California is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Where else can you visit the mountains, ocean, and desert in the same day? That’s why travel influencer and mountain climber Russell Hornsby fell in love with the state, where he spends most weekends exploring mountain peaks.
A former D1 collegiate track runner turned outdoor enthusiast, Hornsby has skilled up rapidly as a mountaineer and alpine rock climber over the past five years. He began on basic non-technical hikes of increasing difficulty. Soon he graduated to more serious, technical, and high-altitude climbs, way up in the alpine. And as his know-how has increased, so has Hornsby’s thirst for new vistas. To date, he’s climbed mountains everywhere from the Himalayas and Alaska to Ecuador to Peru.
Though his adventures have taken him further afield in recent years, most of Hornsby’s training is done in California, either in the Sierra Nevada Mountains or in the San Gabriel Mountains, which are just 60 miles east of LA — making him an excellent pick to guide us through a weekend at Mt. Baldy (technically named Mt. Antonio), the highest peak in LA county.
WHY MOUNT BALDY?
Mount Baldy is Hornsby’s go-to town for both training and spending downtime outdoors. He adores the village as a training ground and a weekend getaway. Even in summer conditions, Mount Baldy offers many scenic, beautiful hikes with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain.
Nature lovers who want to spend a weekend in the mountains will be happy to learn that Mount Baldy also offers good food, beer, and access to other adventure sports like skiing, depending on the time of year. If you’re in the market for an epic weekend spent in the San Gabriel Mountains, this is a gem that Hornsby believes is talked about far too rarely.
Where do you get the best view in Mt. Baldy?
I’d say the best view is definitely from the 10,064-feet summit of Mt. Baldy, which involves (at shortest) a 9-mile round trip hike with 3900-feet elevation gain. However, from the Mt. Baldy notch, which is a viewpoint at the Mt. Baldy Ski Resort, you can get great views of the valley leading up to Mt. Baldy, as well as the mountain itself and surrounding peaks. You can get here easily by either going up in a chair lift or hiking about three miles up the ski resort’s dirt service road.
The absolute best views can be seen along the “Devil’s Backbone” trail, which starts from the notch and leads to the summit.
What is your go-to restaurant for a post-climb bite to eat?
In the town of Mt. Baldy, there’s the Mount Baldy Lodge. You can play pool, there’s a warm mountain town atmosphere, and they have great burgers. The Mount Baldy Lodge is easily accessible off the road and has overall good food, a great selection of beers, and an awesome ambiance.
Best spot to drink a beer?
With a little more effort, the Top of the Notch restaurant would be the cream of the crop as far as the total experience goes, but the hours vary and the required hike or chairlift ride up adds another element of commitment. The only way to access it is by a 3 mile (6-mile round-trip) fire road hike, or to take the chair lift when in service.
Disclaimers aside, I really think anyone visiting should experience the Top of the Notch restaurant. Whether you’re a hiker, skier, or just a family wanting to experience the area, it’s one of the coolest restaurant and bar locations anywhere around. It has good food, a selection of beer, and an awesome location at 7800 feet in the mountains. It’s very popular during ski season as it is central to the ski resort runs and snow tubing area.
Best hiking trail in Mount Baldy for beginner to intermediate hikers?
While I wouldn’t consider Mt. Baldy itself to be an advanced hike, it’s all relative to hiking fitness. I would say Icehouse Canyon hike is best for true beginners, up to Icehouse Saddle. But Mt. Baldy Summit via Ski Hut trail or Baldy Bowl trail from the Manker Flat trailhead is a solid intermediate option. It is strenuous but doable for any beginner or intermediate hiker in moderate shape. Beginners can always stop at Ski Hut as well.
I’ll also mention that in the winter, casual day hikers without winter experience should avoid the area unless they are with an experienced individual, prepared for very cold temperatures, snow and ice, wind, and have proper mountaineering gear — microspikes at minimum, crampons, and ice axe. The conditions can get serious and every year there are injuries and even deaths up high, typically due to unprepared individuals.
Coolest place to stay or camp in Mt. Baldy?
For car camping, there is the Manker Flats Campground up the road towards the ski resort. For camping requiring a hike in, there are several locations throughout the San Gabriels area. Among them, there’s Kelly Camp in a beautiful forested area about 4.5 miles from the Icehouse Canyon trailhead and about one mile from Icehouse Saddle. And, of course, camping on the summit of Mt. Baldy is unmatched, but this should be for experienced campers only. It can get very cold and very windy up there and the summit is very exposed to the elements. The sunrises and sunsets are astounding, though, as well as the city lights at night from the 10,064-feet summit.
What’s something that everyone visiting Mt. Baldy should know?
It’s an amazing mountain area tucked only a short distance away from the greater LA area and Inland Empire metro expanses. I’d just advise anyone going hiking (especially in the winter) to do research on the trail they’ll be on and current conditions/weather. Everyone should come prepared and with good judgment. Also, keep the trailheads and trails clean. The outdoors are for everyone to enjoy and experience, but everyone also holds the responsibility to keep it clean and pack their litter out with them.