Bear Flat in the San Gabriel Mountains offers a perch for viewing bighorn sheep.

Barely a mile's walk from the little community of Mount Baldy (at the base of 10,000-foot-high Old Baldy, or Mount San Antonio), you can be sitting on a rock, communing with nature, feet dangling in the sun-and-shade-dappled, crystalline stream of Bear Canyon. With a bit more time and energy, you can climb to Bear Flat, where a binocular sweep of the surrounding hillsides often nets sightings of bighorn sheep.

To get to the hike's starting point, exit the 210 Freeway at Mills Avenue in Claremont, and follow Mills north toward the mountains. After about a mile Mills becomes Mount Baldy Road. An eight-mile uphill drive through San Antonio Canyon on Mount Baldy Road takes you to the small village of Mount Baldy.

You begin walking at the intersection of Mt. Baldy Road and Bear Creek Road, in the center of Mt. Baldy village. (A small parking lot is located right at the foot of Bear Creek Road.) Walk -- don't drive -- up the paved road to its end (0.4 mile), then continue on a dirt trail that soon becomes narrow.

Many cabins, in various stages of repair (or ruin), line the way as you proceed up drainage of Bear Canyon. Nonnative ground-covering vegetation like ivy and vinca have overrun the bottom of the canyon, and magnificent native live oak, bay laurel, and bigcone Douglas-fir trees rise from that understory. After crossing the creek twice, the trail divides. Take either path: the right branch climbs up the right slope; the left branch stays low along stream, passing more cabins, before curving right to join the other branch.

After the two paths rejoin, the main Bear Canyon Trail goes by a water tank (part of the village's water supply), switches back, curves around sun-struck slopes, and plunges into a shady oak grove high on the east slope of the canyon. At about 1.7 miles, the trail crosses the stream for the last time. Bear Flat is the bracken-fern-filled, sloping meadow just above this crossing. For casual hikers, this is the place to sniff a few spring wildflowers, look for bighorn sheep tracks, and then think about turning back. Beyond this, the Bear Flat Trail switchbacks up to the south ridge of Mount San Antonio and relentlessly continues all the way to the summit, almost five miles away, 4500 feet higher than Bear Flat.

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