Mt. Lowe Hikes
first appeared in the May 1998 issue
The Mount Lowe Railway ran for 43 years, from 1893 to 1936, and carried over three million people up into the San Gabriels. The Mount Lowe Railway was one of the most popular tourist attractions in Southern California. Today, between fires, floods, Forest Service dynamiting, road building, and just plain age, not much remains. Nevertheless, there's still enough to give you a feel for what it must have been like to ride trolleys high into the mountains. This time of year (mid-Spring), the weather is truly ideal for hiking. It's not too hot and, any rain we have dries out after a couple of days, except in the canyon bottoms.
The Alpine Division was formerly composed of the Alpine Tavern (a.k.a. the Mt. Lowe Tavern), and its accompanying cabins and tent-sites; the narrow-gauge line connecting it with Echo Mountain; and Inspiration Point, an overlook just to the southeast of the Tavern with views of all of Southern California, as far out as Catalina. Recently, the shelter at Inspiration Point has been restored, with a new roof, displays, and even a surviving set of trucks from the "One Man & Mule Railway" -- a mule-pushed tourist railcar that once left this spot for a slow trek another 12 miles south. The shelter now looks much as it did in the old days of the railway and is the single best preserved piece from Mount Lowe. There are many ways to reach the old Tavern site, as it is at the hub of several trails, but here are two of the simplest and easiest to follow: one up from Altadena, the other down from Mount Wilson.
Up From Altadena - A Fairly Rigorous Hike - Head north on Lake Ave, as far as you can, until it ends. To the east, you'll see the big iron gates of the old Cobb Estate, which is now a park. Start hiking east on the estates old driveway until it begins to curve north. You keep heading due east on the trail that branches off here. Soon you reach the cliffs of Dark Canyon where the number of trails multiplies and the route gets a little tricky. Basically, follow the trail (Sam Merrill) that drops down into the canyon to cross just above the debris dam. Once on the other side of the canyon, it begins to climb up the side of Echo Mountain. You'll be climbing for the next 2 miles now, with some of the route rather steep. It's best, on hot days, to get as early a start as you can so that during your hike the sun will be on the other side of the ridge from you, for there's very little shade until you reach the top. Bring lots of water - trust me on this.
Once you pass under the electrical transmission tower take heart, you're halfway there. The trail begins somelong switch-backs up the west side of Echo Mountain then finally levels out, and connects up with the old roadbedjust above the site of most of the ruins. (The area just to the north of the hotel ruins, with it's trees and picnictables, is a great spot to have, well, a picnic. Turn right (south) to reach those ruins)
Turn left (north) to continue following the roadbed until it reaches the Alpine Tavern site (see next bit). Along the route, there are many signs with pictures of what it once looked like. The first half mile is prettymuch as it was after the line was disassembled. After you curve around the top of the canyon, you connect up withthe Mount Lowe fire road. Turn right (north) onto the fire road and continue to follow it as it winds its way upwardinto the mountains. Soon you'll come to a sharp bend in the road overlooking Echo Mountain and the rest of Altadena.Here was once the "Great Circular Bridge" and, if you look, you can see the concrete footings - whichare all that remain of the bridge, just past the outer edge of the road. You now curve back in towards "GrandCanyon" and once you pass through "Granite Gate" (still much as it was when trolleys did the passing),you're almost there.
The road heads east about a half-mile and you'll find yourself at the site of the Alpine Tavern, now a trail camp nestled amongst the few concrete remnants of the Tavern and it's cabins. If you want to continue on to Inspiration Point - and why wouldn't you, the day is young and so are you -- follow the roadbed further up (it gets steeper now that it no longer follows the old railway) until you reach the saddle, and take the trail to the right (south) that's clearly marked "To Inspiration Point." A half-mile, and you're there!
Enjoy the view (assuming a smog-free day) and check out the old sighting tubes, pointing you towards thesites of Los Angeles Total distance from Lake: About 6 miles, one-way.
Down From Mount Wilson - Reasonably Less Rigorous
- Head up the Angeles Crest Highway towards Red
Box and the turn-off to Mount Wilson. Follow the
Mount Wilson Road about 2 miles until you come to the
spot where you can first look over the city. It's a
wide spot in the road with parking on both sides and,
on your right (west), you'll see the gate of the
Mount Lowe fire road. Start hiking down the road,
perched high above the top of Eaton Canyon. You'll
pass through Mueller Tunnel (note the supports of the
old trail that it bypassed), then over a saddle and
into Bear Canyon. Keep following the road as it winds
downward under the slopes of Mount Lowe. After a
couple of miles, you'll reach the saddle described
above where the trail to Inspiration Point turns off.
You can either follow this, or continue down the road
to the Tavern site. After your visit, you can either
hike the three miles back up to your car or - with a
car shuttle - continue on down to Altadena (though ll
this continual "down" can be hard on the legs - trust