Hike or bike to Sunset Peak Summit, near Mount Baldy

The hike (or mountain-bike ride) to Sunset Peak, near the community of Mount Baldy, offers up fine views of an archipelago of high peaks stretching from San Gabriel Wilderness in the west to Cucamonga Wilderness in the east. Mount San Antonio (a.k.a. Old Baldy) rises from center stage in the north, its bald summit sometimes accented by a brilliant snow cap. Prepare for six miles of round-trip hiking, or eight miles by mountain bike, and an elevation gain and loss of 1200 feet. Need we say bring drinking water along?

To get to the starting point, exit the 210 Freeway at Baseline Road on the border between the cities of Claremont and Upland. Go west on Baseline for 0.7 mile, then turn right (north) on Mills Avenue. After 1.1 mile the main road (signed Mount Baldy Road) veers right. Stay on it and drive uphill another eight miles to Mount Baldy village. Just as you approach the village, turn left on Glendora Ridge Road. Follow it one mile to Cow Canyon Saddle, where parking space is available on the left side of the road. Since you are on Angeles National Forest land, don’t forget to post a National Forest Adventure Pass on your parked car.

From Cow Canyon Saddle, start hiking up the gated fire road on the south side of the road. You gain elevation steadily, accompanied by fire-scarred vegetation: newly minted chaparral, remnant live oaks, bigcone Douglas-firs, and bigleaf maples. Since you are traveling along mostly north-facing slopes, the view keeps expanding in the north, where the higher peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains rise to nearly a two-mile elevation.

You reverse direction at horseshoe curves at 1.9 miles, and again at 2.5 miles. Just after the latter switchback, if you’re on foot, you can bear left on an old fire break and head southwest straight to the summit. This worthwhile and fun shortcut, with some easy rock-scrambling at the top, saves time and distance over the alternative — a mile of tedious road-walking. On a mountain bike, the extra mile of distance is necessary, as the hikers’ short-cut is simply too steep and rough.

Sunset Peak’s flat, barren summit once hosted a fire lookout tower. Try to find the building’s foundation and also the remains of a rainwater collection system. Much of what lies in view to the south is a large, closed-to-the-public parcel of the Angeles National Forest called the San Dimas Experimental Forest. Much of our current knowledge about fire ecology and erosion in the chaparral plant community has been gained from carefully controlled experiments performed in this outdoor laboratory over the past seven or eight decades.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

Hike or mountain bike to the Sunset Peak summit, near Mount Baldy.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 132 miles
Hiking length: 6 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate

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