Mount San Antonio, more commonly referred to as Mount Baldy, is the tallest point in Los Angeles County, as well as the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. On a clear day, its summit dominates the Orange County and Inland Empire skylines, and alternatively, gives those who set out to climb its 3,800-foot trail a panoramic view of the diversity of Southern California - from the high desert environments of Antelope Valley and Victorville to the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain peaks to the flat metropolis of the populated coastal region to the radio towers atop Mount Wilson and the backdrop of Los Angeles.
Of the ways to reach the summit of Mount Baldy, the Ski Hut Trail - named for the Sierra Club-built and maintained ski hut (generally open on weekends and rentable with prior coordination) - is the shortest and steepest route. This also makes it a little less crowded than the more gradual Devil's Backbone Trail or the much longer Bear Canyon Trail. But if you're willing to take on the challenge of the leg-busting elevation gain, you're rewarded with a more shady and scenic climb along with a respite at the benches surrounding the ski hut that overlook the cascading San Gabriel mountains dropping toward the populated regions. This trail also passes near the headwaters of San Antonio Creek, a year-round creek that flows down a waterfall near the beginning of the trail.
After following a paved and then gravel fire road for the first 0.9 miles, an easy-to-miss trail veers left from the fire road and seemingly right up the forested mountainside in a series of switchbacks that rises 1,500 feet before reaching the ski hut.
From here the trail traverses the bottom of Baldy Bowl, the bare portion of the mountaintop visible from so much of the lower area of Southern California. It may become hard to follow the trail over the scree, but eventually you'll continue climbing amongst the sugar pines on the opposite side of the bowl. From here it is steep climbing up loose rock and switchbacks as you climb out of the tree line and onto the bare summit of the mountain. Hastily constructed wind shelters dot the summit, and the harsh cold winds, even in the middle of the day, will explain why. But taking in the views gives an opportunity to forget the climb.
It is possible to incorporate the slightly-longer Devil's Backbone Trail to loop back to the trailhead from here. And the cold cascades of San Antonio Falls may seem a lot more appealing to hikers on the way back down!
Adventure Passes and wilderness permits are available at the Mount Baldy Visitor Center (909.982.2829), though the visitor center seems to keep extremely unreliable and sporadic hours. Mount Baldy Trout Pools, located about quarter-mile up the hill from the visitor center, also sells Adventure Passes.
Aside from a bar, there are next to no services in Mount Baldy Village. Make sure you pick up all of your supplies before leaving the metro area and heading up the hill.