Objective: Summit Echo Mountain, San Gabriel Mountains, California
Distance: 5.4 miles (out and back)
Peak Elevation: 3,176’
Elevation Gain: 1,400’
Echo Mountain is just above the foothills on the lower slopes of the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains. The great thing about this trail is how near it is to the northern edge of Altadena and Pasadena. While you are there, check out the ruins from the Mount Lowe Railway, observatory, and hotels.
Directions to Trailhead
From Pasadena, head north on N Lake Avenue. You will drive about 3.5 miles from the 210 through Altadena to the end of Lake Avenue. Once the road turns left onto Loma Alta Drive, you can easily find street parking on Lake or Loma Alta.
Directions to Summit
Trailhead: The trailhead is at the gate at the corner of Lake and Loma Alta. Begin hiking on the Sam Merrill Trail.
0.10 miles: Follow the sign to stay on the trail; the trail makes a left turn after the water fountain.
2.60 miles: At the junction with Mount Lowe Railway Trail, turn right to stay on the ridge and the trail.
2.62 miles: At the junction with Middle Sam Merrill Trail, keep right to stay on the ridge and the trail.
2.70 miles: You have reached Echo Mountain. Turn around and head back.
The trailhead is at the giant gate to the old haunted Cobb Estate. Follow the crumbly road until it turns left. Continue on the Sam Merrill Trail as it curves north up a slope between Las Flores Canyon and Rubio Canyon. The trail is sandy and narrow at spots with steep cliffs. It has nice shade and reddish-brown buckwheat, yucca, and red wildflowers.
Just under a mile, a small bench marks the beginning of half a dozen switchbacks to the ridge. So far, at about 1.3 miles from the start, you pass under an electricity tower. Before dusk, this is the land of the blackish-bluish lizards and tarantulas.
After another 1.3 miles, you have reached the ridgeline, which flattens out to Echo Mountain. It is hard to imagine an electric incline trolley, or funicular, from Altadena to this point. The rusted evidence of the Mount Lowe Railway is scattered along the ridge. Likewise, there are giant rusted cogs and train wheels on bits of twisted track. In 1893, Thaddeus Lowe dreamed of connecting Pasadena with Mt. Wilson, and the railway made it to Mt. Lowe. Echo Mountain was known as the “White City in the Sky” due to its white Victorian hotel. Some stairs are the only remains of the hotel.
From here, you can see LA in the distance, and on a clear day you can even see Catalina Island. At the far end of the ruins, there is an “Echo Phone” you can use to shout across Rubio Canyon. Basically, this is how Echo Mountain got its name. Remember to bring headlamps if you are descending in the dark.