The majority of Angelenos would consider Glendale as a quiet suburb tucked into the foothills. While this is true, Glendale is also the gatekeeper to Los Angeles’ beautifully wild backyard. The Angeles Crest Highway, known as “The 2”, starts at the north end of town a few miles past the Rose Bowl and begins to snake through the mountains slowly climbing over 6,000 feet.
As you weave up along the mountain's edge, you will find turn-offs with scenic views every few miles. Stopping at any of these early in the morning gives you an incredibly unique vantage point of LA waking up. Conversely, if you stop there after sunset you can watch LA refuse to go to sleep. The sparkling lights that dance in view are sure to command your attention for a few minutes. Eventually, The 2 tucks deep inside the Angeles National Forest and you will leave the city behind. This is when the true adventure begins. In the wild.
Our Wild Backyard
Apart from the animals, dense forest, and sprawling mountainsides, there’s one other thing you will find in the San Gabriel Mountains that you won’t find anywhere in LA. Silence. Your first indication that you have left civilization is the lack of cars humming on the freeway, the absence of music played from retail storefronts, even the comforting buzz of a text message is missing. This can be hard to cope with for the younger crowd, but for the true adventurer this is when you know you’re finally home. Take a deep breath and enjoy the clean, smog-free air.
The San Gabriel Mountains are home to some incredible species, some of which you will most definitely see during your trip. On the trail it isn’t uncommon to find all kinds of lizards, snakes, owls, and woodpeckers. A Great Horned Owl actually visited our campsite at night and sang for quite some time, an absolutely amazing experience. The 700,000+ acres is also home to larger animals like deer, bighorn sheep, fox, coyotes, black bears, bobcats, and mountain lions. On our first night, we spotted five deer off the roadside followed closely by a mountain lion. There is absolutely no way to describe what you feel when you see a big cat in the wild. Simultaneously you are overcome with fear, respect, wonder, curiosity, and many more emotions that cause you to stop dead in your tracks and observe nature’s alpha predator at work.
In the Angeles National Forest, there are 50 campgrounds kept in incredible shape thanks to the USDA Forest Service. Each site is wide enough for multiple tents and equipped with ample parking, a fire pit, bathrooms, and message boards with local information. The most popular is Buckhorn Campground which is famous for it’s higher chances of running into the local wildlife population and it’s close proximity to incredible hiking trails.
Being that these sites are all first-come-first-serve, you’ll need to make sure you have a backup plan incase you don’t find somewhere to stay at your first campground. We pitched our tents in Chilao Campground which is settled on the top of a cliff a few miles shy of Buckhorn. The low traffic at Chilao makes it an incredibly private area perfect for a weekend away from the city.
It’s really hard to go wrong when selecting a hike in the Angeles National Forest. The 53 available trailheads traverse over 697 miles through the park and climb some of the 25 incredible peaks. For the experts, Mount Baldy is a welcome challenge that climbs 4,000 feet in elevation during your 11 miles on the trail. The reward is breathtaking though, as you stand atop the highest point in Los Angeles at 10,064 feet. Those of us looking for an easier hike to see some wildlife or waterfalls would be much more comfortable hiking trails like Burkhart, Millard Canyon, or Eaton Canyon.
What to Pack
Depending on how long you plan to stay, your packing situation will vary greatly. However, we’ve put together a list of absolute necessities to help you plan your adventure.
First, a camera… Trust us, you’re definitely going to want to share photos of this place. Your phone will do just fine at capturing the landscapes and beautiful views, but if you want to capture any sort of wildlife, you’ll need a more powerful lens.
Secondly, a selection of your favorite Helix Towels. These will be perfect for any picnics you want to have, or even if you want to stop for a rest on your hike. If you’re visiting any of the lakes or waterfalls, these are going to come in handy too. When camping Helix Towels are perfect for chilly mornings, table cloths, or a clean spot to sit if you forgot a chair.
Third, sunscreen. We can’t stress enough how important it is to protect your skin when you’re out on your latest adventure. Even though much of this area is cool due to elevation and there’s plenty of sporadic shade, increased exposure to the sun from your normal life can result in bad burns if you aren’t careful.
Fourth, great company. Solo adventures are good fun and also great for the soul, but this is something you’re going to want to share. Whether you spend this time with your significant other or a new friend, this neck of the woods is best trekked with an adventure-buddy for both safety and for the good times.
Always Be Adventuring