Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mt. Pinos (Los Padres National Forest)

The hike to the summit of Mt. Pinos is a fun short hike in the Los Padres National Forest that rewards hikers with beautiful scenic vistas of the Sierras  Central California, and the Los Padres National Forest. Additionally, the hike to Mt. Pinos, at 8,847 feet, will take you to the tallest point in Ventura County and the tallest mountain in the Los Padres National Forest. This is truly a fun short hike north of Los Angeles that gives any Southern California hiker a true mountain top experience. For more pictures make sure to check out our Facebook Page.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the Trailhead to hike to the summit of Mt. Pinos, take the 5 freeway towards Fraizer Park. Take the Fraizer Mountain Park Road exit and head towards Fraizer Park.  You are going to follow the signs to the Mt. Pinos Trailhead.  Head through Fraizer Park and the town of Lake of the Woods. At this point the road name changes to Cuddy Valley Road. The road will take you all the way to the trailhead area. From the freeway exit at Interstate 5 to the trailhead it is roughly a 21 - 22 mile drive. There is a cost to park at the trailhead as a Forest Adventure Pass is required ($5 for day parking or $30 for a year pass).

Description of Trail: The hike to Mt. Pinos is an out an back hike on a dirt fire road to the summit of Mt. Pinos. The hiking trail is a steady uphill climb towards the summit of Mt. Pinos and goes through the scenic pine forests of the Los Padres National Forest. The hike is roughly 3.2 miles roundtrip with approximately 500 feet of elevation gain. As you get closer to the summit, the hiking trail begins to level out a little and you will eventually catch your first glimpse of the radio equipment situated on top of the summit of Mt. Pinos. You will likely see other hikers while on this trail to the summit to Mt. Pinos as it is a popular day hike. Additionally, there is a wildlife viewing area just below the summit of Mt. Pinos at the end of the dirt fire road. You will notice that the trailhead maker claims that it is 2 miles one way to the summit, however we have found that the hike is 3.2 miles roundtrip. This is one of the areas in Southern California where you have the chance to see a California Condor, so make sure to bring your camera.

Further Thoughts:  This was a fun short hike to the summit of Mt. Pinos as it is one of the tall mountains in Southern California. The views from the summit of Mt. Pinos on a clear day encompasses the southern central valley, the southernmost Sierra Nevada, much of northern Ventura County, much of the Santa Barbara County mountains, the Caliente Range, and the Carrizo Plain. Even a trace of the San Andreas Fault is visible to the northwest which cuts between Mount Pinos and the mountains immediately to the north. The lights of Bakersfield and surrounding towns are visible on a clear evening to the north and northeast. The summit of Mt. Pinos itself is relatively flat and open with several subsidiary summits. The only downside to the true summit of Mt. Pinos, is it does not offer, in our opinion, the same unparalleled views as other peaks we have hiked in Southern California. The Panoramic view is a little obstructed by trees near the summit of Mt. Pinos, but the views are still spectacular.

Mount Pinos is considered by ecologists to be home to one of the most significant populations of birds of prey in California. In the wilderness areas surrounding Mt. Pinos live five owl species, northern goshawks, as well as the rare California Condors. Unfortunately, we did not see a California Condor on our hike to the summit of Mt. Pinos, but we hope to come back soon and get a chance to see one in the wild.

The summit plateau of Mt. Pinos, experiences harsh winters in comparison to most of Southern California. Most of the precipitation, due to the high elevation, falls as winter snow. The area experiences several feet of snow each year with snowfields sometimes lasting till early June on the north facing slopes. While hiking here there was up to one foot of snow in locations after a recent winter storm. Summer months are mild with high temperatures between 70 °F (21 °C) and80 °F (27 °C). Mt. Pinos experiences occasional thunderstorms during the summer monsoon season, with some delivering intense, localized downpours. Note, if you are doing this hike in the summer make sure to check the weather to see if thunderstorms are forecasted for the mountains in Southern California. If they are, make sure to begin your hike to the Summit of Mt. Pinos early enough to be done before any potential thunderstorms build in the afternoon. The best seasons to do this hike are summer, early fall, and late spring as for much of the winter the peak is covered in snow.

Mount Pinos is considered to be one of the best star viewing sites in all of Southern California due to its relatively low light pollution, dry air and frequently clear skies and is one of the favorite gathering places for amateur astronomers in the region. The usual viewing area is not the summit of the mountain, but the large tree-surrounded parking area about two miles east of the peak. If you are looking to get away and see the night sky this is a great option. The hike to the summit of Mt. Pinos  is truly a fun short day hike north of Los Angeles that is accessible for many hikers.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 500 ft. (Easy - Moderate), Distance: 3.2 Miles Roundtrip (Easy - Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 1 - 1.5 hours.


View Mt. Pinos Los Padres National Forest in a larger map

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