In the days before the Covid-19 pandemic closures- as in way back three months ago in February- I used head out on special adventures when the boys went on their camping trips. On one such trip, Sami and took a trip up the Angeles Crest Highway, heading to Eaton Saddle, in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains. While considered a popular trailhead as there are several peaks that can be accessed from the saddle, it isn’t nearly as crowded as those accessible by Altadena and Pasadena. It was well worth the 40 minute drive from our house to reach the relatively quiet trailhead.
On a clear blue Saturday in late January of this year, Sami and I hiked Mt. Lowe starting at Eaton Saddle. The boys were on a car campout with the Scouts, while Emily was in Nor Cal at a speech and debate invitational. We packed plenty of snacks and water, as well as our favorite plushies to join us for a special hike. It was a smooth drive getting up to Eaton Saddle; from I-210 we took CA-2 east to Mt. Wilson Red Box Road. Samantha used the time to take a short nap while I listened to a Crime Junkie podcast. On Red Box Road, there is a small parking area near the trailhead that is easy to miss, and can get crowded pretty quickly. Indeed, I did miss the parking area as there was an biking adventure trailer blocking several spots. I wasn’t able to turn into the dirt lot, and because of my low profile vehicle and the high snow banks, I had to go about a mile past the parking area before I could turn around. There had been a storm not too long before, and there was plenty of snow banked along the side of the road making it tricky to turn around. Eventually though we were able to park, and begin our hike.
Sami claims to hate hiking, however she’s been on many hikes, and is quick to warm up to the idea once she gets on the trail. This time, she was really excited for the hike because of the snow on the ground. She hadn’t played in snow since our trip to Utah back in 2016, so that was an added perk to our mommy-Sami adventure.
I had the intention to head to Inspiration Point, but instead we stopped at Mt. Lowe. From the saddle, we hiked west on the Mt. Lowe Fire Road and through the Mueller Tunnel. After about a half-mile, we came to Markham Saddle, and took the Upper Sam Merrill Trail, which paralleled the road for a while. After a while, we reached the junction to climb Mt. Lowe. The climb was rather easy, even for Sami, but then too, we were stopping every so often for photos and snow play, and it wasn’t long before we reached the summit, and enjoyed the views of the surrounding peaks, as well as a spectacular view of the Los Angeles basin stretching to the Pacific Ocean on this very clear Saturday. At the peak, Sami and I enjoyed our snacks and some conversation with other hikers, then eventually headed down the mountain. Going down was a bit trickier than hiking up. The snow had melted, and made the trek back rather slippery. Even so, it was a beautiful day with Samantha and the plushie dogs, and to top it all off, we stopped for a classic Taco Bell for lunch on the way home.
Some things to consider:
Adventure passes are required to park anywhere within the Angeles National Forest. These are $5 per day, or $30 for an annual pass. If you plan on visiting other national lands, I recommend purchasing an America the Beautiful National Parks pass for $80.
There are multiple ways to get to Mt. Lowe. Probably the most commonly trekked is the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain, then continuing onto Inspiration Point and Mt. Lowe. This route is about 13 miles round trip and steep at points, and one that Sami wouldn’t have appreciated much. It can be a fun hike on cooler days if you’re looking for mileage.
I knew that there would be snow on the trail, with it being over 5000 feet, however I wasn’t prepared for as much snow as we saw. We would have worn better hiking boots which would have offered more traction. Be sure to check conditions before heading out, and as always, bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
This is just one peak that can be accessed from Eaton Saddle. Mt. Disappointment, Mt. San Gabriel, and Mt. Markham can all be hiked from here. Just pick a happy trail.