34-1 Mt. Wilson Nature Trail
with Optional Side Trip on the Rim Trail

Participant: Jane Strong
Date: 22 October 1999

Overview: This nature trail was constructed by the Boy Scouts of Troop 101 in Pomona and was completed in January 1995. It has twenty stops naming trees, perennial plants, and telescopes. At the pavilion, there are shaded picnic tables, restrooms and trash cans; but the water fountains don't work. The Nature Trail is suitable for strollers and wheelchairs.

The views from almost anywhere are spectacular.

Directions: From SR2, the Angeles Crest Highway, turn right on the Mt. Wilson Road at Red Box. Drive ~4 miles to Mt. Wilson Observatory / Skyline Park. Park outside the gate on weekdays or if you plan to return after 4 pm.

Distance: Round trip on the Nature Trail only is a little over one mile; three miles if you take the optional side trip.

Elevation Change: Minimal

Season: All

Weather: Today was slightly smoggy and quite warm, a waning Santa Ana condition. Views to the south would be better on a clear day, although Pedro Hill loomed over the murk in the distance even today. Weather report said 100 miles visibility!

Trail condition: Keep to your left as you enter the park in order to be able to read all the interpretive signs. Then, when the road splits to go to the pavilion and the lookout point, again keep to your left. This section is on asphalt under the shade of canyon oak groves.

Time: One hour without the side trip.

Plants: Good example of mid-elevation evergreen forest: bigcone spruce, sugar pine, incense cedar, canyon oak, and an-honest-to-goodness ponderosa pine. Most so-called ponderosas around here are really Jeffreys or hybrids. A ponderosa is distinguishable from a Jeffrey pine by its cones. The ponderosa cones are smaller and pricklier. The tip of the scale sticks out, not down; so you can feel it if you press your hands around the cone. Remember the mnemonic, gentle Jeffrey, prickly ponderosa. Examples of each tree are labeled, as are deerbrush, milkweed and Grinnell's penstemon.

Bugs: Breathed and ate black flies.

Wildlife: Multitudes of California gray squirrels; deer and raccoon tracks on trails.

Views: Absolutely spectacular. Choose a clear day in late fall, winter or early spring. The views of the basin are magnificent and the views down the steep canyons are literally breath-taking.

Side Trip: Between stops 11 and 12, the Rim Trail begins. It goes on to Newcomb Pass. I missed this trailhead the first time and encountered three very kind, very concerned Forest Service gentlemen who were in the process of planning signs for the trail. One described in detail how to find the trailhead and then asked: did I know where I was going? did I know how far it was? did I have maps? did I tell anyone where I was going? what kind of car did I have? where was it parked? was it parked outside the gate? Well now, someone knows and will check to see if you come back! They described the trail as washed away in some places and hot. And please be careful!

The views are awesome! In contrast to the views from the Nature Trail which face south and cityward, these are mostly east over wilderness. The Rim Trail after contouring around and below the observatory structures comes out on a knife-like ridge. You can look back and see the deep-green, north-facing side of Mt. Wilson with the white towers nestled amongst the trees and the steep lichen-covered cliffs of the canyon. You can look northeast and see Mt. Waterman and Twin Peaks which stand out especially well. Far to the east is Baldy and Company. But the best view is down the West Fork to Cogswell Dam and along the ridge to Newcomb Pass and down the Santa Anita Canyon. I don't know if you can get this particular view from anywhere else. It is wonderful lesson on the geography of the mountains. You can see how the whole West Fork is laid out and the relationship of the canyons (Strain's, Shortcut, Devil's, West Fork, and Santa Anita) to each other.

The trail goes through oak groves and flats to the rim then spirals down very steeply to the ridge that leads to Newcomb's Pass. You only need to go to the beginning of the steep plunge to get the views.

See also:
The Mount Wilson Observatory Association

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Copyright © 1999 by Jane Strong.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Jane Strong
Last update: 22 October 1999