Day hike or backpack: 8.4 miles RT to Mount Baden-Powell
Starting about 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the ascent up Mount Baden-Powell is a rite of passage for Southern California hikers. The 9,399-foot mountain, named for Lord Robert Baden-Powell, a British Army officer and founder of the Boy Scouts, is one of the most prominent peaks in the San Gabriel Mountains. The peak sits directly across the East Fork San Gabriel River Basin from 10,064-foot Mount Baldy, giving its summit vista a visual punch—much of the rugged San Gabriel Range is spread out at your feet.
Getting to the top requires a substantial 2,800-foot elevation gain, but the PCT’s dozens of long, meandering switchbacks make it manageable. Before you park your car at Vincent’s Gap, make sure you get a National Forest Adventure Pass and hang it from your car’s rear-view mirror.
From Vincent Gap’s southwest edge, follow the Pacific Crest Trail through a forest of oak, sugar pine, and Jeffrey pine, and as you gain elevation, lodgepole pine. Forty-one long switchbacks maintain a steady, moderate grade. The higher you go, the more interesting the trees—the ridge near the summit is a botanist’s delight, home to ancient limber pines. The PCT passes right by the gnarled Wally Waldron Tree, a more than 1,500-year-old limber pine named for a Boy Scout leader.
After four miles, leave the PCT and follow the short Baden-Powell spur trail on your left. The 9,399-foot summit is marked by a concrete and steel monument to the Boy Scout founder. From the top, you can see more than a vertical mile below you to the East Fork San Gabriel River Basin. Mount Baldy is prominent, as is the Mojave Desert, Catalina Island, Mount San Jacinto, and Mount San Gorgonio. On the clearest of days, it’s possible to pick out the mountains of the southern Sierra Nevada.
This wind-blown, desolate spot is the highest point along the Silver Moccasin Trail, a 53-mile-long hike that thousands of Southern California Boy Scouts have completed. Backpackers who want to spend the night can find a few campsites on the south side of the peak, below tree line. Expect plenty of company, especially on full moon nights.
The Pacific Crest Trail extends for a whopping 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, forging an unbroken footpath through three states—California, Oregon, and Washington. It crosses over deserts and tunnels through forests, travels across glaciated mountain passes, and skirts the shoulders of conical volcanic peaks. To hike the entire trail takes about five months—if all goes well—walking an average of 16 to 18 miles per day. Many hikers plan on six months to account for the vagaries of mountain weather and the need for rest and resupply days.
The tri-state trail was the dream of Harvard graduate Clinton Churchill Clarke, who had been a Boy Scout as a child. In the 1930s, he and his friend Warren Lee Rogers created the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) System Conference, which united several hiking clubs and youth groups. The men began lobbying to link together existing trails to create a border-to-border trail. Members of the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Boy Scouts organization supported their efforts by scouting the trail’s planned route. Even world-famous photographer Ansel Adams played a role on the PCT conference’s executive committee.
Progress was slow. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson finally signed the National Trail Systems Act, which named the East Coast’s Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail as the first two national scenic trails. Over the next 25 years, countless individuals built nearly 1,000 miles of the PCT. It was completed in 1993.
The PCT was mostly known only to serious hiking enthusiasts until 2012, when Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, detailing her 1,100-mile solo journey on the trail, was published. Her book was later made into a film of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon, and the accompanying notoriety led to a spike in the number of people attempting all or part of the trail.
Typically, a few hundred people each year hike the entire PCT, but thousands more hike some portion of it. Whether you choose to day hike or take a short backpacking trip, here are six major Pacific Crest Trail access points—from San Diego County up to the Shasta Cascade region—where you can go have your own Wild California experience, listed south to north.
– Ann Marie Brown