The Mount Baldy Ski Hut trail is one of the most scenic trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. After a snowstorm, it gets even better and provides a great opportunity for hikers to experience winter in Southern California.
Mileage: 6 Miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 2200 feet
Day(s) Hiked: 12/18/14
Dog Friendly: Yes
We love hiking in the snow and we love Mount Baldy, so this trip is a perfect fit. In an average or better winter, the upper areas of Mount Baldy remain covered with snow through the season, while the lower range usually melts out after a number days in the sun without a storm to replenish the snow. So, in order to get the full winter experience on this hike, it’s best to hit the mountain a day or two after a winter storm comes through and dumps a significant amount of snow.
The trailhead at Manker Flats starts at 6,000 feet, and the first section of the hike is an easy, fairly boring stretch up a service road before the Ski Hut trail veers off to the left up the mountain. If you hit the mountain on an ideal day, you can easily drive up to the trailhead without needing any chains, and by the time you reach the trail, it greets you with views like these:
Even with an abundance of snow, hiking here is pretty easy as long as someone else has hiked ahead of you and helped break trail. In fact, the trail is heavily used and well graded enough that it can be hiked in the snow with no special equipment necessary. Of course trekking poles and microspikes are helpful, but when the snow is soft after a recent storm it’s quite easy to just hike up the trail without them.
As the trail gains some altitude, some fantastic views open up down the canyon towards Los Angeles. With the trees and slopes nearby covered in snow, it’s easy to feel that much further removed from the city only a few miles away.
The Sierra Club Ski Hut is about 3 miles up the hill from the trailhead. From there, the trail continues up to the summit of Baldy on some steeper and more exposed terrain. So, some additional gear becomes important if you want to tackle this summit in the winter. Mountaineers prefer to hike directly up one of the many chutes in the Baldy Bowl. We were considering taking one of these two routes on this trip, but two winter storms had left more than 2 feet of snow on the mountain in spots, so we had to cut the hike short at the Ski Hut. Next time, I’ll bring snowshoes.
Our shortened itinerary meant that we had enough time to linger in the sun and snow below the Baldy Bowl. Callie seemed to like the new plan much more as she had an extended romp around in the snow. Not every hike needs to be an expedition.
Our descent was back down the same trail we took on the approach, and it went by pretty quickly without any surprises. A good thing in this case.
Snow in the lower elevations of the mountains was quickly melting off in the warm afternoon sun. As we made our way down the trail, the mountains became increasingly shrouded in clouds forming out of the melted snow. In my experience, this is a common occurrence in the San Gabriel mountains on a sunny day following a snowstorm, which is all the more reason to get an early start if you are attempting a summit.
As our winters in Southern California become increasingly dry and warm, it’s important to take advantage of opportunities like this when they present themselves. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the winter weather forecasts in hopes for more hikes like this one.