7 of the Best Hikes Southern California to Help Train for the Big Mountains

   7 of the Best Hikes Southern California That Will Help You Train For the Big Mountains   | Let’s face it, there are loads of great hiking trails in Southern California, but this list of hikes are not only some of the best hikes in SoCal, but they are also excellent training hikes for California’s fourteener mountains. Be ready for summit day with these 7 beautiful but leg busting hikes. You’ll be at 14,000 feet in no time! |  shedreamsofalpine.com

If you have your sights set on hiking and summiting some of California's well know 14er mountains, then you are probably well aware that training for these big peaks is a key part of your overall summit success. While there are tons of different ways to get in shape and train for 14ers, my favorite way is to hit the trails and bag some new peaks while I'm at it. That's why I've pulled together a list with 7 of the best hikes Southern California has to offer that will help you train for your big mountain dreams. These hikes below are beautiful, yet challenging, rewarding, yet leg-busting, and they will make training for 14ers such as Mount Whitney or Mount Langley much more enjoyable. 

There are an endless number of trails for hiking in Southern California, so how did I base my criteria for a great training hike? In my opinion, a great training hike will be at least 7+ miles long round trip and will have a minimum of 3,000+ feet of total elevation gain. Of course, if you are at the very beginning of your training regimen, you might start with lower mileage and elevation gain hikes, but if you've been training for a bit then these 7 hikes are great hikes to start throwing into your conditioning routine. It is also nice to get exposed to different elevations while on your training hike so you can start to learn how your body adapts to elevation change so you will be more prepared for your fourteener hike. All of the 7 hikes below meet this criteria and are sure to get you well conditioned for fourteener hikes and long backpacking trails. They are also just beautiful trails on their own and have easily accessible trailheads. All of these trails are also easily achievable in a day. 

If you're interested in learning more about getting prepared and training for fourteeners, check out these 7 tips to hiking and summiting your first fourteener mountain, where I go into much more detail about picking the right 14er mountain, planning for your summit, training, and more. 

read-more-14er-tips

7 best hikes southern california:

Much of the best hiking Southern California has to offer is located near Los Angelos and San Bernardino, but our list also features a hidden gem training hike located in the Kern River Canyon area near Lake Isabella and a hike that is located in Death Valley National Park. Below is a map showing the location of each of the hikes discussed below. 

   7 of the Best Hikes Southern California That Will Help You Train For the Big Mountains   | Let’s face it, there are loads of great hiking trails in Southern California, but this list of hikes are not only some of the best hikes in SoCal, but they are also excellent training hikes for California’s fourteener mountains. Be ready for summit day with these 7 beautiful but leg busting hikes. You’ll be at 14,000 feet in no time! |  shedreamsofalpine.com

I also reached out to 3 other local Southern Californian kick-ass female hikers who weigh in on their favorite Southern California hikes to help them stay in shape and train for fourteeners.  

So without further ado, here are 7 of the best hikes in Southern California to help you train for your next big adventure. 

1. Mount Baldy

 Devil's Backbone trail on Mount Baldy hike.

Mount Baldy Quick Facts:

  • Height: 10,064 ft. 
  • Trail to summit: Baldy Bowl Trail to Devils Backbone to Manker Flats Trailhead
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Total Milage: ~10 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 3,900 feet
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking? National Parks Adventure Pass required
  • Fun Fact: Also known as Mt. San Antonio

Mount Baldy, also known as Mount San Antonio, is one of the most popular training hikes in the Los Angelos area. You can find people hiking the trail to Baldy summit year round, although, in the winter it typically requires special snow gear and mountaineering skills to reach the summit. It makes a great summer and fall training hike though due to its intense elevation gain and leg burning switchbacks on the Baldy Bowl Trail. It is also a really beautiful and interesting trail because you are able to make a loop up the Baldy Bowl Trail and go down its well know "Devil's Backbone" trail (shown in the picture above) to the Manker Flats Trailhead. Many people even hike up to Baldy summit and then hike down to the Mount Baldy Ski Area via the Devil's Backbone Trail and take the ski lift (which runs in the summer months) the remaining way back down to Manker Flats Trailhead, saving a little wear and tear on your knees from all the downhill hiking. It's a fantastic trail, but also very popular. If possible, try to visit the trail during the weekday when it is less busy. Otherwise, be prepared to share the trail with the locals and oftentimes their pets (yes, it's pet friendly!). Make sure to check the trail conditions before visiting Mount Baldy because snow can stick around on this peak well into the month of June. The Devil's Backbone trail can be particularly dangerous if it has snow or ice on it because of it's steep drop offs. If Devil's Backbone looks unsafe to hike, stick to the Baldy Bowl Trail. Also be sure to keep an eye out for San Antonio Waterfall when hiking up the Baldy Bowl Trail! Whether you are training or not, this is an excellent hike and should be at the top of your Southern California hiking list. 

For more trail information, check out our complete guide to hiking Mt Baldy

2. Telescope Peak

 Hiking Telescope Peak

Telescope Peak Quick Facts:

  • Height: 11,049 ft. 
  • Trail to summit: Mahogany Flat Trailhead
  • Type of Trail: Out and Back
  • Total Milage: ~13 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 3,300 feet
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking? No
  • Fun Fact: Telescope Peak is the Highest Point in Death Valley National Park

People don’t often think about hiking mountains when they think of visiting Death Valley National Park, but that is the beautiful thing about Death Valley. It is so diverse in landscape and plants, you can explore the sand dunes one day and summit a mountain the next. Telescope Peak is one of the best hikes to do if you have time during your visit to Death Valley National Park. It makes an excellent training hike with its 13 mile length and over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The trail starts at Mahogany Flat Campground and is very straight forward to follow, and it makes for an easily accomplished day hike when visiting Death Valley. On the way to Telescope Peak Summit, you’ll wind your way through switchbacks and gain epic views of the Death Valley Basin, and if you look out even further you can see the Sierra Nevada Mountains stretching out in the distance. You will be standing tall at 11,049 feet when you reach the summit of Telescope Peak, which is great total elevation exposure. The best time of year to do this hike is late fall to early winter. You just need to check before your visit if there is any snow during the wintertime, it will depend on if the Sierra Nevada’s are having a heavy snow fall year or not. Poles will be useful on the downhill, and make sure to bring plenty of water as there are no water sources along the trail. Definitely put this challenging yet enjoyable day hike on the top of your list next time you visit Death Valley National Park and on your list of best hiking trails in Southern California.

For further details, check out our ultimate guide on hiking Telescope Peak, and also be sure to check out our guide to a great weekend in Death Valley National Park

3. San Bernardino Peak

 Summit of San Bernardino

San Bernardino Peak Quick Facts:

  • Height: 10,649 ft. 
  • Trail to summit: Angelus Oaks
  • Type of Trail: Out and Back
  • Total Milage: ~16 miles roundtrip
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,600 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking? National Parks Adventure Pass required
  • Fun Fact: With its almost 5,000' of elevation gain, this makes it one of the best training hikes for Mt. Whitney (along with San Gorgonio, see below!)

>>> Meet Micha! Micha is a "Mompreneur" and an outdoor adventure blogger at The Pink Hat Hiker. She is also an ambassador for Mountain Chicks (the all-inclusive women's adventure group) in Southern California. Below Micha weighs in on San Bernardino and what makes it one of the best hikes in Southern California to train for the big mountains.

San Bernardino, with its prominent peak looming over the Inland Empire, is one of the most scenic hikes in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Coming in at just over 16 miles, with nearly 4,600 feet of climbing elevation, the out and back trail from Angelus Oaks makes for a great training peak! The rocky summit sits at 10,649 feet above sea level where the air is thin and the tree line disperses. To get there, you’ll trek through groves of manzanita and forests of pine and oak trees. There is also a seasonal creek where you can refill your water during the cooler months. Just be sure to bring a filtration system with you. The crowing jewel of this Six Pack of Peaks mountain are the views. From the sweeping, picturesque  landscape of the valley below, to the panoramic outlooks of the Inland Empire and far off scenes of both Mount Baldy and Big Bear Lake, this trail is hands down the most beautiful training peak in Southern California. You will need an Adventure Pass to park in the medium sized dirt lot in Angelus Oaks.  A higher clearance vehicle is also recommended to go down the uneven dirt road that takes you to the lot. I made it there in a Toyota Yaris the first time I climbed it, but I wouldn’t drive down it in that car again. Also, as of 2018, no permit is required for day hikes. There is however a group limit of 12 people. If you intend to make this a multi-day backpacking trip, you can obtain a permit from the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association.

 

4. San Gorgonio Peak

 Summit of San Gorgonio

San Gorgonio Peak Quick Facts:

  • Height: 11,503 ft. 
  • Trail to summit: Vivian Creek Trail
  • Type of Trail: Out and Back
  • Total Milage: ~18 miles roundtrip
  • Total Elevation Gain: 5,957 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking? National Parks Adventure Pass required
  • Fun Fact: Highest Peak in Southern California

>>> Meet Morgan! Morgan Taylor is a 17 year old badass mountain chick. She and her dad love hiking and this year they have taken on the challenge of hiking the six pack of peaks in Southern California. We became connected through the She Dreams of Alpine Newsletter and I was inspired by her and her dad's peak-bagging ambitions. So I reached out to her to ask if she could tell me about her favorite training hike so far. Morgan weighs in below on one of the best Southern California hikes: 

My dad and I love hiking and have taken on the challenge of completing the six pack of peaks of Southern California. So far we have completed San Gorgonio, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto, but have yet to conquer Cucamonga, Wilson, and Baldy. Out of the three we have finished, Mount San Gorgonio has been my personal favorite by far. My dad and I completed the hike in September of 2017, which I would definitely recommend because it allowed us to avoid both the over-100 degree weather common during the summer in SoCal and the snow that falls in November and December. My dad and I chose to hike from the Vivian Creek trail, which has a set of steep switchbacks that are killer, but relatively brief. From there, we followed a beautiful trail abundant with greenery, although once we hiked above the tree-line, there were only sparse plant and animal life. A positive aspect of hiking from Vivian Creek is that it offers another opportunity for water to filter, besides just High Creek, which is farther along the trail. When you’re hiking 18.81 miles (as recorded by my watch), it’s best to pack as lightly as possible; my dad and I ended up bringing only a couple liters of water, then refilling them along the way. Another aspect of San Gorgonio to take into consideration is the altitude- at 11,503 feet, with a 5,957 foot elevation gain, it’s the highest peak in Southern California, but the elevation makes this peak an amazing training hike for above 14-ers; it allows your body to adjust to a low concentration of oxygen. Overall, the mileage and the elevation is what makes the journey to Mount San Gorgonio an amazing training hike for peaks above 14,000 feet.


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5. Powers Peak

 View from Powers Peak Summit

Powers Peak Quick Facts:

  • Height: 5,778 ft. 
  • Trail to summit: Cannell Meadow Trailhead
  • Type of Trail: Out and Back
  • Total Milage: 10 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 3,200 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking? No!
  • Fun Fact: Get the best views of Kernville and Lake Isabella from the Powers Peak Summit, and enjoy a beer at Kern River Brewing Company after your hike

The Powers Peak hike is sort of a Kern River Valley hidden gem. It isn't one of the most well known hikes in SoCal, but in my opinion, it ranks up there as some of the best hiking in Southern California. Sitting at 5,778 feet, the summit elevation may seem pretty low key at first glance, but the 10 miles round trip hiking and 3,200 feet of elevation will prove excellent training for your fourteener peaks. Unlike the popular hiking trails of Los Angelos and San Bernardino, Powers Peak is much less crowded and you can oftentimes find yourself hiking alone for miles on end. The trail is beautiful and the summit takes you to the best views in Kernville, looking out over the breathtaking Lake Isabella area. Since this trail is at lower elevation it is best to hike Powers Peak in the winter or spring time to avoid the hot summer heat. Plan to make a day out of your hike up Powers Peak to explore the town of Kernville and grab a celebratory beer at the world-renown Kern River Brewing Company which is only minutes away from the Cannell Meadow Trailhead. Treat yourself to some solitude and get an excellent hike in while you're at it!

For further details on the trail, check out our complete guide to hiking Powers Peak!

6. Cucamonga Peak

 Girl and dog at Cucamonga Peak

Cucamonga Peak Quick Facts:

  • Height: 8,859 ft. 
  • Trail to summit: Icehouse Canyon trailhead
  • Type of Trail: Out and Back
  • Total Milage: ~ 12 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,300 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking? National Parks Adventure Pass required
  • Fun Fact: Gaining Cucamonga summit will gift you with excellent views of SoCal's Inland Empire

>>> Meet Rachelle! Rachelle is an accomplished and avid hiker from Southern California. She is an ambassador for Mountain Chicks SoCal (the all-inclusive women's adventure group), and we both met each other for the first time while hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail! She has an amazing spirit for all things hiking and the outdoors, so be sure to follow her on her instagram @rachellemhoward. Rachelle weighs in below on another one of the best hikes in Southern California to train for 14ers.

The 11.6 mile roundtrip hike to Cucamonga Peak starts at the Icehouse Canyon trailhead. It’s a popular, challenging hike with a 4,300’ vertical gain to a top elevation of 8,859’. Arrive early for parking on the weekends and be sure to display your Adventure Pass and fill out a free self-serve permit at the trailhead. This hike starts with a gentle incline alongside the beautiful Icehouse Creek, passing by several cabins on the way. After about 1.5 miles you’ll cross the creek and begin a steady climb along switchbacks to Icehouse Saddle, a great place to rest and refuel. Then press on towards the peak! The next section is increasingly steep but offers absolutely stunning views of the desert and beyond, making every step worth the effort. Once you reach the peak celebrate a well-deserved rest and amazing views all around. The peak offers many places to rest in the shade and even space to set up your tent if you are backpacking. After taking it all in, retrace your steps back to your car and if it’s warm enough be sure to soak your tired feet in the icy creek before heading home. With the right equipment, you can even visit this trail in winter or come in fall to enjoy the vibrant changing of colors along the creekside section of the trail. Whenever you decide to visit, this trail will certainly not disappoint! 

7. Bastards Ridge (Featuring Mt. Wilson)

 Bastards Ridge Hike to Mount Wilson

Bastards Ridge Quick Facts:

  • Height: Jones Peak (3,390 ft.), Hastings Peak (4,000 ft.), Mount Yale (4,760 ft.), Mount Wilson (5,713 ft.)
  • Trail to summit: Mount Wilson trail head
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Total Milage:  ~13 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 5,000 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking? No
  • Fun Fact: Summits 4 Peaks!

The name says it all. Bastards Ridge is not going to be a walk in the park, but it will make for excellent conditioning and training. Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, this trail offers you not just 1 but 4 different peaks to summit while on your hike. You will start your hike at the Mount Wilson trail head, but will soon veer off the main trail and head up left on a side trail (unmarked) which is Bastards Ridge. The side trail is very, very steep and a bit of a struggle to the top, but persevere and you will soon gain the ridge-line. The first peak you will summit is called Jones Peak (3,390 ft.), the second is Hastings Peak (4,000 ft.), the third Mount Yale (4,760 ft.), and then finally the more popular peak on the trail is called Mount Wilson (5,713ft.). When you finally gain the Mount Wilson summit you will take the main Mount Wilson trail back to the trail head. This is a brutal hike, but a lot of fun too! Getting off the main Mount Wilson trail will take you away from a lot of the crowds for a while too. Try and hike this trail when it isn't too hot and keep and eye out for rattle snakes when you are hiking, particularly on the portions of the trail that are less traveled and possibly a bit more overgrown. All in all, and excellent hike and nice change of pace from the main Mount Wilson Trail. 

This trail is a little trickier to follow, so be sure to check out our guide on hiking Bastard's Ridge and download the gpx file to make sure you are staying on the right path.


hiking in california resources:

If you are looking for some inspiration or goal summits to work towards while completing these 7 best hikes in Southern California, then be sure to check out our trail guides on these popular California 14er's:  

Also be sure to check out these essential hiking resources!


Alright now, no more excuses! Put these 7 hiking trails in Southern California on your list and get to training!

Cheers,

Allison

 
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