Compared to most nearly 9,000-foot mountains, Mount Pinos is almost a drive-up summit. Almost. Reach the top via a short, bountiful 4-mile (round-trip) hike that highlights some of the mountain’s best features. The Mount Pinos trail begins on the left side of the giant parking lot at the end of Mount Pinos Road in Los Padres National Forest
. From here, it’s 2 miles and less than 600 feet of climbing to the top. You’ll actually cross from Kern County into Ventura County while ascending through a forest of Jeffrey pine and white fir. Next, you’ll reach a pair of broad meadows brightened with yellow-blossomed rabbitbrush. At the second of the two meadows, where an Air Force microwave facility and solar panels command a rise, you can take a prominent side trail on the right. It leads in a few hundred yards to an overlook with spectacular views: everything from the checkerboard farmland of the Central Valley to the southern Sierra topped with snow and clouds. Keep your eyes open for California condors riding the thermals; Mount Pinos is a prime viewing spot. Double-back to the main route or continue steeply up the side trail toward the communications station, which sits atop the actual peak of Mount Pinos. Just beyond the peak, you’ll soon reach the mountain’s ceremonial summit. Enjoy top-of-the-world panoramas among wind-sculpted limber pines before returning the way you came.
TIP: If you’re up for more hiking, the Tumamait Trail continues several miles beyond the summit into the rugged backcountry.
Mount Pinos is about 22 miles northwest of the Frazier Park exit from Interstate 5. Follow Frazier Mountain Park Rd west for about 7.2 miles, and at the intersection with Lockwood Valley Rd, stay right onto Cuddy Valley Rd. In another 5 miles, you’ll reach a junction with Mil Potrero Rd, where you’ll follow signs for Mount Pinos as you stay straight for Mount Pinos Rd. Continue about 10 miles to the end of the road and park at the Nordic Center. Dog-friendly!