Hidden Gems: Echo Mountain Hike, Altadena, CA

Echo Mountain hike is a 5.5 mile (roundtrip) hike in the San Gabriel mountains, just a short drive northeast of Los Angeles. The hike, though steeply uphill, offers great rewards to those who make the effort. The views of the city spreading out below, the ruins of a Victorian hotel, and the scents of sage baking in the sun make it all worthwhile.

What I love

  • Views from mountains to ocean in every direction
  • Tranquility half an hour from Hollywood
  • Industrial debris from early California tourism
  • Great cardio workout
  • Desert landscape

Best For

Fit Day Hikers
Nature Lovers

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by Kris Rothstein

Echo Mountain is my favourite hike in LA and one of my favourite places in the world.

I fell in love with Los Angeles about 10 years ago and when people ask me what I love about the city, I mention the music, the vegan food, and the hikes.

“The hikes?” they ask in confusion.

Few people are aware of outdoor life in LA beyond the beach. Even plenty of people who live there don’t realize that the city offers varied and gratifying hikes in almost every direction. Echo Mountain is in the San Gabriel Mountain range, an easy drive from most parts of town.

A view of Pasadena from Echo Mountain.

A view of Pasadena from Echo Mountain.

Several years ago Jane, Stephen, and I found the site of this hike, but knowing nothing about it, we walked up the wrong trail. We spent the entire time on our rough, steep path admiring from a distance the never-ending wide switchbacks which climbed the adjacent slope.

Stephen inspecting some old railway equipment on the Echo Mountain Hike.

Stephen inspecting some old railway equipment on the Echo Mountain Hike.

After a little research I knew I wanted to tackle this hike the right way, so I got up extra early the next morning to climb Echo Mountain before flying home later that day.

My most memorable ascent was on Thanksgiving Day when I saw a group picnicking at the top. They’d carried up their entire huge Thanksgiving meal, including bottles of wine!

What’s So Great About It?

Echo Mountain is an ideal medium-length hike. It’s the perfect antidote to the hum of freeways and the non-stop buzz of the city below.

It takes roughly two hours to climb up and down the peak (if you’re fairly fit and used to hiking). It is a popular route with locals, so you won’t be traversing unknown desert landscapes without a soul in sight, yet the trail remains peaceful.

If you want more once you reach the top, there are lots of backcountry trails leading off into the true wilderness of the San Gabriels.

The wilderness beyond Echo Mountain.

The wilderness beyond Echo Mountain.

Along the trail, you’ll see lizards, cacti, hummingbirds, and desert shrubs. The sloping trails are often in full sun, so make sure you take plenty of water.

Once you reach the top you’ll have a chance to take a closer look at some of the mechanisms of the mountain railway which, from 1893 to 1938, carried the upper classes to the “White City” resort. You can see the foundations of the hotel, as well as the former site of tennis courts and dancing lawns.

Old foundations on the Echo Mountain hike.

Old foundations on the Echo Mountain hike.

It’s such an evocative spot that it’s easy to imagine the Victorian ladies and gentlemen waltzing amongst the beautiful grove of pine trees in their white summer suits and dresses.

How to Get There

Drive to the north end of N. Lake Avenue. It ends at an intersection with E. Alta Loma. Park on the roadside and enter through the metal gates. Follows signs to the Sam Merrill Trail straight ahead from where you entered the park.

Recommended by Kris Rothstein

Kris_profileKris Rothstein is a dedicated day-hiker, tackling trails in the mountains near her hometown of Vancouver multiple times a week. She has also hiked her way through Oregon and California and can also be spotted walking the hills in Wales every few years. Kris and Jane started hiking together on the pub circuit in England, following the trails in the indispensable Time Out Book of Country Walks.  

Have you visited this gem? Do you want to? Let us know below.

2 comments

  1. Pingback: Share Your Hidden Gems Around the World | My Five Acres

  2. Comment by Jane M

    Jane M Reply May 9, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    After our first visit to Echo Mountain with Kris, Stephen and I went back multiple times. It was our favourite hike in LA.

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