Mt San Antonio via Devil’s Backbone

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Mount San Antonio, commonly referred to as Mt Baldy, attracts hikers from all over. It’s got the name “Baldy” because of its iconic bare looking Baldy Bowl. Mt Baldy is the highest peak in the Angeles National Forest and is the 47th tallest peak in the U.S. National Forest. The hike to the Mt Baldy peak is a rite of passage for SoCal hikers. If you are participating in the Six-Pack of Peaks challenge by SoCal Hiker, this is the peak #3.

At 10,064 ft, Mt Baldy is the highest peak in Los Angeles so understandably, it’s a very popular hike. I’ve seen photos of Devil’s Backbone with a line of hikers back to back on that trail on weekends. No thank you. You know how much I dislike crowds. I took a day off from work and hiked this on Monday to enjoy the trail without the crowds.

You can do this hike as a loop or as an out and back. Depending on the route, the total distance can be between 10 to 11 miles RT with an elevation gain of between 3,100 ft to 3,900 ft. This hiking guide will take you to the Mt Baldy peak via Devil’s Backbone Trail and skip the steep Baldy Bowl trail. The total distance is 10 miles and you will gain 3,160 feet in elevation.

This hike has almost no shade so Jen and I picked a cool overcast day to do this together. Just in case, I packed our rain gear too.

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To shorten our trek on the fire road (Mt Baldy Rd), we began the hike near the Mt Baldy Resort instead of Mt Baldy Trailhead (a.k.a., Manker Flat Trailhead). It was gloomy that morning with low visibility due to fog when we started the hike but when we reached Mt Baldy Rd via shortcut, we were already above the clouds.

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The steep 0.35-mile shortcut was great. We bypassed hiking on the pavement and we shorten the Mt Baldy Rd trek by 1.23 miles one way which was much more appreciated at the end of the hike for sure.

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When you just realized there was an even better shortcut. SKI LIFT?!

We followed the fire road for 1.43 miles from there until a side trail appeared on the left. We took this trail to Mt Baldy Notch. The trail led us to the two buildings you see below. The Top of the Notch Restaurant and Bar is behind the darker brown building on the left and it is open during ski season and summer weekends. This is another hiking option here if you are looking for something shorter and fun. Hike to Mt Baldy Notch and lunch at the restaurant. We never ate there but the outside patio is dog-friendly. 

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After passing these buildings, go straight then after 0.12 miles when you come to a junction, turn left on to Devil’s Backbone Rd.

At the 2-mile mark, Devil’s Backbone Rd changes to a single track Devil’s Backbone Trail. Keep climbing. This is where you leave the civilization behind and going into the wilderness to experience nature’s raw beauty. Amazing views wait for you here.

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The views from the Devil’s Backbone Trail were absolutely breathtaking. I recorded this section of the hike and posted on our Facebook page. You can really see what it feels like to hike this section. As you know, a picture can’t replace the real experience.

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Devil’s Backbone Trail

It’s a big hike and the uphill really never stops. But once in awhile, we would get a short break with a gradual incline instead. By now, we were feeling the thin air and needed more breaks to catch up on our breath.

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Taking a little break before the final push

I think I took a short break after every 15 steps or so during the last climb. All of us took time and stayed at our own pace. I was feeling the burn in my quads.

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Finally the summit sign in the sight!

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Lunch happiness!

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A mandatory group photo at the peak before heading down. She’s got the booties on for the second half of the hike.

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While we were having lunch, the low hanging clouds rose up and caught up with us. The views were even more spectacular. Awesome for our downhill hike. It’s an out and back route, we came down the mountain the way we came up.

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The narrow trail with the steep drop on the side of the Devil’s Backbone trail can be really challenging if you have fear of heights. I couldn’t have done this 2 years ago. The trick is to keep your eyes on the trail in front of your feet at all times and try your best not to absorb the entire scene in your mind. Basically, don’t do what Xena’s doing in this photo. Ha.

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By the time we were back on the fire road, the temperature dropped significantly and the visibility was low. This is how it looked at the trailhead in the morning. River and I were limping and Xena and Jen were tired. But we were happy and content. Awesome hike and a great day with friends in my book. That’s Jack leading us. As always.

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Good to Know:

  • Hike date:  4.30.18
  • Length:  10 miles RT
  • Elevation gain:  3,160 ft (Mt Baldy sits at 10,064 ft)
  • Duration:  7.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating:  Difficult
  • Trailhead coordinates:  34.269369, -117.624547
  • Permit/fee:  Adventure Pass required for parking; You can purchase a pass from Mt Baldy Visitor’s Center on your way to the trailhead. It’s open on the weekends 7 AM – 3:30 PM. Call ahead to confirm the hours.
  • Notable:  No restroom, no shade, trekking poles are recommended

 

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Happy Hiking!
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10 comments on “Mt San Antonio via Devil’s Backbone”

  1. An amazing hike… and in LA? wow Decent elevation, and the clouds made for exciting views… along with all the ridgeline hiking -I love the ridges. Glad to see you packed a compass and whistle, and hopefully you have a snakebite kit in there as well 😉

    I was out in Orange Co a few weeks ago -my wife had a conference, and I tagged along. A relaxing trip, but alas no time for a hike. I’m planning some time on the trails later this summer… WY, UT and NM I think. I’ll remember Mt. Baldy next time i’m in the area and have some time! Thx.

    1. That WY, UT and NM trip sounds AMAZING!!!! Hopefully, you will have time to hit the trails next time you are in town! So many pretty hikes to choose from in the Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest. Hopefully, by then my library of trail write-ups is much bigger too. 🙂

  2. The group photo at the plaque is absolutely adorable. They are such a lovely squad. That last pic with you and Xena is just so sweet. A real heart melter. Oh and the scenery was stunning 🙂

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