A nice 11.3-mile hike that uses the Sam Merrill Trail
to reach the historic Mt. Lowe Railroad Tour, and then descends Castle Canyon Trail
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.
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 parking on Lake Avenue, start the hike by heading east on the Sam Merrill Trail
. From the iron gate of the old Cobb Estate, the trail follows a chain link fence. After crossing a seasonal creek in the canyon, the trail begins to ascend a consistent but easily manageable grade. The Sam Merrill Trail
climbs for about 2.6 miles where it meets the Mt. Lowe Railway Trail
, which joins from the north (do not confuse it with with the continuation of the Sam Merrill Trail
, the next left heading north, or Castle Canyon Trail
, the third left junction heading north, all of which are within 0.1 miles).
Some hikers may choose to start the tour from Echo Mountain and will head south to the ruins of the old hotels before heading back to the junction. From the junction with Mt. Lowe Railway Trail
and Sam Merrill Trail
, head north on Mt. Lowe Railway Trail
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 Mt. Lowe Railway Trail
(aka Echo Mountain Trail), which thankfully climbs at a slightly lower grade than the Sam Merrill Trail
At 3.4 miles, the Mt. Lowe Railway Trail
ends at the junction with Mt. Lowe Road
and the third stop on the tour. Mt. Lowe Road
keeps climbing but each of the tour stops offer plenty of opportunities to rest. A great resting point is Mt. Lowe Campground, near stop number 9, at about 6.2 miles. The campground has shade, water, restrooms and picnic tables.
Continue on Mt. Lowe Road
heading south and at the junction turn right to take Muir Peak Road a short distance 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
; the trail descends steeply, heading southwest down a series of switchbacks. The trail is about two miles long and ends at the intersection with Mt. Lowe Railway Trail
and Sam Merrill Trail
. Turn right and then stay straight past the other intersections to head back down the Sam Merrill Trail
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
There is not a lot of shade on this hike, but there is some at the Mt. Lowe Campground which is nestled under oaks and big cone spruce.
Watch out for Poodle-dog Bush as it is prominent in Angeles National Forest. After contact with skin, it causes rashes similar to poison oak and poison ivy. It is recommended that users wear long sleeves and pants while hiking in the area.
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 Gabirel 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