Water Tank to Willow Canyon Road Loop – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

Water Tank to Willow Canyon Road Loop – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

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Distance

9.3 miles

 

&

Elevation

1,562 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Moderate

 

Time

3-4 hours

Water Tank to Willow Road Loop – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

Hi everyone! Back again with another loop hike for Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

If you have read our Dartmoor-Emerald Trail Guide, then you know that we love Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. Sure, it may not have the subalpine appeal of the San Gabriels, but if you don’t need every hike to have a peak to bag, or if you just love ocean views, then you could do a lot worse than Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. It is also worth pointing out that Laguna Coast Wilderness Park tends to be far less known, and therefore less crowded, than its two neighbors, Crystal Cove State Park and Top of The World.

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is nestled in the Laguna Hills, and provides amazing views of Laguna Beach just below, as well as some of SoCal’s larger peaks to the North and West. The park is primarily made up of fire roads running along the tops of ridges, which are bisected and connected by many winding, single-track trails cutting down into and across the valleys between them. The layout is great for short or long hikes, because you can link the trails together to create any number of loops at whatever distance you prefer your hike to be.

Fence Blocking Water Tank Road.

Entrance on the Right Side of Water Tank Road.

Gate Entrance to the Trail.

This hike starts off with a bang. The climb up from Poplar Street, while shorter, is far more intense than the climb from Dartmoor Street, which is itself no picnic. The first tenth of a mile is unbelievably steep, and still paved. At the .1 mile mark, the trail turns to dirt and continues onwards, up the impossibly steep hill for .4 more miles before finally leveling out. On this trip, the heavy rains from winter had the wildflowers in full bloom, creating bright yellow corridors along the way.

First .1 Miles Paved.

Steep Trail Turns to Dirt.

Water Tank Road Flattening Out.

After 1.6 miles, Water Tank Road meets Bommer Ridge, and Laguna Bowl Road Diverges sharply back to the right. Continue onto Bommer Ridge for about 100 yards to find the intersection with Boat Road to your left, and Laguna Ridge Trail to your right. Take the right onto Laguna Ridge Trail and begin your descent!

(You could also start this hike by climbing up Laguna Bowl Road instead of Water Tank Road, but there is no convenient parking for this option.)

Water Tank Road Meets Bommer Ridge.

Turn Left onto Bommer Ridge

Bommer Ridge Meets Laguna Ridge Trail. Turn Right.

Laguna Ridge Trail offered some amazing views as we descended. Be warned though, it is very tight single track, rutted out so that it is not exactly kind to the knees and ankles. It descends for about a mile, before reaching the bottom right next to Laguna Canyon Road. Here, the trail takes a 90-degree left turn and follows along Laguna Canyon Road. Admittedly, this is one of the lowlights of the hike for me, as it is one of the only places in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park that doesn’t actually feel like the wilderness.

Laguna Ridge Trail.

Laguna Ridge Trail Takes 90 Degree Turn.

Follow the trail as it parallels Laguna Canyon Road for .4 miles and you will pass the turnoff to climb Big Bend on your left, and then reach the Big Bend Parking area a few hundred yards later. At the Big Bend Parking lot, the trail turns to Stagecoach. Stay straight on Stagecoach and continue on!

Pass the Big Bend on the Left and Continue Straight.

Big Bend Parking Lot.

End of Parking Lot Turns into Stagecoach. Continue Straight.

While Stagecoach still follows the Laguna Canyon Road, it somehow feels more lovable to me than the final stretch of Laguna Ridge. Follow it through its gentle undulations for just less than a mile, and it will deposit you in the Willow parking lot.  Cross the parking lot, and stay left, following the signs for Willow Canyon Road.

Willow Parking Lot.

Turn Left for Willow Canyon Road.

Left on Willow Canyon Road. Keep the Fence on the Right.

Willow Canyon Road is nowhere near the violent climb that Water Tank Road was to start this hike, but it does remind you just how much elevation you lost coming down Laguna Ridge Trail. It climbs on for about 1.6 miles, passing turnoffs on the right for Laurel Spur and Bommer Spur, before dead-ending back on Bommer Ridge. Turn left on Bommer Ridge, and make your way back toward Water Tank Road, enjoying the views down into the Canyons and the Ocean along the way.

Continue Straight on Willow Canyon Road to Pass Laurel Spur and Bommer Spur.

Turn Left onto Bommer Ridge.

View from Bommer Ridge.

At this point, you are about 5.8 miles in, and the truly taxing portions of the hike are behind you. The next 1.8 miles follow Bommer ridge, passing turnoffs for Big Bend on your left, and Old Emerald on your right, and finally arrives back at the junction with Water tank Road.

(If you would like to add some distance and elevation to this climb, you could take Big Bend back down to the Big Bend parking lot, and climb back up Laguna Ridge trail. You could also turn right when Willow Road dead ends into Bommer, then take Emerald Canyon Road down into Emerald Canyon, and climb back up to Bommer via Old Emerald Trail.)

Continue Straight Pass Big Bend

Continue Straight Pass Emerald Canyon Road.

Turn Right onto Water Tank Road.

Back at Water Tank Road, take a right and follow it for the remaining 1.65 miles back to the start. Enjoy more great views down into the canyons and the ocean along the descent here, before a final knee busting final half mile.

Ocean View from Water Tank Road.

Cactus Flower on Water Tank Road.

Water Tank Road Decline.

Overall, this is a great hike, with several options to make it longer or shorter, or add elevation by tacking on other options like Big Bend, or a trip into Emerald Canyon. While the portion of the Laguna Ridge Trail along the highway is a bit of a downer, it is a short piece of an otherwise wonderful hike. Given it to do over again, I think I would actually prefer to do this loop backwards. My knees always prefer a shorter, steeper climb with a longer more gentle descent, which is exactly what doing this hike backwards (descending Willow Canyon Road and climbing Laguna Ridge Trail) would offer.

We hope you enjoyed this guide, and that it will prove helpful to you in the future! If so, or if you would like to see another guide in the O.C. or SoCal area, leave us a comment and let us know! And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook.

Water Tank Road Parking and Park Info:

 

Parking for this hike is street parking, at the end of Poplar Street, Laguna Beach.

Park hours are from 7:00am to sunset daily.

Trails may be closed after rain. Call (949) 923-2235 to make sure the trails are open.

Trail Map

Poplar Street Parking

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Altra Lone Peak 3

A great pair of lightweight, zero drop trail running shoes that are great for hiking. I first bought these shoes after I had injured my foot, and was looking for something with an especially wide toe box. I have loved these shoes for both hiking and the occasional run. If you have never tried zero drop shoes, they take a bit of getting used to, but I loved them so much I wish I could get backpacking or mountaineering boots that were zero drop!


 Saucony Women’s Peregrine 6

Lightweight trail runners. If you are not ready to make the switch to zero drops, or if they just don’t agree with you, this is a great, neutral pair of trail runners. Michole has used these for fifteen plus mile hikes in rocky terrain with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and loved them every step of the way.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

Baldy Bowl Climb – Mount Baldy

Baldy Bowl Climb – Mount Baldy

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Distance

8.16 miles

 

&

Elevation

3,954 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

6-7 hours

Mount Baldy

 

Our first winter hike on Mount Baldy came about a week after a huge snow dump left several feet of snow on the trail. We started around sunrise and had to use crampons from the time we left the parking lot. It was our first real winter hike, so we were definitely a bit awed by the conditions. The numerous avalanche chutes crossing the trail did nothing to calm our nerves! As the sun rose, it got quite warm, and began turning the solid, ice-crusted snow to slush. By the time we reached the ski hut, we were consistently post holing. Climbing the sun baked bowl was not even an option. Instead, we traversed under the bowl, and followed the west ridge to the summit. We were happy to have successfully summited, and even happy to have safely gotten down, on our first winter trip. But we knew we had to return and climb the Baldy Bowl.

 

Weeks went by, and an unusually cold and wet SoCal winter provided plenty of snow on the mountain, but we could never line up our all too infrequent off days with what looked likely to be good conditions. We nearly made a second attempt a few weeks ago, but a fresh snow dump on an icy crust, made us bail at the last minute. Finally, on a rare Monday off for Michole, the conditions looked right. A great deal of the earlier snow had melted, then a rain and several below freezing days drastically reduced avalanche danger, and promised far more solid footing than we had encountered on our first trip.

Alpine Start

 

We wanted to avoid our first mistake from before, and made sure to get an earlier start. We left the house a few minutes after 4:00 am, and were on the trail by 5:45, giving us a solid hour before sunrise. We were both shocked by how different conditions were from our first trip. Before, we encountered snow before even reaching Baldy Village, a full 2,000 feet below Manker Flats. By the time we reached the trailhead, there was over two feet of snow on the ground. This time, there was no snow on the drive up the mountain. In fact, we didn’t even hit snow until just before reaching the ski hut. It was a pleasant surprise after what we had expected, and left us feeling fresh when we reached the ski hut.

Getting an Early Start with our Headlamps.

The bowl had already lost a great deal of the snow that had covered it earlier in the season. Fortunately, there were still plenty of ribbons of snow to choose from multiple lines. The route we had planned, up the center of the bowl had a solid line of snow going all the way up, and there was even one climber already on it, making slow but steady progress toward the top.

Baldy Bowl.

We Followed Route 11. Photo Credit: Caltech Alpine Club.

Climbing the Baldy Bowl

 

We broke out helmets, ice axes, and crampons at the ski hut, and headed for the climb. The traverse under the bowl held no surprises, but as we turned off of the trail and headed toward the bowl itself, we came face to face with a bobcat! It appeared out of some shrubs to our left, inspected us, then continued casually across our path, disappearing into a small stand of shrubs to our right, where I believe it watched us continue on from the cover of the shrubs. It was sort of the cherry on top of an amazing day. Its small stature and beauty gave you the impression that you could just cuddle it like your beloved house cat, but I’m sure this is not the case!

 

After our wildlife encounter, we continued on, heading straight up the bowl. It was by far the highest risk climbing I have ever done, and a few times looking down while resting, holding onto my ice axe as an anchor, my fear of heights tried to assert itself. I was able to force down the negative thoughts though, and continue on without too much issue. It struck me during the climb how ironic it was that I was not more afraid. When sport climbing above my bolt, I am at times gripped by a near paralyzing fear. I find myself unable to trust my ability, and often have to retreat and regather myself before continuing on. I know this is completely irrational. I’ve taken lead falls, and practiced many mock falls. Still, the irrational fear persists. On the bowl however, a fall could be disastrous. You might self-arrest, or you might not. You might hit a rock, or you might not. You might be okay, or you might not. Overall, the consequences of a fall are exponentially higher than while leading a sport climb. Nonetheless, I found it far less frightening. I think this is for two reasons. First: there really was no turning back. I can’t imagine having climbed back down that chute. Second: while the consequences of a fall were far greater, what you put your trust in is your ability not to fall. Unlike leading a sport climb, where you need to push far past your comfort zone, and depend on your equipment to keep you safe in the event of a fall. Again, it’s completely irrational, but fear often is.

 

The snow conditions on the bowl were perfect. The first three fourths of the climb was crusted in a solid layer of ice, offering excellent purchase for our ice axes and crampons as we climbed upward. The main danger seemed to come from the occasional rock, bouncing like a mad tomahawk down the slope. The climber ahead of us had slowed considerably, and we had made up a great deal of ground on him. Putting us directly in the path of any rocks he dislodged during his ascent. The last few hundred feet, where things get increasingly steep, was a bit softer, and we struggled to gain the solid footing we had enjoyed on the lower slopes, but it was still a far cry from the slush of our first trip.

 

The last 100 feet seemed to get steeper by the step. This stretch is also where we were blasted by wind gusting over the top of the slope. Finally, the last 20 feet felt almost vertical, as you encounter the snow deposited by the wind, which relentlessly howls over the edge. With a final placement of my ice axe, on flat ground, I pulled myself over the lip, and felt the euphoria of completing the climb. Michole was a few minutes behind, so I added layers against the wind and the cold of the exposed, final push to the summit.

 

Michole’s experience was a bit different than mine. Somehow, one of her boots popped out of its crampon. Fortunately, she handled it well, and managed to keep a cool head. She was able to get onto her back, bracing herself with one crampon and her axe dug into the snow. From that position, she was able to unstrap, reposition, and restrap her crampon, using only one hand! This was definitely the most hair-raising moment of the climb, but thanks to her good head, she safely overcame the unexpected difficulty, and carried on without too much incident.

Baldy Bowl to Summit

 

A few minutes after I topped out, she made her way up the final, impossibly steep edge of the bowl. We had a short celebration, took in an amazing view, and headed for the summit. From the top of the bowl, it is only a few hundred yards to the summit. While a walk to the summit may seem anticlimactic after experiencing the bowl, our legs and lungs were both on fire again by the time we reached the peak.

View From the Summit.

On the Summit.

We had climbed up alongside another pair of climbers, and we talked for a while, took in the views, and enjoyed the summit together. Finally, we headed down together. Deciding the part of the bowl we had come up was far too icy, steep, and exposed to glissade down, we traversed to the far west side of the bowl, before sliding down pristine powder, that made me wish I skied.  We all made our way back to the ski hut, where we were able to bask in our recent accomplishment, and scarf down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (The ultimate fuel for all endeavors.)

Descending from the Summit with other Climbers.

Descent Route on the West Side of Baldy Bowl.

Baldy Bowl from the San Antonio Falls Road.

Ethics and Safety in the Mountains

 

Being in the mountains is truly an amazing experience, and something that Michole and I both love. With that said, the mountains can be a dangerous, uncaring, and unforgiving place. Two people have died on mount Baldy this year, and three died last year. As Joe Simpson put it, “Gravity is a wonderfully democratic thing. It doesn’t know how good a climber you are once you start falling.” Nonetheless, there are many things you can do to minimize your risk, and the risk of those around you, while in the mountains. Namely, NEVER venture into the mountains unprepared. Always have the proper equipment, knowledge, and skill set for the task at hand. And if at any point you feel that one of those three things is not up to the task at hand, turn back. The mountain will always be there. Make sure you are too.

 

This brings me to the second thing you can do to keep people safe in the mountains: Speak up, and be honest. I know, it’s far easier to remain silent. I am guilty of it. On our first winter summit of Baldy, Michole and I ran into a guy at the ski hut. He was suffering, visibly beaten down from the first two miles of post holing his way up the mountain. And no wonder, he was in low cut trail walking shoes. Not only was he lacking crampons and an axe, he didn’t even have micro spikes, and I’m not even sure that he had trekking poles. He asked us how far to the summit and we dutifully informed him. He was probably old enough to be our father, what place did we have to tell him what he should or shouldn’t do?

 

The fact is: if you see someone who has no place doing what they are doing in the mountains, it is your responsibility to tell them. You might be the person who saves a life. How many people would still be alive, if experienced mountaineers had told that person in running shoes and spandex that they should turn back? People may not listen. And that’s okay. Someone may think you are an asshole for trying to tell them what risk they should or shouldn’t take. That’s okay too. I can live the rest of my life knowing that someone thinks I’m an asshole. But I can’t imagine living the rest of my life knowing that I had not expressed the danger someone was putting themself in, and that they had died because that knowledge came to them too late. And if they continue on, talking under their breath about you, you will know that whatever happens to them, you did what you could to keep them safe.

 

So PLEASE! Journey out into the wilds! Experience all of the wonder that this earth has to offer. And that includes the risks, but minimize those risks the best you can, and make sure those around you do the same.

Winter Mountaineering Necessities

Mandatory gear for heading into the mountains in winter are: ice axe, crampons, and helmet. Below are links to models of these items that we have personally used and endorse. If you purchase these products through this page, we will get a commission, but that is not why we show them here. Whether you buy these products through our page, at a local store, or just rent them, we hope that you adventure responsibly.

Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills is a one stop shop for mountaineering information. No book can replace experience or in person instruction, but this book is a treasure trove of information, that is required reading before many hands on mountaineering courses. If I were ever going to hard sell any product, it would be this book. Again, whether you buy it through our link, from REI, or rent it from your library, if you are a beginner or aspiring mountaineer, the knowledge you gain from this book could be what saves your life.

Mount Baldy Trailhead Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground:

 

Manker Flats Campground – Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.


 Black Diamond Vector

Whether you are climbing at the crag or mountaineering, the Black Diamond Vector is a great choice. It is well ventilated, lightweight, very easy to adjust, and features very functional headlamp clips. We chose this helmet over some of its competitors mostly due to the fact that it offers a bit more coverage on the sides. This is extremely important for climbing, because you will likely turn your face away if you hit the wall, exposing the side of your head.


 CAMP USA Stalker Universal

The Stalker by CAMP USA is a great crampon for general mountaineering. The universal, strap on bindings means that they can be used with almost any mountaineering, backpacking, or hiking boots. This makes them an excellent choice for anyone who wants/needs a solid set of legitimate crampons, but does not want to spring for a pair of mountaineering boots. They have served us well on several hikes in ice and snow, including our climb up the iconic Baldy Bowl.


 Petzl Summit

The Petzl Summit is a lightweight ice axe with a curved shaft and a hot forged, positive clearance pick. The design offers maximum clearance for swinging on moderate to steep angle ice, and great leverage whether self belaying or self arresting. I use this ice axe and absolutely love it.


 Petzl Glacier

The Petzl Glacier is a lightweight ice axe with a straight shaft and a hot forged, positive clearance pick. Michole uses this ice axe and has been extremely satisfied with its performance. The same hot forged pick as the more expensive Petzl Summit and its light weight both set this ice axe apart from others near its price point.

Dartmoor-Emerald Hike – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

Dartmoor-Emerald Hike – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

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Distance

9.62 miles

 

&

Elevation

1,843 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Moderate

Time

3-5 hours

 

Dartmoor-Emerald Trail – Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

 

While orange county may not be the first place you think of when it comes to hiking in Southern California, there are some real gems to be had, overlooking the beaches that usually dominate people’s idea of the area. A number of these are in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. Michole and I spend a great deal of time on these trails, and they provide our primary training for bigger hikes in the nearby San Gabriels and beyond. This write up is for a loop of some of our favorite trails in the system. I will call this particular loop Dartmoor-Emerald, as it begins and ends on Dartmoor Street, and covers all three of the park’s “Emerald” trails.

 

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is nestled in the Laguna Hills, and provides amazing views of Laguna Beach just below, as well as some of SoCal’s larger peaks to the North and West. The park is primarily made up of fire roads running along the tops of ridges, which are bisected and connected by many winding, single-track trails cutting down into and across the valleys between them. The layout is great for short hikes, because you can link the trails together to create any number of loops at whatever distance you prefer your hike to be.

 

Dartmoor-Emerald begins on the street, in a neighborhood, in Laguna Beach. I know, I know, it’s an inauspicious beginning. Don’t worry though, you will soon have amazing views of the city and the ocean, and then leave them both behind.

The Beginning of the Trail. Dartmoor Street Dead Ends with the Trailhead.

Pass by the gate that marks the end of the street, and begin climbing Boat Road. This is not an easy start to the hike. It is about .75 miles of steady climbing on an uninspiring fire road. If your lungs and legs are burning however, just look over your shoulder and appreciate the ocean view and, hopefully, the ocean breeze for a few moments before continuing on. At the top of the climb you can pause to take in more great ocean views before following the trail to the right.

Ocean View From the Top of Boat Road.

At the Top of the Climb Follow Boat Road to the Right.

Boat Road turns to the right, and will continue as a fire road until almost exactly the two-mile mark, when it dead-ends into Bommer Ridge. As you follow first Boat Road and then Bommer Ridge, there are great views down into the valley on your left. This is where you are headed. Bommer Ridge is another fire road on a ridge, and this is the one that will finally lead you to the promised land of single-track.

Take a Left When Boat Road Dead-Ends into Bommer Ridge.

Trail Sign at Intersection.

Take a left on Bommer Ridge and continue on for about three fourths of a mile, until you see a trail sign on the right side of the trail that reads “Old Emerald.” (For some reason the trail sign is on the right and the trail diverges to the left.)

Take a Left on Old Emerald.

This is where the hike really starts to shine, in my opinion. Old Emerald Trail winds and twists its way for just over half a mile, all the way down into the bottom of the valley. Finally, you cross a tiny bridge over a stream that is dry unless you are there shortly after big rains. This brings you to Old Emerald Canyon Road, where you want to take a right.

Bridge At the End of Old Emerald Trail.

Turn Right When Old Emerald Dead-Ends into Emerald Canyon Road.

You will only be on Old Emerald Canyon Road for a few yards, before Old Emerald Falls Trail diverges to your left. This section of Old Emerald Canyon Road usually has tree branches and vines that make for a very aesthetic tunnel, and a wonderful shade on a hot day. Don’t worry if you were hoping for more of Old Emerald Canyon Road, you will be revisiting it shortly.

Turn Left onto Old Emerald Falls.

Tree Tunnel Exiting Emerald Canyon Road.

Follow Old Emerald Falls as it diverges left from Old Emerald Canyon Road. With any decent amount of rainfall, a rarity here in Southern California, Old Emerald Falls can turn into a lush green jungle, more akin to the tropics than Southern California. Other years you feel that you are in the desert, a few hundred miles to the west. When it is overgrown, be careful. The tall grass conceals the many cacti that line this trail, and often encroach on its edges. When we hiked it this week it was the most overgrown we have ever seen it, with grass reaching over our heads at times!

 

Immediately after leaving Old Emerald Canyon Road, Old Emerald Falls will reach a Y. Old Emerald Falls follows the valley floor to the right. Ignore the trail that goes straight up the opposite ridge.

Ignore the Faint Trail that Ys Off to the Left. (Depending on Trail Conditions, it May be More Visible.)

Shortly, you will reach a steady incline. This is the falls for which Old Emerald Falls takes its name, though water would only run along the trail portion during very heavy rains, and we have only seen water moving along the edge of the trail once. Begin your climb up out of the valley! Like the start of the hike, this is not a particularly long climb, but it is steep, and after a rainy winter, we found it was almost like bushwhacking! At around the 4.6-mile mark, you reach the end of Old Emerald Falls, as it dead-ends into Moro Ridge, another fire road running along a ridgeline.

Bushwhacking Up Old Emerald Falls.

Turn Right as Old Emerald Falls Dead-Ends into Moro Ridge.

Take Moro Ridge to the right, and at the 5-mile mark, Moro meets back up with Bommer ridge.

 

Turn Right at the Gate where Moro Ridge Meets Bommer Ridge.

Take a right onto Bommer. After about .2 miles, the trail forks, with Laurel Spur diverging to your left. Stay right to continue following Bommer Ridge.

Keep Right on Bommer Ridge.

Only .1 miles after the fork, you reach Old Emerald Canyon Road, leading back down into the canyon on your right.

Turn Right Onto Emerald Canyon Road.

Follow Emerald Canyon Road back down into the canyon. It seems like it goes on forever, down and down, mostly a straight fire road, narrowing as you near the tree tunnel where you left it earlier. Finally, just shy of 6.5 miles, you pass the turnoff for Old Emerald Falls, now on your right, and come to Old Emerald Trail, on your left.

Turn Left and Begin the Climb Back Up Old Emerald Trail.

From here simply retrace your steps, back up Old Emerald, right onto Bommer Ridge, back to the intersection where you will go right on Boat Road, and finally left down Boat Road and your return to Laguna Beach and Dartmoor Street.

 

This return journey offers amazing views both down into the canyon you hiked into and out of, TWICE, as well as of the ocean and beach communities below. If you can time it out, some of our most amazing sunsets came at the end of this trail, just before descending Boat Road back to Dartmoor Street.

Sunset from the Top of Boat Road with Laguna Beach, Long Beach, and Catalina Island in the Distance.

Of course, for a slightly shorter hike with less climbing, you could cut out either of the descents into and out of Emerald Canyon. Personally, if I were to do this, I would cut out the second one. That way you still experience Old Emerald  Trail and Old Emerald Falls, as well as the compelling portion of Old Emerald Canyon Road. Only the part around this juncture is the tree tunnel that we love so much. The rest is really just your standard fire road.

 

If you have any additional thoughts about this hike, would like to see guides of other linking options for trails in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, or just have experiences there that you would like to share, please let us know in the comments below! We would love to hear from you.

 

We hope that this guide will be of some use to you, and help you get out and explore! If you found it useful, or think it may be useful to someone you know, then please, feel free to share it with your friends!

 

Until next time, safe travels, and happy hiking from Greenwoods Uncharted!

Parking and Park Info

 

Parking for this hike is street parking on Dartmoor Street in Laguna Beach.

Park hours are from 7:00am to sunset daily.

Trails may be closed after rain. Call (949) 923-2235 to make sure the trails are open.

Trail Map

Dartmoor Street, Laguna Beach, CA

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Altra Lone Peak 3

A great pair of lightweight, zero drop trail running shoes that are great for hiking. I first bought these shoes after I had injured my foot, and was looking for something with an especially wide toe box. I have loved these shoes for both hiking and the occasional run. If you have never tried zero drop shoes, they take a bit of getting used to, but I loved them so much I wish I could get backpacking or mountaineering boots that were zero drop!


 Saucony Women’s Peregrine 6

Lightweight trail runners. If you are not ready to make the switch to zero drops, or if they just don’t agree with you, this is a great, neutral pair of trail runners. Michole has used these for fifteen plus mile hikes in rocky terrain with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and loved them every step of the way.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

Cucamonga Peak Via Icehouse Canyon

Cucamonga Peak Via Icehouse Canyon

,

Distance

12 miles

 

&

Elevation

4,300 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

5-7 hours

Cucamonga Peak Via Icehouse Canyon Trail Guide

 

Logan here with your third and final trail guide for the Icehouse Canyon trailhead! It occurs to me that I released these posts a bit backwards. Being the only loop, there are far more directions to give for the Three T’s hike. Meanwhile, the Bighorn/Ontario hike involves two peaks and disappears amidst scree and shrubs on a few occasions. By way of contrast, the Cucamonga Peak hike is only 12 miles. It is also by far the most popular of the three, and thus the trail is far more worn in and easy to follow. Don’t let these factors fool you into thinking it will be an easy day though! With roughly the same amount of climbing in a shorter distance than the other two, this hike is no walk in the park. In the end though, you are rewarded with a beautiful view of Los Angeles and the surrounding San Gabriels!

Trailhead to Icehouse Saddle

 

If you have read the other Icehouse Canyon trail guides, then you are probably already familiar with the beautiful Icehouse Canyon trail, so feel free to skip on to the next section.

 

From the trailhead, it is about 3.5 miles to Icehouse Saddle. Be warned, this is an extremely popular section of trail, being used by everyone heading to any of the peaks, and many people just going to the saddle and back. These first three miles are not a particularly easy start, gaining about 2,600 feet of elevation. Just shy of one mile in, a trail will diverge to the left. This is the Chapman trail, and it will link back up with the Icehouse Canyon trail just shy of the saddle, adding about 1.7 miles to the hike, but making the climb a bit more gradual. Stay on Icehouse Canyon trail for roughly 2.5 more miles (My GPS and the trail signs don’t exactly match up). These 2.5 miles will get more scenic, and progressively steeper as they go. Don’t forget to stop and turn around from time to time, particularly in the many switchbacks, as the views down the canyon are some of the best of the entire hike.

Michole Suffering on the Climb to the Saddle.

Icehouse Saddle makes a great place to stop and have a snack, or lunch depending on the time of day. Be warned though, saddles are often the windiest part of a mountain, and this one is no exception. If it is a windy day, it might be worth stopping a few hundred yards shy of the saddle and resting or refueling there, before continuing on. This would also make a great place to turn around, if you are not up for the miles and elevation that follows, and would make for a terrific short hike.

Icehouse Saddle to Summit

 

From Icehouse Saddle, simply follow the Cucamonga Peak sign. It is the middle of the three. Only a few dozen yards after leaving the saddle, a trail will Y off to the left. Stay right, and head for the summit! From here, the 2.4 mile trek from Icehouse Saddle to Cucamonga Peak doesn’t require much in the way of turn by turn directions. Unlike the other hikes out of Icehouse Canyon, this one receives more than enough traffic to keep the trail clearly visible. Don’t think the hard part is over though! Those remaining 2.4 miles will cover about 1,000 feet of elevation, so get ready for a climb!

The View Looking Back.

About 2 miles after leaving the saddle, keep your eyes peeled for an abandoned mine shaft on your right, or as Michole likes to imagine: a bear cave on your right. Following this is another saddle, which like the saddles of the Three T’s trail, is truly a standout point on the hike. Just before the summit, the trail will Y again. This is the one tricky part of the hike, as a sign post should be there. Unfortunately, the sign is often missing. So be on the lookout for the Y, and possibly a signpost and or sign. Then stay to the right for one final push; the summit is only a stone’s throw away!

Loose Footing after the Second Saddle, Before the Final Climb.

Cucamonga Peak!

 

And then you are at the summit! Great views of L.A. and a few of Southern California’s best peaks are your reward for your burning lungs and legs. On the Summit you will find a few backcountry camping sites, beautiful views, and several rocks to stand on while taking in the view, helping you feel like a real deal mountain climber!

Logan on the Summit.

Michole on the Summit.

The Summit View towards Orange County with the Saddleback Mountains in the Distance.

So this is more or less it for our Icehouse Canyon trail guides. Hopefully this summer I will be back with a report of the Three T’s plus Mount Baldy and, possibly, Mount Hardwood, for a four or five summit hike!

We hope you have enjoyed this little trilogy of guides, and that they inspired you to get out and see some amazing scenery for yourself! Drop us a comment and let us know what you think, and about your own plans and experiences In the Icehouse Canyon area! And if you missed them, check out our other Icehouse Canyon trail guides for Ontario/Bighorn Peak, and the Three T’s trail.

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking:

Ice House Canyon Trailhead, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking Lot

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak via Icehouse Canyon

Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak via Icehouse Canyon

Ontario & Bighorn Peak Hike Stats

,

Distance

15.19 miles

 

&

Elevation

4,071 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

7-8 hours

Hiking to Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak

 

Logan here! Back again with the second entry in our Icehouse Canyon trailhead series. This guide will take you to Ontario Peak, with the option to tack on Bighorn Peak as well. As you know, if you read my guide for the Three T’s hike, we absolutely love all of the peaks that trail from Icehouse Canyon. They are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful in Southern California. Among those though, Ontario and Telegraph vie for my very favorite. So, without further adieu, here is our guide for a, roughly, 15 mile out and back hike, gaining over 4,000 feet of elevation, and bagging Ontario and Bighorn Peaks along the way.

Trailhead to Icehouse Saddle

 

From the trailhead, it is about 3.5 miles to Icehouse Saddle. Be warned, this is an extremely popular section of trail, being used by everyone heading to any of the peaks, and many people just going to the saddle and back. These first three miles are not a particularly easy start, gaining about 2,600 feet of elevation. Just shy of one mile in, a trail will diverge to the left. This is the Chapman trail, and it will link back up with the Icehouse Canyon trail just shy of the saddle, adding about 1.7 miles to the hike, but making the climb a bit more gradual. Stay on Icehouse Canyon trail for roughly 2.5 more miles (My GPS and the trail signs don’t exactly match up). These 2.5 miles will get more scenic, and progressively steeper as they go. Don’t forget to stop and turn around from time to time, particularly in the many switchbacks, as the views down the canyon are some of the best of the entire hike.

View of the Mountains After the Icehouse Canyon Saddle.

Icehouse Saddle makes a great place to stop and have a snack, or lunch depending on the time of day. Be warned though, saddles are often the windiest part of a mountain, and this one is no exception. If it is a windy day, it might be worth stopping a few hundred yards shy of the saddle and resting or refueling there, before continuing on. This would also make a great place to turn around, if you are not up for the miles and elevation that follows, and would make for a terrific short hike.

Icehouse Saddle to Col

 

From the saddle, you are looking for the trail to your far right. Early on, the trail offers great views back down into Icehouse Canyon. It will then bear back to its left, bringing you to Kelly Camp, about a mile after leaving Icehouse Saddle. Apparently there was once a resort here, but all that remains now are the foundations where cabins must once have stood. You might find a backcountry camper or two, taking advantage of this perfect location to pitch a tent. The trail hugs the left side of the campground, and after only about a quarter mile of steep climbing through switchback after switchback, you find yourself deposited on a col with an amazing view into the valley between Ontario and Bighorn Peaks.

The Clouds Below Us. Looking from the Col Between Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak.

Logan Above the Clouds Between Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak.

Col to Bighorn Peak

 

From the col, it is about 1.5 miles to the summit of Bighorn Peak. Follow the ridge until the trail wanders to the left a bit, eventually bearing back right and bringing you to the final climb. The trail all but disappears at the foot of the final climb, which is covered in thick manzanitas and scree. You will finally be deposited on the summit, with a humble pile of boulders as the only summit marker. I have read that there is a trail register somewhere nearby, but we didn’t see it, and the wind whipping over the ridge dissuaded us from spending much time looking. While the view may not be as impressive as Ontario, we did get an up close view of a bighorn sheep here.

Bighorn Sheep on the Way Back From Bighorn Peak.

Closer Image of the Bighorn Sheep.

Col to Ontario Peak

 

Passing back through the junction, continue on straight, following the well-defined path. Be warned, like with Telegraph Peak, there are several false summits along the way. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are closer than you are! Follow the trail through more manzanita and dead trees until around the eight mile mark, where you will find a few more back country camping spots on your left, looking out over the edge of the ridge. Follow the trail as it heads back slightly to the right, away from the ridge, and begins its final ascent. Switchback after switchback will finally deposit you at the summit! Unless of course you are adventurous enough to do it in the snow, in which case you get to skip out on the switchbacks!

A Beautiful Lookout Spot just off the Trail.

The views from Ontario Peak are truly spectacular. Combined with the rocky outcroppings on the summit, it really makes for an alpine feel. Having hiked this trail several times, we have been fortunate enough to do it in some pretty amazing conditions. Our first time on the trail we saw thick clouds rolling up the valley when we first reached the col, and by the time we summited there was a huge sea of clouds surrounding us. It is where we did our first snow hike, and had a near face-to-face meeting with a big horned sheep. There is no doubt in my mind that when we move on from Southern California, this trail will hold several of our fondest memories from our time spent here.

Michole and the Clouds Drifting Higher. View From Ontario Peak.

Our Snack Break on Ontario Peak.

We hope that you find this guide helpful! If you think we left anything out, drop us a line and let us know! Otherwise, please share your plans or experiences on this hike with us! And if you are craving more Icehouse Canyon trailhead adventures, check out our guides for the Three T’s Trail and Cucamonga Peak.

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking:

Ice House Canyon Trailhead, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking Lot

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

Three T’s Trail Via Icehouse Canyon

Three T’s Trail Via Icehouse Canyon

,

Distance

14.3 miles

 

&

Elevation

4,617 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

7-8 hours

Three T’s Trail (Timber Mountain, Telegraph Peak, Thunder Mountain)

 

Virtually everyone in Southern California has heard of Mount Baldy, with its iconic Baldy Bowl and Devil’s Backbone. What many people are unaware of are the numerous other amazing trails to the surrounding peaks which are, in my humble opinion, often more beautiful than Baldy, lacking the title of highest peak in the San Gabriel Range by only a few hundred feet. Where might these trails be, you ask? If you have hiked Baldy from Manker Flats, then you passed the trailhead! The Icehouse Canyon trailhead lies just beyond Baldy Village, and leads to Icehouse Saddle. From the saddle you can reach Cucamonga Peak, Ontario and Bighorn Peaks, and the Three T’s Trail, which includes Timber Mountain, Telegraph Peak, and Thunder Mountain, and from which you can make your way to Baldy notch.

 

This guide is for the Three T’s hike, but all three are wonderful (if a bit strenuous), and I will be adding guides for the other two soon. The Three T’s hike, as laid out here, will be a loop that will take you from Icehouse Canyon to Manker Flats. From Manker Flats it is 2.5 downhill miles back to Icehouse Canyon trailhead. Throughout the guide, I will also give advice for good turnaround options for varying out and back hikes, and the length that each would be.

Trailhead to Icehouse Saddle

 

From the trailhead, it is about 3.5 miles to Icehouse Saddle. Be warned, this is an extremely popular section of trail, being used by everyone heading to any of the peaks, and many people just going to the saddle and back. These first three miles are not a particularly easy start, gaining about 2,600 feet of elevation. Just shy of one mile in, a trail will diverge to the left. This is the Chapman Trail, and it will link back up with the Icehouse Canyon trail just shy of the saddle, adding about 1.7 miles to the hike, but making the climb a bit more gradual. Stay on Icehouse Canyon trail for roughly 2.5 more miles (My GPS and the trail signs don’t exactly match up). These 2.5 miles will get more beautiful, and progressively steeper as they go. Don’t forget to stop and turn around from time to time, particularly in the many switchbacks, as the views down the canyon are some of the best of the entire hike.

One of the Fabulous Views on the Switchbacks of Icehouse Canyon Trail!

Icehouse Saddle makes a great place to stop and have a snack, or lunch depending on the time of day. Be warned though, saddles are often the windiest part of a mountain, and this one is no exception. If it is a windy day, it might be worth stopping a few hundred yards shy of the saddle and resting or refueling there, before continuing on. This would also make a great place to turn around, if you are not up for the miles and elevation that follows, and would make for a terrific short hike.

Icehouse Saddle to Timber Mountain

 

From the saddle, it will be .9 miles to Timber Mountain, 2.9 to Telegraph Peak, 3.9 miles to Thunder Mountain, and 5.4 to Baldy Notch (at least according to the trail sign). Following the sign up the ridge to your left, it is about three fourths of a mile until you reach the sign pointing you up to the summit of Timber Mountain. The trail is well marked, and the summit is just beyond. Full disclosure: if you have never visited it, Timber Mountain is not far enough out of the way to pass up, but I find it easily the least compelling of the peaks that Icehouse Saddle leads to, and we have passed it by on subsequent trips.

Timber Mountain.

Timber Mountain to Telegraph Peak

 

From here, the trail really starts to shine, giving you landscapes and views that make it vie for my favorite of all the Icehouse Canyon trails. You descend a bit, then cross a ridge, with great views in both directions, before starting the hardest climbing of any trail from Icehouse Canyon. Switchback after switchback will eventually lead you to a summit that you can’t actually see until you reach it, so don’t be fooled into thinking it’s almost over by the false summits you pass! As with the hike to the saddle, be sure to take time to stop climbing long enough to enjoy the amazing views on the way up. On this climb, you will encounter a steep, loose slope, covered in small shrubs, where the trail gets a bit hard to follow. If it starts to seem too dangerous, leads you to the edge of a cliff, or the trail seems to have petered out, you most likely missed a switchback. Just backtrack 20 feet or so and look for the trail to continue sharply upwards. Eventually, you will reach a sign reading “Three T’s Trail” pointing onward. This sign stands in for a “Telegraph Peak sign.” Take a right and the trail will lead up, down a bit, and finally climb to the summit of Telegraph Peak.

Beautiful View on the climb to Telegraph Peak.

Telegraph Peak offers an unbelievable 360-degree view, and from it you can see many of the prominent Southern California peaks. If pressed, I would say it vies with Ontario for my favorite Icehouse Canyon Peak. Our first time here was with a storm bearing down on us that made for an otherworldly sight.

Logan on Telegraph Peak with Storm-clouds Rolling in.

Michole on Telegraph Peak with the Baldy Bowl in the Distance.

Full disclosure time again: the inspiring part of the hike has pretty much come and gone at this point. If you are not terribly opposed to doing an out and back, my honest opinion would be that that is probably the way to go. It allows you to repeat the best portions of the hike, this time facing down into the canyons that you had your back towards coming up. If you would like a bit of extra mileage, you could always tack the Chapman Trail onto your return. This would make for a roughly 14.7 mile round trip, or 13 if you skip Chapman Trail and return exactly as you came. We have opted for this more recently.

Telegraph Peak to Thunder Mountain

 

Proceeding on from Telegraph Peak, it is only a mile and a half to Thunder Mountain. You will head down a few switchbacks, cross a final saddle, and finish with a gentle climb to the end of the trail. The trail ends at a fire road. Turn right on this road and make your way up, going right at the fork, to the Ski area, which is the peak of Thunder Mountain, rather anticlimactic after the earlier portions of the hike. You could also use this as a turnaround for an out and back, which would make for a 16-mile hike, assuming you skip Chapman.

Thunder Mountain to Baldy Notch

 

From here, head back down the fire road, hooking almost 180 degrees back to your right at the Y. Go past an extremely steep ski run on your left, sticking to the fire road, which you will soon be able to see wind its way all the way down to Baldy Notch. As the road starts to descend, another ski run will start to diverge to the left. We chose to follow this one for a steeper, shorter path to Baldy Notch. To avoid finishing such a beautiful hike on three obligatory miles of fire road, we plan to repeat the Three T’s in the future, but rather than descend from Baldy Notch, continue to the summit of Baldy via the Devil’s Backbone, and descend to Manker Flats on the Ski Hut Trail, getting the best parts of both the Baldy loop and the Three T’s trail!

Baldy Notch to Manker Flats Parking Lot

 

At Baldy notch, Pass by the ski lifts just on your left, taking the fire road that winds down under them.  (You could also pay to take the ski lifts down, cutting out part of the descent.) Avoid any turn offs on the way down. After around 2.5 miles you will pass the turnoff for Ski Hut Trail on your right. Almost immediately after, the fire road will turn to black top, and bring you to San Antonio Falls. If you have never seen it before, make sure to hop off of the paved road and follow the trail that leads down to it. It can be quite impressive, depending on the time of year.

 

Finally, you are at Manker Flats parking lot! Icehouse Canyon lies two and a half miles below, so you have a few options. 2.5 paved miles is probably not a big deal if you have already come this far, but on the other hand, you have already come this far. We chose to catch a ride with a family heading down the mountain after completing a Baldy loop of Ski Hut Trail and the Devil’s Backbone. They didn’t have any extra seats, so we piled into the back of their Jeep with our packs in our laps. Some people may not be comfortable hitching a ride with strangers, but it definitely made for an adventurous feeling end to the day! If you are planning to do this, Manker Flats is a very popular trailhead, and should be bursting with people willing to give you a ride and listen to a story about your hike, particularly if you are there in good weather or on the weekend. With that said, We have been there with four feet of snow on the ground, on a weekday, and there were still more than a few people coming and going. As a final option, when we return for our super loop of the Three T’s and Baldy, we plan to bring our bicycles, park at Manker Flats, and coast down to Icehouse Canyon. Then we will have a ride at Manker, and can pick our bikes up on the way down.

So there you have it! The Three T’s Trail and several different options for doing it. We hope that you will give this hike, or some section of it, a try. And we hope you enjoy it as much as we did! If you do, or if you are planning on it, drop us a line in the comments and let us know. We can’t wait to hear about your adventure!

Want more trails from Icehouse Canyon? Check out our guides for Ontario and Bighorn Peaks, and Cucamonga Peak!

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking:

Ice House Canyon Trailhead, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Icehouse Canyon Trailhead Parking Lot

Gear We Used on This Trail


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

Mount Baldy

Mount Baldy

,

Distance

11.3 miles

 

&

Elevation

3,985 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

5-7 hours

Mount San Antonio, better known as Mount Baldy is one of the more well-known peaks in Southern California. At 10,064 feet, it is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountain Range, and is one of SoCal hikers 6 pack of peaks. If you are into peak bagging, or you are just looking to experience some of Southern California’s natural beauty, Mount Baldy is a must.

 

There are a number of different ways to reach the summit, the most popular being via Ski Hut Trail and the Devil’s Backbone/Baldy Notch. When combined, these make for a great 11.4 mile loop, though you can cut a mile or two off the fire road by taking the ski lift to or from Baldy Notch (depending on direction) for about 12 dollars per person. Admittedly, the fire road you would miss out on by taking the ski lift is not the reason for going in the first place, but faced with a paid ride and a free walk, it’s an easy decision for the budget adventurer and aspiring dirtbag.

 

We took the Ski Hut Trail up, and descended along the Devil’s Backbone. This route offers a shorter, steeper climb, gaining about 4,000 feet of elevation over roughly 4 miles. From the trailhead just passed Manker Flats campground, proceed up the paved trail, which will quickly turn to dirt fire road. About half a mile in, the single-track Ski Hut Trail branches off on your left. It is not particularly well marked and would be easy to miss. Take this trail, and begin your ascent!

 

Easy to miss split from the fire road to the Ski Hut Trail.

The climb to the Sierra Club Ski Hut offered some great views, though nothing compared to what comes after. These first 2.5 miles seem to start off extremely difficult, and get easier as they go, but this could have been the result of an extremely aggressive pace to start that nearly killed Michole :/. Anyway, it’s a great place for a snack, a rest, or just to take in the view, before finishing the last two miles or so to the summit. Things definitely get steeper from here, and at times the trail diverges into several small paths across rocky terrain, but fret not, they will all merge before depositing you on the summit.

Michole doing a handstand at the Ski Hut.

Be prepared, it is likely that the summit will be much colder and windier than the parking lot. We started at 7am, reaching the summit around 9. When we left, the temperature was in the 40s, but warmed throughout the day. On the summit and for about a mile on either side though, things were uncomfortably chilly with a howling wind, so as always, be sure to bring layers, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. That extra few ounces for your jacket and gloves will absolutely be worth it if the summit conditions are anything like they were for us.

 

At the summit!

After taking in the panoramic views and getting the obligatory selfie with the summit sign, begin your descent down the Devil’s Backbone, or just retrace your steps the way you came. We chose the Devil’s Backbone. The first half-mile is composed of very steep switchbacks on loose, rocky terrain. Trekking poles will be appreciated here whether climbing or descending. The views of San Antonio Canyon from the Ski Hut Trail climb are rivaled by the views of Baldy Bowl on the Devil’s Backbone Descent. Crossing the narrow ridge with the ground falling away to each side was definitely one of my favorite things about the hike, and the desire to enjoy this rather than suffer climbing up it is the main reason we chose to hike the loop in this direction.

Logan Approaching Devil’s Backbone.

After about 2.5 miles, you will reach a ski lift (not operational when we were there), and from here it is only about half a mile down to Baldy Notch, where you can use the restroom, grab food or a souvenir from the restaurant there, and take the ski lift down, if you so choose. If you are like us though, you opt to finish off the hike by, you know, hiking. You will have about two and a half miles of fire road to descend, eventually passing the turn off you took earlier onto Ski Hut Trail, and finally back to the parking lot above Maker Flats!

 

We greatly enjoyed this hike. It took us about 5 moving hours, and 6 including rests and stopping to eat. To be safe, plan for at least 7 just in case, especially if you are not in the best of shape, or not experienced hiking at this altitude.

 

Update!

 

Surrounding peaks stole our attention away from Mount Baldy, but we finally returned to attempt a winter out and back on Ski Hut Trail.

Mount Baldy Trailhead Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground:

Manker Flats Campground – Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground

Gear We Used on This Hike


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

Mount Baldy Winter Hike on Ice

Mount Baldy Winter Hike on Ice

,

Distance

8 miles

 

&

Elevation

3,954 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

6-8 hours

Logan here

 

One foot in front of the other. Stab ice axe into ground, take two steps, stab ice ax into ground, take two steps.

 

Yesterday, Michole and I climbed a snow and ice covered Mount Baldy. For a mountain known for being snow capped, relatively few people ever see a snowy Mount Baldy from the top down, and most of those who do, see it in the shoulder season, when only a few hundred meters around the summit is holding snow. The recent two bouts of winter storms in Southern California have left the mountain covered in snow, all the way down to the visitor’s center and below. Given how unusual this is, and not knowing if we will be in Southern California for another chance next year, we headed out yesterday morning at 4 am, planning to assault the summit, and make it home in time for us both to be at work by 5. (for a description of baldy including trail directions)

 

It was by far the most intense winter hike that either of us had done. Covered in 4 feet of frozen snow, the climb lies somewhere between hiking and mountaineering. On the trail by 6, just before dusk, the snow started immediately upon stepping out of the plowed parking lot. In less than half a mile we broke out the crampons, and at the ski hut trail turnoff, we both traded a trekking pole for an ice axe.

 

Fortunately, there were a few sets of footprints to follow, which stuck loosely to the ski hut trail route, but largely forgoing the many switchbacks. This was key for us, because they showed that someone had successfully crossed the numerous avalanche shoots crossing the trail. The scenery was beautiful, and included a great sunrise, but the sunrise wasn’t entirely welcome, as it would progressively thaw the ice for the rest of the day.

 

Highlights of the hike included a sketchy run up to the ski hut, which ascended straight up the gully carved by the stream. Even by 7:30am when we hit it, it was fairly thawed, and we could hear the water gurgling beneath us as we trudged up to the ski hut, moving as quickly as we could, but the length and grade of the slope made the going slower than I would have liked. Here we took in the view, had a snack, shed a layer, and continued on.

 

Crampons on the fire road with a beautiful sunrise!

Soon after, the bowl loomed large above us as we traversed under it. A fleeting thought of climbing one of the shoots vanished as soon as it entered my mind. The footsteps in the snow continued on past the bowl, and went straight up the ridge south of the last chutes on the bowl, but north of the trail, staying just in the northernmost edge of the pine trees. From here the going was slow and steep, with no switchbacks, each step was a battle, and the warming temperature softened things up enough that we frequently had to kick steps, but exiting the trees on the ridgeline yielded amazing views, and a huge sense of accomplishment.

Logan and the Baldy Bowl.

From here, all that remained was a mile, straight past what would have been the switchbacks, up the ridge, past two false summits, to the summit. Again, with no switchbacks, it was a hard climb, though not as steep as what had come before. The going was slow, and it felt far more exposed than I ever dreamed the trail could when we climbed it in the summer. The ground fell away from us in all directions, more gently behind, steeply to both sides, but it continued inexorably upward in front of us. By now we were consistently punching through the ice with each step on the unshaded ridge which had taken the full brunt of the sun for around three hours at this point, and considering we live a single flat mile to from the ocean, we could feel every one of the 10,064 feet of elevation.

 

Finally, after three and a half hours, I paused to let Michole close the distance between us, and we summited together. Our only other experience there had been in late September, when we shared the summit with probably 20 people, and a fierce wind that actually made it much colder than yesterday, when I didn’t even put a jacket on for the summit. We rested, took a few pictures, took in the view, I made a half hearted attempt to dig to where I thought the summit placard should have been, and then we headed down. Beautiful though it was, all I really wanted was to get off the summit and to the bottom of the bowl as quickly as possible, because my anxiety level rose with the temperature, and the thawing of the snow.

 

Logan at the Summit.

Michole at the Summit.

Summit View.

Fortunately, we were able to glissade down much of the ridge, though a few exposed spots on the side made me wonder that I had climbed them in the first place. Near the hut, we encountered several people hoping to make the summit, and it made me grateful for our early start. I don’t think I would have pushed up the ridge with the snow already that soft and the sun that high. At the hut, we stopped and stripped down to our base layer from the waist up, then hurried down the couloir below the hut. From there, it was pretty straightforward back to the parking lot, 6 hours after we’d left it.

 

At the car, I felt a rush of euphoria. I was so happy to have made it to the summit and back down safely. While I was happy to reach the summit, I couldn’t let myself relax, my mind had been dominated by the descent. Even on the last paved mile I guess I hadn’t really let my guard down. So all at once, it was like the experience dawned on me at that second.

 

I feel so blessed to be able to explore the world around me, and our first true winter hike was such an amazing experience. And on top of that, I get to do it all with the love of my life, knowing that we are both in it for the same reasons. All of this washed over me, and I spent the rest of the day in a glow, even when I had to shower and drag myself, bone tired, to teach my boot camp at 6 pm.

 

There is something about being in the wild places on this Earth that brings me closer to the Earth, to myself, and to my wife. The conditions on the mountain yesterday seemed to take us to a far wilder state than normal, and it was an experience that, no matter what happens in the future, I know I will always hold close to my heart.

 

I hope that this will inspire you to venture into the wild places of the Earth, even if you have to bend yourself around a schedule that would make it easier not to. I hope you experience it, and I hope you find in it all that we do and more.

Mount Baldy Trailhead Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground:

Manker Flats Campground – Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground

Gear We Used on This Trail

Altra Lone Peak 6

A great pair of lightweight, zero drop trail running shoes that are great for hiking. I first bought these shoes after I had injured my foot, and was looking for something with an especially wide toe box. I have loved these shoes for both hiking and the occasional run. If you have never tried zero drop shoes, they take a bit of getting used to, but I loved them so much I wish I could get backpacking or mountaineering boots that were zero drop!


Saucony Women’s Peregrine 6

Lightweight trail runners. If you are not ready to make the switch to zero drops, or if they just don’t agree with you, this is a great, neutral pair of trail runners. Michole has used these for fifteen plus mile hikes in rocky terrain with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and loved them every step of the way.


Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


Black Diamond Distance FLZ Womens Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.


Black Diamond Vector

Whether you are climbing at the crag or mountaineering, the Black Diamond Vector is a great choice. It is well ventilated, lightweight, very easy to adjust, and features very functional headlamp clips. We chose this helmet over some of its competitors mostly due to the fact that it offers a bit more coverage on the sides. This is extremely important for climbing, because you will likely turn your face away if you hit the wall, exposing the side of your head.


CAMP USA Stalker Universal

The Stalker by CAMP USA is a great crampon for general mountaineering. The universal, strap on bindings means that they can be used with almost any mountaineering, backpacking, or hiking boots. This makes them an excellent choice for anyone who wants/needs a solid set of legitimate crampons, but does not want to spring for a pair of mountaineering boots. They have served us well on several hikes in ice and snow, including our climb up the iconic Baldy Bowl.


Petzl Glacier

The Petzl Glacier is a lightweight ice axe with a straight shaft and a hot forged, positive clearance pick. Michole uses this ice axe and has been extremely satisfied with its performance. The same hot forged pick as the more expensive Petzl Summit and its light weight both set this ice axe apart from others near its price point.


Petzl Summit

The Petzl Summit is a lightweight ice axe with a curved shaft and a hot forged, positive clearance pick. The design offers maximum clearance for swinging on moderate to steep angle ice, and great leverage whether self belaying or self arresting. I use this ice axe and absolutely love it.

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