be the busiest of any of the other monuments on our list, especially during the weekend. That said, you can find solitude on more off-the-beaten path trails and campsites in wilderness areas like Magic Mountain, Pleasant View Ridge, San Gabriel, and Sheep Mountain (check the online detailed map of the forest and monument here). There are so many options for recreation that everyone will find something suited to their hobbies: OHV trails, skiing slopes, cabins and lodges, interpretive trails, a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the historic Mount Wilson Observatory, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the San Dimas Experimental Forest (open only for education and research purposes), fishing, hunting, backpacking, camping and so on. While here we wanted to hike a section of the PCT and summit Mt. Baden-Powell, a steep and pretty popular hike among local residents. This description of the 8-mile hike will help you locate the trailhead at Vincent Gap. Reaching the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell offers 360 degree views of the surrounding forests and plains, and brings you to the top of the highest peak on the Pacific Crest Trail south of the Sierra Nevada range. You’ll experience significant altitude gain and an encounter with what’s believed to be the oldest tree in the San Gabriel Mountains, a 1,500-year old limber pine named Wally Waldron after a local leader in the LA area council of the Boy Scouts. While hiking watch for woodpeckers, chipmunks, squirrels, snakes, and lizards. If you’re not a southern California resident and are only passing through the area, you might be surprised that some trailheads (including Vincent Gap), parking and picnic areas, campgrounds or lookouts require having a valid Adventure Pass. This map gives information regarding sites where you need the pass and vendors from where you can get a day or annual one. Valid annual national park permits (known as “America the Beautiful”) are also accepted. As far as the available visitor centers and ranger offices, you’ll find many along the way while driving through the monument and national forest, and this list with their contact information might come in handy. Surrounding towns and communities with tourism amenities abound, and LA itself is not too far away either.
If you want to read more stories from national monument you can check our blog.