Angeles National Forest
Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region
694,175 acres (668,887 federal/ 25,288 other)
Angeles National Forest is registered as a California Historical Landmark since it became the first protected woodland in the state as the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve in 1891. It serves as a major recreation destination north of the Los Angeles metropolitan area with 697 miles of hiking trails, several lakes, and two alpine ski areas. Most of the shrub and tree species are adapted to periodic fire and about one-quarter of the National Forest burned in the 2009 Station Fire and an additional 115,796 acres in the 2020 Bobcat Fire.
San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument, Angeles Crest Highway, Crystal Lake Recreation Area, Mt. Wilson Observatory, Bouquet Reservoir, Mt. Baldy, San Antonio Falls, Gabrielino National Recreation Trail, High Desert National Recreation Trail, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) cuts through the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, established in 2014. Coming from the east, a good place to start is the Big Pines Visitor Center or the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center, both of which have short interpretive trails with signs identifying local species. Further west, Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument (est. 2019) commemorates the tragedy that cost at least 431 people their lives in 1928. Watch in the coming weeks for blog posts specifically detailing these two National Monuments.
Across from Inspiration Point on Highway 2, there is a parking lot for Lightning Ridge Nature Trail. The half-mile loop trail offers great panoramas of the surrounding mountains. It even includes a portion of the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Along the trail, my wife and I stopped to sniff the orange, platy bark of a Jeffrey pine for its pleasant vanilla scent, which brought back memories of our time spent living in California.
On our November visit, we first saw a western gray squirrel with an incredibly poofy tail atop the Big Pines Visitor Center. On the Big Pines Interpretive Trail, we spotted dark-eyed juncos and Steller jays flitting about. Despite its proximity to the city, there are even black bears, mountain lions, and bobcats in this National Forest. You are more likely to come across coyotes, gray foxes, or mule deer.
Many species commonly found in this National Forest are endemic to this region and grow nowhere else on Earth, including Coulter pine (famous for its massive pinecones that weigh up to 11 pounds).
Spring and fall
An Adventure Pass is required to park at many trailheads. The Forest Service also accepts all America the Beautiful Passes, which can be also used at National Park Service sites.
The paved Angeles Crest Highway cuts through San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and it used to go through to Glendale, but closed due to damage from the 2020 Bobcat Fire.
There are many campgrounds in the National Forest, but we did not see any great places to do dispersed car camping when we drove through different portions of it (although we did not drive any dirt roads which is where they typically are found).
Cucamonga Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)
Magic Mountain Wilderness
Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness
San Gabriel Wilderness
Sheep Mountain Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)
Pinnacles National Park (California)
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)
César E. Chávez National Monument (California)
Nearest National Park
Channel Islands (California)
Conifer Tree Species
incense-cedar, bigcone Douglas-fir, Jeffrey pine, Coulter pine, knobcone pine, gray pine, lodgepole pine
Flowering Tree/Shrub Species
California black oak, canyon live oak, California walnut, serviceberry, western mountain-mahogany, California coffeeberry, cup-leaf ceonothus, flannel bush, Parry’s manzanita
Explore More – How long are the Gabrielino and High Desert National Recreation Trails?