Hike to Echo Mountain Lookout in the Angeles National Forest
The 5.5-mile out-and-back adventure to Echo Mountain Lookout via the Sam Merrill Trail is not only an instant Angeles National Forest gem, but also one of the coolest treks in the entire lower half of the state.
From the paved trailhead, start down the wide tree-lined path to the ravine, then turn left and follow the singletrack path to switchbacks and 1,500 feet of elevation gain. The trail can feel challenging, and the rewards are worth it: Views of the San Gabriel Valley stretch to downtown Los Angeles and out to Orange County and the Pacific Ocean on clear days. You’ll pass by chaparral classics, including the white bloom bunches of towering yuccas and the taco leaves of laurel sumac, and mile marker posts as you hug the granite walls. After about 1.5 miles, you will also be treated to views into the canyon and soon pass under power lines.
At the 2.5-mile mark the path plateaus and you’ll see ruins of the old Mount Lowe Railway (the country’s only scenic, electric mountain railroad) and interpretive displays recounting the site’s fascinating past. This spot was once home to the Echo Mountain House Resort, a Victorian 40-room chalet that opened in 1893 that eventually expanded to 80 and included an observatory, tavern, tennis courts, casino (dance hall), and even a zoo. Natural disasters, including powerful Santa Ana winds, fires, storms, and floods, all contributed to its demise and abandonment in 1937.
Today, you can explore the preserved ruins and refuel at the picnic area under the pines amid vibrant bluebells and other wildflowers. Explore the north end of the ruins to find the echo phone and listen to your yells—or yodels—bounce across the San Gabriels.
BONUS POINT: Add 5 miles (total) to the trip by taking a sharp left at the point where the Sam Merrill Trail plateaus at the ruins. The trail leads up to Inspiration Point, via another 1300 feet of elevation gain.
To get to the Sam Merrill trailhead, take the I-210 and exit Lake Ave., heading north. After 3.5 miles you reach the base of the mountains, the end of Lake Ave., and plenty of street parking options. The paved trailhead starts behind the Cobb Estate gate at the corner of Lake Ave. and Loma Alta Dr. in Altadena, marked by signage briefly documenting your historical hike. Dog-friendly!
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