A long and winding journey through the new and rugged San Gabriel Mountains calls for an impressive picnic stop. The Upper Chilao Day Use Picnic Area offers just that, complete with a wide bench circle around a fire ring. Towering coniferous trees dot the area and provide a reprieve from the sun on a summer day. Note that it’s often closed from mid-November to mid-April due to snow and poor road conditions.
Just over 2 miles north of the Chilao Campground area off of the Angeles Crest Highway, that 0.5-mile-long by 0.25-mile-wide area is nestled into a small canyon with a small, seasonal creek cutting it almost perfectly in half. A road on the north side of the grounds cuts off of Angeles Crest Highway and heads toward the Chilao Visitor Center + Interpretive Trail. For both passersby and campers at the Chilao Campgrounds, the picnic area is usually a quiet getaway from any crowds.
These hills once served as a haven for horse thieves and bandits that came to the western United States in congruence with the cattle farmers. Purportedly, bandidos would steal horses from the valleys of Los Angeles and dissipate into the San Gabriel Mountains. Many of these bandidos and other thieves and denizens would utilize the vantage points around what is now Chilao as lookout posts. The most notable of these men was Tiburcio Vasquez, who, after rebranding the stolen horses, would head down the eastern flanks of the range into the desert and sell them to the mining communities that were always in high demand for the animals.
A number of excellent hiking trails are accessible from the area, most notably the 53-mile Silver Moccasin Trail that intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail. For hikers and cyclists, the network of fire roads are great for riding. Beware of snakes and the toxic poodle-dog bush.