Angeles Crest Highway Southern California Road Trip. Nothing characterizes southern California better than a road trip. And with 1,000 of miles of roadway, drivers will never run out of options.
That’s why a short trip over the Angeles Crest Highway from La Canada to Mountain High in Wrightwood is the perfect way to spend an day exploring California’s history and unique geography.
Starting from the City of La Canada, the Angeles Crest Highway crosses the rugged terrain of the San Gabriel Mountains and rises to over 10,000 feet at its peak. As travelers journey along the highway, the Antelope Valley can occasionally be seen in the distance.
The first stop along the route is Mount Wilson. Situated high above the City of Pasadena at an altitude of 5,715 feet, Mount Wilson is home to the first television antenna, which was erected in 1947. Today there are over 20. Located on the summit of Mount Wilson is the observatory, which is visible from much of the Los Angeles area.
Here visitors can view the historic Hooker 100-inch telescope from the visitors’ gallery inside the dome and the small astronomical Museum on the observatory grounds. The observatory is also a great place to grab a bite to eat at the Cosmic Cafe sandwich shop, before continuing the trek across the Angeles Crest Highway.
Not far from Mount Wilson, midway along the route, is the Mount Waterman Ski and Snowboarding Area. More modest than Mountain High, this is the closest resort to Los Angeles and is less than an hour away. It’s a small alternative, with only three chairs, but it has terrain for all levels.
Continuing east, the San Gabriel Mountains are bounded on all sides by faults and the rocks that show their geologic history. The road is constantly under attack by falling rocks, but many measures have been taken to keep them off the roadway, including two magnificent tunnels built in 1950. Even so, after heavy rainstorms or snowmelt, it is not unusual for the road to be closed for weeks at a time, and a portion of the road is closed during the winter.
Next along the way east, is Dawson’s Saddle, the highest point along the Angeles Crest Highway at an elevation is 7,903 feet.
Named for Ernest Dawson, the President of the Sierra Club in the mid-1930s, and owner of Dawson’s Book Shop, the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the city of Los Angeles, since 1905, hikers can take the Dawson Saddle Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail or to Baden-Powell summit, where the “The Waldron tree” stands over 1,500 years old.
Hikers can enjoy the view from the summit, then return via the same route, or take a different trail to Vincent Gulch where there is access to many hiking trails, as well as the Grassy Hollow Visitors Center, which is open on the weekends. The visitors center also hosts a variety of activities and displays for visitors to learn about the surrounding forest and its creatures.
Also here, there is a picnic area and a group campground. At nearby Inspiration Point, hikers can look down at the east fork of the San Gabriel River, far below in the distance.
A little further east is the small mountain community of Wrightwood, often called The Land of Four Seasons.
Located on the Pacific Crest Trail, Wrightwood is a town full of history and the best way to learn about it, is at the Wrightwood Historical Society Museum, housed in the town’s old firehouse.
A hub of outdoor activity, there is always something happening in and around Wrightwood, from Mountain High Ski Resort in the winter to biking, or swimming, boating and fishing at nearby Silverwood and Jackson lakes in the summer.
Jackson Lake is a natural pond formed by the San Andreas Fault, which runs directly underneath the lake. The lake is stocked with fish, and non-motorized boats are allowed on it. There are picnic grounds here, and many campgrounds in the area.
There are also plenty of quaint shops and family restaurants, making Wrightwood the perfect place for a day of relaxation. Or for those that want to stay a few days to absorb all that the area has to offer, there are plenty of lodging options from comfy bed and breakfasts, to cozy cabins, or a contemporary vacation home.
A side trip to nearby Saint Andrews Abbey, a male Benedictine monastery of the Congregation of the Annunciation located in Valyermo, or golf at nearby Crystalaire Golf Club, is also available for those that plan to stay a few days.