Devil ’s Backbone Trail: From Baldy Notch via ski lift, then to Mt. Baldy summit is 6.4 miles round trip with 2,200-foot gain; (without ski lift) 13 miles round trip with 3,800-foot gain

Mt. San Antonio, more commonly known as Mt. Baldy, is the highest peak (10,068 feet) in the mountains and visible from much of the Southland. Its summit gleams white in winter and early spring, gray in summer and fall. Old Baldy is so big and bare that it seems to be snow-covered even when it’s not.

Baldy is a bit austere from afar, but up-close, the white granite shoulders of the mountain are softened by a forest of pine and fir. Padres of Mission San Gabriel, circa 1790, named the massive stone bulwark after Saint Anthony, a 13th-century friar from Padua, Italy. In the 1870s, gold-seekers dubbed the massive peak a more earthly “Old Baldy.”

From Baldy Notch, Devil’s Backbone Trail offers a moderately challenging route to the summit. This popular trail is the one most hikers associate with Baldy. Clear-day views from the top offer a panorama of desert and ocean, the sprawling Southland and the Southern High Sierra.

An alternative is to walk up a fire road to Baldy Notch. This option adds 3 miles each way and a 1,300-foot gain to the hike. The fire road switchbacks up the west side of steep San Antonio Canyon, offers a good view of San Antonio Falls, then climbs northward to the top. This fire road is subject to closure. Check with the US Forest Service before you go.

DIRECTIONS:

From the Foothill Freeway (210) in Claremont, exit on Baseline Road and head west one block to Padua Avenue. Turn right and drive north 1.7 miles to a stop sign and an inter¬section with Mt. Baldy Road. Turn right and drive 7.2 miles to the national forest’s Mt. Baldy Visitor Center in Mt. Baldy Village, then a few more miles up to Manker Flats. To walk up the fire road, drive to the upper end of the Manker Flats Campground. Look for a vehicle gate and a paved road.

Those riding the ski lift will continue 0.25 mile past the campground to the Baldy Ski Lifts and free parking. Purchase a ticket and ride the ski lift up to Baldy Notch. (The lift is operated weekends and holidays all year.)

Mount Baldy Map by TomHarrisonMaps.com (click to enlarge)
Mount Baldy Map by TomHarrisonMaps.com (click to enlarge)

THE HIKE:

From Baldy Notch, a wide gravel path leads to a commanding view of the desert. Join a chair lift access/fire road, and ascend a broad slope forested in Jeffrey pine and incense cedar. The road ends in about 1.25 miles at the top of a ski lift.

From here, a trail leads onto a sharp ridge, the Devil’s Backbone. Look north down into the deep gorge of Lytle Creek, and south into San Antonio Canyon. Pass around the south side of Mt. Harwood, “Little Baldy,” and up through scattered stands of lodgepole pine.

Reach a tempestuous saddle (Hold onto your hat!) and continue on a steep rock-strewn pathway that zigzags past wind-bowed limber pine to the summit. Atop Baldy’s crown, rock windbreaks offer shelter. Enjoy vistas of San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain peaks, the Mojave and the metropolis.

Interested in more hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains? Check out my “HIKE the San Gabriel Mountains Pocket Guide at The Trailmaster Store.