The LA Observer, California.

  • Distance

    60 Mi.

    (97 KM)
  • Days

    2

  • % Unpaved

    70%

  • % Singletrack

    10%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    6

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    8,304'

    (2,531 M)
  • High Point

    5,700'

    (1,737 M)
The LA Observer is a short foray into the city's neighbouring Angeles National Park, via the unexpectedly steep and rugged folds of the San Gabriel Mountains. Reaching over 5,000ft at times, it offers bouts of flowing singletrack and a medley of abandoned dirt roads, set to one sweeping panorama after another. Time your ride right and it also promises the chance to ogle at Los Angeles' endless sea of illumination at dusk, or even from the comforts of your tent at nightfall...
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Rideable straight out of the city, the LA Observer connects Mount Wilson Observatory to Mount Lukens; the latter’s radio towers mark the highest point in LA city. En route, it reveals far-reaching views across this vast metropolis, a sprawling mass of humanity that stops only at the shores of the Pacific itself. In terms of terrain, the LA Observer includes miles of quality dirt, chunky, semi-abandoned two-track, and a fun bout of flowing singletrack to enjoy. In doing so, it shares an unexpectedly wild and beautiful side to Los Angeles. Look to one side and the sprawl of the city looks strangely alluring from such lofty heights. Turn to the other and crane your neck towards a wall of near vertical peaks, presided over by 10,069ft Mount Baldy, snowy capped in the winter months.

There’s a kicker, too. Given the relatively youthful age of the San Gabriels, the ride up Chaney Trail – initially an old and unkept paved road – is as steep as anything you’ve likely tackled, especially on legs that are barely warmed up. En route, it passes by the vestiges of the Alpine Tavern. The late 19th Century introduced a booming hiking economy within the growing city Los Angeles; a string of resorts built along San Gabriel’s front range made popular excursions for hikers and horse riders, reached by both a funicular and the old narrow gauge railway that once wended up into the hills.

With a 5000ft climb under your belt, the views from Mount Wilson Observatory come as welcome reward for such toils, preceding a wonderful ribbon of singletrack – Switzers Gabrieleno Trail – that makes quick work of funnelling riders back down into steep-sided canyons again. More grand views await in the form of the climb up to Mount Lukens, via Redbox ranger station. At over 5074ft, the radio towers at Lukens mark the highest point within the city proper.

Work over, it’s simple a case of enjoying mile upon mile of fun, noodly dirt roads that send you spiralling back down into the heart of the metropolis, with the promise of cheap and plentiful tacos to chow down once you’ve finished the plummet to sea level.

This is a ride that offers a great taste of the Angeles National Forest. It’s one that’s sure to surprise anyone who pegged Los Angeles as a sprawling, smoggy city and nothing more. Expect yucca, manzanitas, desert scrub and layers upon layer of golden, late afternoon light. In some ways, it’s a ride that feels like it’s both on the doorstep of LA, and at times, a hundred miles away.

Distance-wise, the route makes for an easy overnighter. But don’t forget to consider the short but painfully steep climb that winches you up into the San Gabriels – funicular grade – which is sure to provide a challenge for even the most experienced of legs. As an alternative to a night out, consider a late start and a campout at Mt Lowe Campground the first evening. Enjoy a mellow, view-filled ride the next day. Then hang back for one last stealth campout near Lukens before returning to the city in the morning, if only to experience the mind-blowing sight of LA’s glowing, beguiling sea of illumination, whilst perched thousands of feet above it…

A massive thanks to Kyle at the awesome Golden Saddle Cyclery for suggesting this route. Be sure to pop in and check the place out… it’s one of LA’s destination bike shops!

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Resources

    link

  • An unexpected sense of backcountry wilderness so close to the vast city of Los Angeles. #LASucksForCycling!
  • An incredible network of singletrack and abandoned dirt roads that extend far into the Angeles National Forest.
  • The surreal, shimmering sight of LA by night, from thousands of feet above it.
  • Poking about historic ruins within the forest that hark back to a once thriving hiking scene.
  • A visit to the Golden Saddle Cyclery, the social hub of LA riding.
  • Tom Harrison’s Angeles Front Country is the best trail map of the area.
  • Barring recent rainfall/snowfall, this is a great winter ride. Fall is perfect and early spring is good too, depending on snowfall. Summer temperatures can become searingly hot, even a higher elevations.
  • Trails in the front range are shared with hikers and popular at the weekend – fit a bell to your bike.
  • Watch out for rattlesnakes come the warmer months. Bobcats and even mountain lions frequent the forest and canyons too.
  • If you’re coming from Union Station, you can either ride or take the Gold Line Metro to South Pasadena – plenty of options to load up with food/water there – or take it to Lake station to save yourself a few city miles.
  • A few suggested sites are marked on the GPX file; note that most are likely dry barring recent rainfall.
  • It can be extremely windy at night, so bring a stout tent.
  • Given the potential critters, a fully enclosed tent is advised during the warmer months.
  • Water is a scarce commodity in the Angeles National Forest. Reliable sources are marked on the route. Fill up when you can!
  • Water spigots can be found at Redbox Ranger Station and Mount Wilson Observatory’s Cosmic Cafe (closed during the winter).
  • There’s sometimes snacks availableat Redbox but it’s best to carry what you need.
  • Downtown South Pasadeno has plenty of grocery stores (Vauns, Pavillion). There’s no shortage of great Mexican food too.
  • The route passes Estrella Taqueria, a cheap and cheerful, hole-in-the-wall that’s perfect for a quick taco fix!

Additional Resources

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Alex

    cool I did overnight here a while back. Cool place.

  • Dr J

    It’s amazing that such a remote, rugged area is so close to the center of the big city. Makes me think I live in the wrong place. Why we don’t have anything like it here on the east coast? In New England you need to ride for miles to get to a place you could call “relatively far away from civilization”.

  • John May

    This loop basically starts/ends from my front door. I should really do this.

  • Just added to the bucket list…

  • rocketman

    lots of other options once you get up on top… but that climb up Lowe is a monster

  • Daniel Mazza

    Could a cross bike work on this route?

  • Cass Gilbert

    Yes, though there’s a few lumpy trails dotted around, especially towards the end of the singletrack section.

  • Tony P

    Did the Observer this last weekend. Wildflowers abound. What a great ride and experience right outside the greater LA Metro area. An easy weekend getaway with awesome views. Thanks for the ride and camping experience!!!

  • Shawn

    Does anybody know a safe place to park the car at the starting point, a paid spot would also be ok ?

  • Neil Hubert

    Photos look rad! Mt. Willson toll road (fire road climb, accessed off pinecrest drive) is a good alternative to climbing Chaney Trail. Henninger Flats would be a good mid–climb campout spot for that route.

  • Matthew McIlhenny

    Can you provide the .gpx file for this ride? For some reason it’s not downloadable like many of the other great posts you have provided.

  • tylernol

    I may try this this late fall/winter with some friends in LA. Ideal time to do it? December or January?

  • Cass Gilbert

    Barring winter rain/snowfall (last year was an unusual year), I think Dec or Jan would be great. Chilly nights and warm days.

  • Cass Gilbert

    You can download the route for free via the Ride With GPS website – in whatever format you want. Just click on the ‘View Full Route’ icon.

  • Just added the GPX… there should be a download button under the map now…

  • Dave

    Your photo looks like you did this on a single speed set-up… WOW.

  • Gabrielle

    Thanks so much for this route info! Anyone have any ideas on a good spot for overnight parking for the ride?

  • I needed to get out of town due to the Thomas Fire, so Gregg D. and I did this loop last night. Great stuff. We didn’t start till around 2:30, but we rode until 9:30 last night. The water spigot at mile 25 is working nicely. The trail after that had some small downed trees, but not really a big deal to get around them. We skipped the Mt. Wilson out and back, but we did the Mt. Lukens out and back this morning (this mountain probably should be called Mount Cell Tower). We camped last night at the “possible camping” waypoint at mile 40 last night and the wind was blowing 40 mph all night. We should have packed more than 3 beers, because due to the crazy wind, sleep was not happening. Looking forward to coming back to this area and exploring more trails!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks for the update Erin. We camped at the 46 mile spot. If I remember rightly, it was pretty windy too, though my pyramid tarp is good in strong winds so I was fine. (Great views!) Looking back, I’ve noted potential windy conditions on the bluff campsite too, further up towards ‘Mount Cell Tower’… so I should probably just go ahead and add a warning to be wary of wind in general… and to bring a strong tarp or plentiful beers!

    The extension onto Big Bear Lake (the Baldy Bruiser) is really nice too.

    Cheers!

  • Cass Gilbert

    We were both riding Tumbleweed Prospectors with Rohloff Speedhubs.

  • Cass Gilbert

    I’ve ridden that one too and just love the campsite views at Henninger Flats!

  • Wind happens sometimes. I have a bad habit of picking campsites with good views.

    Hey do you know of a way to get from this route north to Liebre Mountain staying mostly on dirt? I see a few forest roads on the map that would probably work. Just curious what you think the best route would be.

  • Steven Coleman

    Is this route do-able on 40ish mm tires?

  • Kevin Liu

    Going to do this route this weekend! Does anybody know if any of the water sources marked on the Ride w/ GPS map are still available after the fire?

  • Justin Bailey

    Did this ride as an overnight. Parked close to the bottom of the Chaney Trail and climbed ~2700ft up to Inspiration Point at ~4500ft, just past Mt. Lowe campground, which was not appealing due the lack of views and the profusion of insects. The climb itself was possibly even steeper than advertised. Consistent double digit grades had me weaving back and forth and taking frequent breaks, but I also overpacked and haven’t bikepacked or toured in a coupld years. Strung up a hammock at Inspiration Point and slept with the LA lights on once side and the mountains on the other. Absolutely stunning. Beautiful 1400ft climb from there up to Mt. Wilson, but the park didn’t open until 10am so I cruised on. The climb up Grizzly to Mt. Luken is also a beast. Really steep at times, but less steep overall than Chaney Trail. However, very rocky and/or sandy and/or rutted. Not the coolest place to hang out at the top, to be honest. The descent down Mt. Luken Road was pretty rough. My brakes were struggling and the road was very rutted. The two conspired to send me toppling, but got away with only a little road rash. The climb was tough, but, honestly, I think I was more ready for the descent to end. I’m more of a road rider, though, so maybe more confident bikepackers can bomb down the way I’d bomb a descent on the roads. Awesome trip overall.

  • JB

    Thanks for the review, Justin. I’m looking to tackle this route soon.

  • JB

    Kevin – did you end up riding this route? Anything to share?

  • Kevin Liu

    Hey JB – Yes I did! The “first” water station (marked as Redbox) was definitely there and pumping out tasty water.

    I ended up leaving my residence in Northeast LA at around 2pm, and got to the Mt. Lowe trail campsite at around 5:30pm (with a decently chill pace). The climb is tough and definitely worth breaking up into two days. I ended up bringing two 26oz bottles and a 32oz nalgene, and didn’t have enough water in the morning for coffee (bummer I know). Bring more water than you think you’ll need, especially as LA starts to warm up. Pro tip: If you’re cool with being a little risky and doing the ascent in the dark, you end up saving more water and having a breathtaking view of LA as you ascend.

    It’s a great route with some excellent double track and some fun road descent sections. I did it on a drop bar All City space horse with 650b x 47 WTB byways, with 46/34 11-40t gearing. Could’ve definitely used some more gears on the lower end when loaded up like that.

    Amazing route and would highly recommend it!

  • Franklin Woods

    Cool route. Just a shame it goes on the 2 freeway.
    Sketchy!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Which freeway is that? It crosses a Freeway to get back into the city… but it doesn’t follow one…

  • JB

    Thanks, Kevin. I’m planning on pushing my Surly ECR up this trail sometime next month. I’m sure it will be pretty toasty, but I’m looking forward to the beating! Will let you know hows things roll. Thanks again for the input!

  • Daniel Joseph

    Nice infor, looking to do this memorial day weekend.

  • tim

    I’m looking forward for this ride…