Adventure comes cheap (and steep!) at the Sierra Club’s Mount San Antonio Ski Hut in the San Gabriel Mountains. For $20 ($15 if you’re a Sierra Club member), you get secluded mountain-high lodging with stunning views. The teal-colored hut is no five-star hotel, though: beds are dorm-style, and water from a spring is pumped into the kitchen. But for hikers with their eyes on Mount Baldy, staying at the hut offers a 3.5-mile head start on the trip to the peak. The journey to the hut starts with three-tiered San Antonio Falls, appearing just 0.6 mile into the hike, off a spur trail. Though slimmer in summer, the falls’ ice-cold water is a great cool-off for hot feet. The trail narrows with the turn up Baldy Bowl Trail (Mt. Baldy Trail on the sign), beginning a 2,200-foot elevation gain via steep switchbacks. You’re in high country now, surrounded by granite boulders and a gorgeous open forest of Jeffrey pines and incense cedar that give off a faint vanilla aroma. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep as you approach your destination. The hut is perched on a ledge at 8,300 feet, with Telegraph Peak and Thunder Mountain in the forefront of sprawling views. Crane your neck to the north to see the pinnacled Baldy Bowl. A wood-burning stove inside the hut means a (welcome) hot dinner. Sit outside as dusk falls: the stars flicker on one by one, soon becoming a sea of tiny sparkling islands. Baldy-ful.
Take I-210 toward Claremont to the Baseline Rd. exit. Go left and make an immediate right on Padua Ave. Drive north to Mount Baldy Rd. Turn right and drive 7 miles to Mount Baldy Visitor Center and pick up a $5 National Forest Adventure Pass. Proceed up Mount Baldy Rd. past Manker Flats Campground and find roadside parking on the left near the Falls Rd. intersection. The hike begins on the paved Falls Road; proceed 0.9 mile to the signed Mt. Baldy Trail, and go left. (The trailhead can be easy to miss. Look for it 0.3 mile after San Antonio Falls, just after a left bend in the road.) The ski hut is reached after another 2.6 miles. Reserve an overnight stay on an available weekend. $1 donation for day use; overnight, $20 ($15 for Sierra Club members). The hut has running water, a fully-equipped kitchen, dishes, cookware, and solar lighting. Sleeping room for up to 24. Camping available by permission around the hut. Dogs aren’t allowed in the hut, but the hike is dog-friendly.