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Jonathan Stull | 09.26.2016

The Angeles Crest Highway cuts east to west across the San Gabriel Mountains for 66 miles through the chaparral and montane forests of one of Los Angeles’ most accessible and rugged wilderness areas, and, as once described by John Muir, some of its thorniest.

Construction on the route began in 1929 and was intended to create a scenic loop that connected with Route 62, now State Route 39, above Crystal Lake Recreation Area. It took work crews 27 relentless years to blast through the granite slabs and bore through the rock of the San Gabriel Mountains, and the project finally reached completion in 1956. Until 1978, the loop served commuters and recreationalists in Los Angeles, but the forces of erosion and gravity whittled away at the route until a landslide severed the connection permanently.

Today the east to west route remains as one of the most rugged and beautiful scenic byways in California. Its low total mileage, proximity to Los Angeles, and natural beauty make it ideal for a weekend away from the bright city lights. Here’s an itinerary to wind along its sinuous route through the San Gabriels.

Begin your journey on the western and closest access point to the Angeles Crest, at La Cañada Flintridge. First objective on a Friday afternoon: find a campground, where you’ll spend the next two nights. At Chilao, there are two loops each for single and group camping, the former at Little Pines Loop and Manzanita Loop. There are 82 sites between the two loops, and Little Pines is open year round. Between the two, Manzanita Loop is more favorably shaded. A short drive past Chilao is Buckhorn Campground, where you’ll have the option to stay the night in an old-growth grove of Jeffrey pine and cedar. Sites at Buckhorn are spacious and scenic, and the campground should be your first option.

Saturday morning brings hikes at Chilao. Check into the Chilao Visitor Center and acquaint yourself with the land and its history. From here you have two excellent longer hike options that will take you into the rugged San Gabriel terrain. If you prefer something mellow or have toted your young children along, find your way to a section of the Silver Moccasin Trail, which boasts big views of Big Tujunga Canyon. Pause for lunch at the day use area at Upper Chilao and prepare for your afternoon challenge. Brave Devil’s Canyon’s hazardous initial descent into pristine San Gabriel wilderness and a waterfall deep in the canyon, then return to camp to kick up your feet for a well-earned meal under the stars.

Sunday brings a long drive home, but not before one last hurrah. Cooper Canyon Falls is a scenic, 25-foot cascade and swimming hole just 1.6 miles from Buckhorn Campground. Although its best runs occur during the spring, it is nevertheless a fantastic way to end a weekend along the Angeles Crest. Ease into your workweek and your route home with the beautiful drive east to State Route 138.


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