This is an extremely popular hike in the San Gabriel Mountains and one of the most popular hikes in Los Angeles and for good reason. The trail is easily accessed off the 210 Freeway in Pasadena by traveling north on Lake Avenue until it ends at a sharp left turn and becomes Loma Alta Avenue. On the outside of the curve are enormous stone pillars and gates of the Cobb Estate. You’ve found the trailhead. Continue on the paved part until it becomes dirt and then forks, and stay to the right.
More than just a hiking trail, Echo Mountain is a piece of Southern California history. It was the location of two famous hotels, the Echo Mountain House and The Chalet, an observatory and a zoo. Unfortunately, all that remains today are the bull wheel of an incline railway and the foundations of the buildings that were destroyed by wind and fire over the years. Beyond ruins, there are picnic tables in the shade of pine trees, great views of Pasadena and Los Angeles, and an echo phone as a great diversion.
The trail is mostly comprised of switchbacks as it climbs from the relatively level edge of Altadena to the top of the mountain. It is extremely well-maintained and mostly unaffected by runoff, unlike many other trails in the San Gabriels. The lower sections are also very smooth and hard packed which makes for quick hiking without worries about ankle turning. The upper sections, however, become much rockier and good shoes are a necessity to prevent sore or injured feet. Don’t take this advice lightly.
Where this trail is truly exceptional is in its views of Pasadena, Los Angeles and the LA basin. Hiked shortly after a rain, the views are incredibly clear to Downtown LA and beyond. Even better than a continuous exposure to views, the trail emerges from Las Flores Canyon every so often with a reminder of how quickly you are climbing and how flat the LA Basin is compared to the San Gabriels. There are often views of the switchbacking trail below as well. The trail ascends Echo Mountain at a remarkably steady grade.
We always take turns using the echo phone even though the results never vary. It is one of those pleasures that can’t be easily explained to someone who’s never done it before. Beyond the echo phone, there are ruins to explore, views to take in, and a break to be taken before the steady downhill hike back to the car. Echo Mountain is a great, reasonably short way to get in a workout and enjoy nature on the edge of the city.
There are typically crowds if you go in the late morning or early afternoon, but for those willing to start early or end late in the day, it isn’t unusual to have the top to yourself.
There are patches of poison oak on both sides of the trail. They are easily avoidable by keeping to the center, but be careful.