This article and video were produced in partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
Located just over 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles, Waterman Mountain sits in the middle of the San Gabriel Mountains, which are both more dramatic and less frequented than the better-known San Bernardinos a few miles farther east.
That makes Waterman – standing nearly 8,000 feet above the Los Angeles Basin – the perfect destination for anyone in the country’s second largest city who needs a quick wilderness escape. The climb is a legitimate leg burner, the lack of foot traffic ensures a proper communion with nature, and the view from the top will invigorate even the most harried city dweller.
The trail to Waterman Mountain skirts the border between the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Wilderness. To reach the trailhead from most of Los Angeles, take the Angeles Crest Highway (CA 2) north out of La Cañada Flintridge. From here …
• Drive approximately 35 miles to the Buckhorn Station Day Use Parking Area, not the Buckhorn campground lot, which is a few hundred yards farther down the highway.
• Parking and hiking requires a pass, which costs $5 and must be purchased ahead of time. You can find online retailers here or, if you find yourself frequently paying for parking at Southern California trails or beaches, invest in an annual Adventure Pass for only $30.
• Cross the highway (mind the blind turns on both sides) and find the dirt access road with the white gate. Walk 150 feet up the dirt road, and look for the start of the trail, marked with a post to the left, just below the road. If you choose to hike the full loop, the end point is directly across the road from here.
This hike can be done as an out-and-back of five-and-a-half miles, or a full loop at six miles. There’s also a third option, to hike Twin Peaks as well as Waterman Mountain, which is a total of about 10.5 miles. The start of the hike is right around 6,300 feet, meaning there’s a nearly 2,000-foot minimum elevation gain, with Waterman topping out just over 8,000 feet. Combining Waterman with Twin Peaks pushes the total elevation gain to nearly 4,000 feet, so plan accordingly.
• The climbing begins right away, but remains mellow for the first half mile. From there, expect a series of increasing grades as the trail quickly gains elevation.
• One mile in, views of layered ridges and distant peaks to the south are revealed. These are the best photo opportunities until you reach the peak.
• Follow the contour of the mountain until you hit the two-mile mark and a trail junction. To the left, the trail continues to the summit of Twin Peaks. If Waterman is your sole objective, turn right.
• From here, it’s another 3/4 mile to the Waterman summit.
• The summit itself is strewn with boulders, which provide multiple spots for a snack and a beer, while taking in the spectacular view. To your south is Twin Peaks, and to your west the San Gabriels drop steeply into the Los Angeles Basin.
• From here, you can simply retrace your route or follow the trail down the north side of the mountain to make a loop. The views down this route extend out to the desert floor of the Antelope Valley, some 30 miles away.
• Continuing your descent, you’ll see the top of the main chair at the Mount Waterman Ski Hill, which currently operates on winter weekends when conditions permit.
• Another 1.5 miles of switchbacks brings you to the bottom of the Mount Waterman Trail, just up from the Angeles Crest Highway.
What to Bring
You’ll only need a small day pack, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to prepare.
• Water is always essential, and if you decide to go for Twin Peaks as well as Mount Waterman, you’ll need plenty.
• If you’re only doing Waterman, some energy bars or trail mix is probably enough food, but considering the view you’ll find at the top, a full-blown picnic is a good idea, too.
• Given the elevation, weather is more of a factor up here than whatever you’re used to down in the Basin. In the Spring and Summer, the wind can be relentless, so pack at least a breaking layer. In the Fall and Winter, rain and snow are common, so bring a few layers and something waterproof.
• Make sure your boots are broken in and comfortable.
• This view is one of Los Angeles’ best kept secrets, in part because you need to earn it. Throw in a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and toast the horizon when you finally see it.
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