By: Brian & Ashley Skalsky
With the arrival of winter comes some of the
best hiking in Southern California. Winter is the perfect season for hiking as the trails are usually less crowded, the scenery is spectacular, and you can hike in the snow. While the Los Angeles basin does not usually receive any snowfall, the local Southern California Mountains receive plenty of snow and cold weather during a normal winter year. If you are looking for good winter hikes in Southern California look no further than the San Gabriel Mountains, the San Bernardino Mountains, and the San Diego Mountains. This post is a sampler of some fun winter hikes in Southern California’s Mountains.
San Gabriel Mountain Range
The San Gabriel Mountain Range is located in northern Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County. The higher elevations of the San Gabriel Mountains normally have snow and cold weather from the winter months to the springtime. If you are looking for a good winter hiking opportunity in the San Gabriel Mountains you might want to check out Mt. Islip in the Angeles National Forest. Mt. Islip stands at 8,250 feet in elevation and is one of the notable peaks in the High San Gabriel’s. The hike is 7 miles round-trip and has approximately 1,590 feet of elevation gain. From Mt. Islip’s 8,250-foot summit, the hiker is rewarded with an awesome panoramic view in all directions. On the summit of Mt. Islip you will discover the shell of an old stone cabin and the footings of a fire lookout tower that stood on the summit of Mt. Islip from 1927 to 1937.
San Bernardino Mountains
The San Bernardino Mountains are a high and rugged mountain range in Southern California. The highest point in the range is Mt. San Gorgonio which is at an elevation of 11,502 feet. One of the best wilderness camping locations in Southern California is Dry Lake which sits just below Mt. San Gorgonio. The hike to Dry Lake in the San Gorgonio Wilderness is a challenging winter hike as it is 14 miles roundtrip roughly 2,201 feet of elevation gain. Additionally, cold winter conditions can be present here even into early summer due to the high elevation. To day hike or overnight backpack in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, you must have an additional wilderness permit (The Permit is Free), in addition to the Forest Adventure Pass. You can obtain the additional wilderness permit early from the Mill Creek Ranger Station. Dry Lake is a beautiful seasonal alpine lake located in the San Bernardino National Forest and is a great place for pristine backcountry camping in the snow.
San Diego Mountains
The San Diego Mountains are less rugged than both the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Bernardino Mountains and are more accessible during the wintertime. Snow is typically only present in the winter and after cold storms and does not last as long due to the lower elevation. A great hike during winter in the San Diego Mountains is the hike to Cuyamaca Peak. Cuyamaca Peak is the second tallest peak in San Diego County, at 6,512 feet, and it offers sweeping vistas of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the greater Southern California area to those who reach its summit. On clear days, visibility from the summit of Cuyamaca Peak ranges from 60–100 miles in almost every direction. To the west, the Pacific Ocean, the Coronado Islands of Mexico, the coastline of San Diego County, Viejas Mountain, and El Cajon Mountain can be seen. Looking north, one can see 6,140-foot Palomar Mountain among the ridge of the Palomar Mountains. On very clear days the 8,716-foot Toro Peak in the Santa Rosas and the San Jacintos are visible.
Tips & Gear
Now that you have three different hikes to choose from for a cold winter hike, you must be prepared to undertake such a hike. One of the main things about hiking in the winter and during cold weather is to have proper gear. You will need a good pair of waterproof hiking boots if you are hiking in snow. Layers are key when hiking in cold weather. You will need a good “non-cotton” base layer, an insulating middle layer, and lastly a good outer layer that is wind and/or waterproof.
If you are hiking in snow, depending on the depth of the snow you might need snowshoes, gaiters, and trekking poles. Make sure to check the weather additionally before going hiking in the cold weather, as you don’t want to get caught in an unexpected storm or colder weather than you were anticipating. If you are going to be camping overnight in the snow you are going to need a good sturdy tent, warm sleeping bag, and a portable stove for meals. Bottom-line is for a winter hike in the cold, educate yourself about the hike, have proper gear, and tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back! Happy Trails!
Brian and Ashley’s Hiking Blog covers hiking in Orange County, Southern California and beyond with detailed trail write-ups, trail maps, and advice on well over 120 different hikes. Our focus is primarily on the greater Southern California area, but as you will see when looking at our trail write-ups we have been branching out and expanding into new areas. We have trail write-ups for hikes in Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park, Mt. Whitney, and even North Carolina and Kauai. Connect with us here on Facebook or Twitter.
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