It’s mostly true that nobody walks in L.A., but I dare you to try and find an Angeleno who is not all about hiking. This has been the case since the city’s real estate boom in the 1880’s, kicking off L.A.’s “Great Hiking Era” during which the San Gabriel Mountains served as a rugged frontierland for nostalgic urbanites.
High-altitude leisure-seekers could even ride a quaint little funicular, on the Mount Lowe Railway, up a 62% incline (they were a little nutso in 1893) to a glamorous mountaintop hotel. Survivors were rewarded with unbeatable panoramic views, hiking, zoo-visiting, couples massage, hopefully some bottomless mimosas…
Resorts popped up like wild flowers over the years. Alas, due to fires, extra-dangerous road conditions and other hazards, these “Hotels in the Sky” and supporting infrastructure have long been abandoned or torn down, the remains attracting modern-day hikers. But I salute those visionaries who sought to civilize the mountains above Los Angeles. They saw potential for development and profit where we now see potential for the preservation and enjoyment of nature.
But I do sometimes long to be one of those early 20th century ladies, trying to ride a burro up a gnarly trail whilst dressed in a long wool skirt. (I mean, they knew how to picnic.) Now that nearly every corner of the globe and select bits of outer space bear the markings of human civilization, the frontier exists not so much as potential real estate but as a virtual place where new ideas sparkle like the lights of Los Angeles seen from the Mount Wilson observatory. In lieu of true, utter wilderness, all I can ask for is the illusion of isolation, the chance to demonstrate my enviable survival skills (I must be part Australian) some endangered bird-sighting, and as a bonus: hot springs.
There were no hot springs on this San Gabriels trip, where we explored Chantry Flat in Big Santa Anita Canyon, but a creek and waterfalls more than made up for that.
You could do this long hike in one day, but we can’t pass up a campsite without pitching a tent and sleeping next to a river. Try it out and thank me later. And if you go here, keep in mind the parking lot fills as soon as it opens at 6:30. We witnessed an awkward parking spot duel on the way home.