John Muir once said “The mountains are calling, and I must go,” and the peaks of Southern California are truly a force to be reckoned with. The brute force of place tectonics is in full display here, along the California coast. The San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains form the heart of the only cordillera in the state of California to be oriented east-west. This is thanks to the smashing power of the Pacific Plate, rubbing as it does against the North American plate, and the mountains have twisted to their present-day location.
Fortunately these effects take millions of years to pan out. That leaves you plenty of time for at least a few billion ascents of these five Southern California classics. In our opinion, that might not be enough. Spend a day wandering through California forest among the cedar and fir and you’ll want to stay, too. The best part: you can. Consider it respite from the family get-togethers. Better yet, pile into the car together and get outside. Alas, ’tis the season!
Cucamonga Peak sunset views. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Rini Sugianto.
- Mount Hollywood: An easy choice. The most iconic peak in Los Angeles, if humble in elevation, has great views of Los Angeles and a host of points of interest along the way.
- Mount Baldy: At 10,064, it is the tallest peak in the San Gabriels. The route along the Devils Backbone passes San Antonio Falls. Combine with the Baldy Ski Hut Trail to create a loop.
- Mount Waterman: Along the Angeles Crest Highway, the summit of Waterman on a clear day has miles of views over the metro area and the Pacific Ocean.
- Mount Wilson: Thanks to a steady inversion layer, the observatory here enjoys incredible views of the night sky.
- Cucamonga Peak: This hike near Baldy may not get the same attention, but it is no less spectacular. This is an 11-mile round trip hike with over 3,000 feet in net elevation gain.
- Ontario Peak: Another hike in the Mount Baldy area, Ontario Peak is accessible from the Icehouse Saddle.
- Mount Islip: This amazing 7-mile loop involves several trails and a summit stop at Mount Islip, where you'll enjoy the views and maybe a refuel at the old stone cabin.
Morton Peak Summit. Photo by Outdoor Project Co-Founder Tyson Gillard.
- San Gorgonio: Much longer than the other routes here, the 8.9-mile route to the top of Old Greyback makes for a long day hike or a great overnight trip.
- Morton Peak: A short hike or ride up a service road to the Morton Peak Fire Lookout Tower yields big views of the Inland Empire
- Bertha Peak: This challenging hike rewards with unrivaled views over Big Bear Lake and the surrounding mountains.
- Grand View Point: You can get close by car, but taking the full day for an out-and-back is so much more rewarding. You'll have excellent views of the San Bernardino Valley, Big Bear Lake, and San Gorgonio Mountain.
- San Jacinto: The Marion Mountain Trail is one of the toughest up Jacinto, the second-tallest peak in Southern California.