Living in a big city can leave you craving the wilderness. At least that’s been the case for me recently.
As a resident of Los Angeles, it’s not too tricky to get a regular, be it small, dose of nature courtesy of a variety of hiking trails scattered throughout the city. But soon enough, hikes up into the nearby hills with views of the skyline and well maintained paths (often times they’re actually fire roads used by service vehicles to access cell and radio towers at the top) leave you wanting more. Bigger mountains, fresher air, taller trees, broader views and more challenging terrain – things that awaken your senses and recharge your batteries.
Luckily, all of these things and more can be found about one hour and 30 minutes from Los Angeles along Mt. Baldy’s Devil’s Backbone Trail.
So whether you live in Los Angeles, or you’re visiting Southern California and looking for something different to do, check out my video and photos below which’ll help you hike Mt. Baldy’s Devil’s Backbone Trail like a pro (well, depending on your hiking ability which should be at an intermediate level).
SCROLL TO BOTTOM FOR MORE DEVIL’S BACKBONE TRAIL DETAILS, WHAT TO BRING,
WHEN TO GO, WHAT TO WEAR AND A MAP
First things first — if you choose to take the chair lift, it’ll cost you $15 per person for a one-way ride (tickets can be purchased on-site). Although you can walk up to the point where the chair lift drops you off, taking the chair lift will save you a good chunk of time and eliminates the least impressive portion of the trail (it’s just a fire road and you won’t miss much).
At the top of the chair lift you’ll find Top of the Notch Restaurant — the starting point for my recommended Devil’s Backbone Trail hike (following the trail from right to left on the map above). But, if you decide to take the trail in the other direction (following the trail from left to right on the map above), Top of the Notch Restaurant will be at the end of your hike and makes for a great spot to stop for a beer and a burger. From there you can walk down the fire road and back to the parking lot (skipping the chair lift all together), or take the chair lift down.
It’s difficult to say which direction is more challenging. While I thought the direction I was taking the trail in was more challenging at the time (which I noted in the video) the opposite way from my suggested route may actually be slightly more difficult due to longer/steeper incline periods ascending the Baldy Bowl (where as I descended this part of the trail). Either way, I enjoyed every minute of my hike and plan to take it the same direction again soon.
All in all, with a few stops along the way to sit in the shade, and an extended break for lunch, this hike took me just under six hours.
WHAT TO BRING
Water - Bring twice as much water as you think you’ll need. It’s better to have more than not enough.
Sunscreen - While shade can be found at points throughout the trail (especially after you pass through Baldy Bowl on the downward portion of the hike), you will be exposed to the sun for long stretches as well.
Hat / Sunglasses - Now I’m just starting to sound like your mother. You know the drill.
Good hiking shoes/boots - Don’t do this hike in your average athletic shoes (for those of you familiar with hiking in LA, this is definitely not Runyon Canyon).
Snacks - It’s a long hike, so bring enough food to fuel up with along the way.
WHEN TO GO
Unlike many other trails in Southern California which can be hiked all year round, Mt. Baldy becomes a ski hill between the end of November and the beginning of April (approximately) and hiking may not be possible/safe. So plan your hike between May and October.
While spring and fall can be great times to hike Mt. Baldy, those seasons can sometimes bring with them more rain and hazier skies. Summer (July/August/September) is an ideal time to visit, and although temperatures may be slightly cooler at this elevation, it’ll still be hot so consider beginning your hike in the morning.
Note: If you want to take the chair life up like I did, it only operates on Fridays from 11am-7pm and Saturdays & Sundays from 7am-7pm. So if you go Monday through Thursday, or early in the morning on the weekend, you’ll have to hike up.
Remember: Hiking Devil’s Backbone takes several hours, so leave yourself plenty of time to get off the mountain before it starts getting dark.
WHAT TO WEAR
Montauk Tackle Company – Light Weight Crew Neck Performance Shirt. This shirt is designed to help you stay cool and protect you from the sun with a 50 UPF (Ultraviolit Protection Factor). I brought a t-shirt with me that I though I’d have to change into after getting too hot, but I was comfortable in this shirt for the entire hike. Highly recommended. $69
Patagonia – GI III Shorts. Sure you could wear gym shorts, but once you put these shorts on you’ll never hike in anything else. They’re super light wright, comfortable and easy to move in — plus they have a 50 UPF. In addition to two zippered pockets, the front two pockets are deep so your essentials (in my case, my iPhone) will be secure and accessible. $55
Merrell – Chameleon Prime Stretch. As mentioned in the “what to bring” section above, you won’t want to take on this trail in your average athletic shoe. While you can go for a higher boot with more ankle support, a good hiking sneaker like this did the job perfectly for me. $110
Smartwool – PhD Outdoor Light Micro Socks. You’re going to be pumping the breaks a lot coming down from the summit (i.e. putting a lot of pressure on your toes to slow down your momentum) and you’ll want quality socks to cushion your feet and prevent blisters. Wear these. $16.95
Address for your GPS: 8401 Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA – “Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts”
Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a definitive guide to hiking Mt. Baldy — but it should get you started. As with any trip into the wilderness, you should always check current conditions before jumping in. Be safe and have fun out there!