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Mt. Lowe Historic Railway Tour

  4.0 ( 10 ) Favorite


11.5 mile 18.4 kilometer loop


Ascent: 2,686' 819 m
Descent: -2,686' -819 m
High: 4,523' 1,378 m
Low: 1,850' 564 m


Avg Grade: 9% (5°)
Max Grade: 35% (19°)


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Trail shared by John McKinney

A great hike around an historic railroad grade and up to Inspiration Point.

John McKinney

Features Views · Wildflowers


A nice 11.3-mile hike that uses the Lower Sam Merrill Trail 12W14.1 to reach the historic Mt. Lowe Railroad Tour, and then descends Castle Canyon Trail #12W28. Those with less energy or time can visit the ruins on Echo Mountain and return the same way.

Need to Know

Make sure you download or print off a free copy of the free e-book/brochure "Self Guided Hiking Tour of the Historic Mt. Lowe Pacific Electric Railway, Angeles National Forest" by the United States Forest Service! It will make your self-guided interpretive tour, much more enjoyable and informative.

There are no restrooms at the start of the trail or on Echo Mountain. The nearest restroom is at Farnsworth Park on Lake Ave., 3 blocks south of Loma Altra Dr. This is a very popular trail, and it can get very warm. Dogs often suffer due to heat and lack of water. Do not cut switchbacks which cause extensive trail damage.


This hike makes for a long day but the views are worth it. There is not a lot of shade on this hike, so make sure to plan accordingly and get an early start, so that you're heading down before the midday heat.

From the corner of Lake Avenue and Loma Alta Drive, pass through the iron gate of the Cobb Estate and go east about 0.1 miles to the start of the Lower Sam Merrill Trail 12W14.1. The trail descends and crosses a usually dry stream bed before climbing an easily manageable grade. The route passes through open chaparral of laurel sumac, sage, scrub oak and ceanothus with occasional shade from live oaks. It climbs for about 2.6 miles where it meets the Echo Mountain Trail 12W14.A which joins from the north (do not confuse it with with the Middle Sam Merrill Trail 12W14.2, the next left heading north, or Castle Canyon Trail #12W28, the third left junction heading north, all of which are within 0.1 miles).

Most hikers come to visit the ruins of the old hotels and incline railway at the south end of the mountain. If this is your destination, you can find some nice shaded areas to take a break before returning back.

For those doing the full tour, return back to the junction with Echo Mountain Trail 12W14.A and Lower Sam Merrill Trail 12W14.1 then head north on Echo Mountain Trail 12W14.A to begin the interpretive hike (self-guided of course). For details about each of the ten stops, download the free e-book/brochure "Self Guided Hiking Tour of the Historic Mt. Lowe Pacific Electric Railway, Angeles National Forest" by the United States Forest Service.

The first two stops are on Echo Mountain Trail 12W14.A, which thankfully climbs at a slightly lower grade than the Middle Sam Merrill Trail 12W14.2.

At 3.4 miles, the Echo Mountain Trail 12W14.A ends at the junction with Mt. Lowe Road #2N50 and the third stop on the tour. Turn right on the road which keeps climbing but each of the tour stops offer plenty of opportunities to rest. The road enters a shaded forest of oak and bigcone spruce after a long switchback. A great resting point is Mt. Lowe Trail Camp, near stop number 9, at about 6.2 miles. The campground has shade, water, restrooms and picnic tables.

Continue on Mt. Lowe Road #2N50 heading south and at the junction turn right to take Muir Peak Road #2N50.A 0.2 miles to Inspiration Point at 6.6 miles. There are many sighting scopes mounted up here which look out over Santa Monica, Hollywood, the Rose Bowl, and the rest of L.A.

From here, take a right onto Castle Canyon Trail #12W28; the trail descends steeply, heading southwest down a series of switchbacks. The trail is about two miles long and ends at the intersection with Echo Mountain Trail 12W14.A and Middle Sam Merrill Trail 12W14.2. Turn right and then stay straight past the other intersections to head back down the Lower Sam Merrill Trail 12W14.1 to the trailhead.

Thanks to John McKinney, The Trailmaster, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about trails in California, check out his guides at The Trailmaster Store.

Flora & Fauna

Most of the route consists of open chaparral of scrub oak, ceanothus, laurel sumac, sage. There is some shade from live oaks on the lower trails and bigcone spruce along the upper part of the road and in Castle Canyon.

Watch out and avoid poison oak.

History & Background

In the 1890s, Professor Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe (a famous rich guy) joined forces with David J. MacPherson (an engineer) to build a railway to, and a resort complex on top of, the San Gabriel Mountains. Passengers took a trolley car part way up Rubio Canyon, where they transferred to a cable-hoisted incline car that went to the summit of Echo Mountain. Here, the two built hotels, a power plant, gardens, residences, a small zoo, and other features of a small city.

Soon after Echo Mountain was built up, they began working on a railway extension to the top of Mt. Lowe, however money ran dry and the railway was never finished.

The whole rail system and resort area changed hands several times and in the early 1900s became immensely popular for a number of years, offering millions of visitors fine hotels to stay in and spectacular views of southern California. But in the 1930s, a fire destroyed the Alpine Tavern and hotel, and as a result of the depression it was not rebui

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Jun 25, 2019
Peggy Grimes
I started hiking from town. Mileage is from E Loma Alta Dr. Cheney Trail to Sunset Ridge Trail. Poison oak on this section. On to Echo Mt. Back by roa 8.6mi — 3h 10m
Apr 27, 2019
korina riggin
What a great hike! Ton of people at first. Informational signs along the way about the RR. Nice to get above the smog/fog, hear the birds and streams 12mi — 5h 00m
Apr 20, 2019
Melissa Ruiz
11.8mi — 6h 30m
Feb 9, 2019
Nicole Zur
Dec 23, 2018
Tina Bach
Dec 16, 2018
Yukiko Matsumoto
Jul 4, 2018
Yukiko Matsumoto
Jun 20, 2018
Yukiko Matsumoto

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