2 Night Backpacking Options in SoCal Area?

11:14 a.m. on May 20, 2019 (EDT)
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I'm looking to do a 2-night solo backpacking trip within driving distance of Los Angeles in early June and would love some advice. I'm an experienced camper but a novice backpacker. In decent shape.

Day 1 I wouldn't be able to leave LA area until mid-day, which means realistically I won't have time for a long hike before dark night 1.

Would appreciate any and all suggestions. Looking to get away from the city to enjoy a bit of scenery and solitude... Thanks in advance!

4:23 p.m. on May 20, 2019 (EDT)
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I normally choose to camp in the San Gabriel National Forest, when I have limited time for my trip.  All of the venues mentioned herein are short drives to access.

Camping in the San Gabriel Mountains often requires you carry all water needed, as backcountry water sources often are only seasonal, or scarce.  The general rule of thumb is 1 gallon/person/day.

  • Ice House Canyon, up on Mt Baldy is a good overnighter.  Cedar Glen, about 3 miles in up a side trail, is a good site with seasonal water (There should be water in June, but check with the rangers in the village).  If one continues to Ice House Saddle and destinations 5 -7 miles further, you'll be dry camping.  Those well acquainted with the area know where to obtain water requiring no treatment, but I advise newbies to assume all water encountered on this trip requires treatment.  This is a very popular weekend venue.
  • The Mountaineers trail (trail to the Sierra Club hut), also on Mt Baldy, is much less used.  The trailhead originates at the end of the access road to San Antonio Falls.  You'll need to keep a sharp eye peeled for the location where the foot path branches left from the fire road, about a 1/2 mile up from the gate.  This hike has year round potable water from the creek as well as a spring below the hut.  Camp near the hut, then see what you are made of and go for the summit the next day.  It'll be a long but rewarding challenge.  Start out from your camp with a gallon of water, as the exposed ascent will make you sweat!  Awesome views on this hike!
  • Another less congested option is on Mt Wilson, camping upstream from where Long Canyon Creek converges with Aroyo Seco Creek.  I've always accessed this from above, via the Switzer Falls trail, because of the grand vistas it affords en route. All of the creeks passed en route that are indicated on the maps flow year round.  The two easternmost branches of Long Canyon Creek are potable without treatment, as no human presence is within the watershed higher up.
  • The Bear Creek Trail, off Rte 39.  This trail accesses the San Gabriel Wilderness.  The lowest trailhead for this hike is 1/2 mile beyond Rincon Station.  Alternatively you can enter the trail from the high end, about 1/2 mile down from Cold Brook camp ground, or another access point further up on Hwy 39, about 2 miles up from the highway fork to Crystal Lake.  Water from the tributaries draining into Bear Creek do not need treatment, but I would treat any water from Bear Creek itself that has a trail crossing it up stream of the source.  
  • A novel hike that travels the crestline of the San Gabriel Mountains is a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Little Jimmy Camp to Vincent Gap. You may also get to the crest from a mid way point called Dawson Saddle.  Anticipate any camping along this portion the PCT to be a dry camp.  This section of the PCT defines the northern border of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.

Ed

4:31 p.m. on May 20, 2019 (EDT)
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Good descriptions Ed. 

I hope Ice House Cyn is still like it was.  It was my favorite for a quick trip back in the 1970s.  Really good during the week and in the off season.

5:09 p.m. on May 20, 2019 (EDT)
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I am an alumni of the Claremont Colleges, located at the base of Mt Baldy.  Spent dozens of overnighters in Ice House Canyon.  Ice House Canyon is still about the same as it was in the 1970s, albeit the forest was thinned out in the 1980s by a wild fire that took out a lot of the old growth trees and many of the cabins.  Only a trained eye would notice the change, it is still very pretty.  Likewise the tavern at the mouth of the canyon is no longer, having burned down in the later 70s.  The parking area in front of the structure is enlarged, well graded and a dozen homes border this lot. 

The main trail up the creek is really popular on weekends in season.  The crowds quickly thin further in, however; city folk are lazy!  The Korean and Japanese communities have walking clubs that like to do the point to point tour between Ice House trailhead and the Mt. Baldy Notch.  They are large contingents, and polite, but unfortunately do not know trail etiquette - you just have to get out of their way when approaching from the opposite direction.  Passing them from behind is impossible, so I just make a rest stop of it and let them get some distance further along, before I resume my walk.

The upper reaches of the trail between Cedar Glen and Ice House Saddle are still narrow as ever and require caution even when the trail is in good shape; it seems almost every year people get careless and fall off the trail in summer, while some fools attempt the trail without the proper equipment in winter when it is icy and face the consequences.  Fatalities occur every few years.   

Ed

5:31 p.m. on May 20, 2019 (EDT)
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Thanks so much for your advice! Those all sound like great weekend options out of LA. A couple follow up questions:

  • Do any of the routes you suggested have a spot to camp for the night near enough in that I could leave LA mid-day (early afternoon) and have time to hike in to camp before dark?
  • Are any of those routes 2 night trips? Or are they all out-and-back 1 night trips (obviously I could just camp for two nights in the same spot. Just trying to get a sense of distance options)

Thanks again for the advice, really appreciate it. Very excited to get away for a few days :)

3:27 a.m. on May 21, 2019 (EDT)
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I have done overnighters on all of the trips listed, often under the same time constraints you describe.  You may have to avail to alternative camp locations than what you otherwise would choose with no time factors to consider.

The Bear Creek Trail and PCT section hike are long enough to extend into several days, if hiked from one end to the other, but are still suitable as a there and back covering part of the total trail length.  The Ice House Canyon Trail can also be extended  into several days by probing optional side trips.  Water will limit your options on all of these trips, except the Bear Creek Trail,  depending how you address this resource.  I suggest getting a trail guide from the book store or read up in the web; there is much published on the San Gabriel Mountains.  There are also several on line communities that are focused of So Cal trails and back country activities.

Ed

7:31 a.m. on May 21, 2019 (EDT)
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Nor really my turf, except that I did spend 6 mos. in Riverside. Seems to me there should be 2-might possibilities in the San Bernardinos. I have camped one night at Dollar Lake as a base camp for San Gorgonio, I think that was sbout 8 miles in so possible to get in before dark. Link that up with a hike along the ridge to another campsite and back to the car and you've got yourself a weekend!

Stovemeister Hikin' Jim is a sometimes presence on TS and has blog post on hikes in the San Bs.

9:15 a.m. on May 21, 2019 (EDT)
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My other favorite for a quick trip was the San Jacinto Mtns from Idylwild. 

10:38 a.m. on May 21, 2019 (EDT)
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I also like the San Bernadino National Forest options, but given the OP's time constraint he may find the traffic leaves too little time to hike into a camp in those areas.

Ed

7:18 p.m. on May 21, 2019 (EDT)
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Ed you mentioned a few online communities focused on SoCal trails. Would you mind sharing the names?

Also, is there a particular guide book you folks would recommend? Thanks again!

11:07 p.m. on May 21, 2019 (EDT)
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I spent just a few minutes digging these up:

http://tchester.org/sgm/sgm.html

http://www.sgmtrailbuilders.org/index.htm

http://mtsanjacinto.info/index.php?sid=7aeab142964110b0b89b0def32b49536

https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/angeles/recreation/hiking/?recid=41672&actid=51

https://www.hikingproject.com/club/7000478/san-gabriel-mountains-trailbuilders-sgmtb

I know there are forum communities similar to Trailspace that are focused on So Cal hiking areas.  Get out there and find them!  Use area or trail names as keywords, and include other keywords, such as hiking, camping, trail, etc.

There is also a table top topo map of the San Gabriel National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest I like to use for planning my hikes.  You can download PDFs or order hard copy thereof from the USGS map website.  Likewise you can obtain 7.5 and 15 minute topo maps of specific areas in these mountains.

I gave away all of my So Cal trail guides last year, and cannot recall the titles of my favorites.  Surely you local bookstore will carry a few titles that you can browse and choose from.

Ed 

 

December 6, 2019
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