Mount Baldy, at 10,068 ft, is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. During the summer, the main ski lift runs on the weekends, taking daytrippers up the mountain to the “Notch”. From there, experienced hikers can tackle the steep 3.5-mile hike to the Mt Baldy summit or enjoy an easier 1.5-mile hike to the top of Thunder Mountain. The ski lift up is fun and a bit unnerving if you have little kids with you, the views are amazing, and there’s a lodge at the top of the lift. There are many opportunities for day trips from Los Angeles into the mountains, but Mt Baldy might be our favorite.
Address: Mt Baldy Ski Lifts, 8401 Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759
Hours: Summer lift hours – Friday 11am-7pm, Sat & Sun 7am-7pm
Cost: Adults $25, kids $15-20. Parking $5.
Parking: Plenty during the summer
Dogs: Dogs allowed on the mountain, but not on the lift (Call ahead and ask)
Facilities: Restaurant, bar, bathrooms on the mountain at The Top of the Notch
Sketchy ski lift up the mountain, amazing views, moderately challenging hike, great spot for lunch/dinner at end of the day.
What to bring
Hiking shoes or sturdy trail running shoes/sneakers, day pack, water, snacks, wide brimmed hat, sunscreen, camera.
You need a California Adventure Pass to park at the Mt Baldy ski lifts. Get one at Sports Chalet or the Mt Baldy Visitor Center. Pack a light jacket for the end of the day. It gets a bit chilly in the late afternoon. If you have small kids, go buy a Kelty child carrier backpack. I have the old Kelty Tour.
Stop on the way
Forget trying to eat breakfast before you leave the house in the morning. Leave early, and stop in Mt Baldy Village at the Mt Baldy Lodge right across the street from the Mt Baldy Visitor Center. Funky little lodge with giant breakfast portions. And decent coffee. This meal made our day. The Lodge also has your last glimpse of wifi for the day, although there is some spotty cell signal on the mountain. Breakfast for three was like $18.
Mt Baldy Visitor Center
I’ve confessed my love for goofy visitors centers a few times, but I was so surprised and delighted by this one. When you walk through the door of the little unassuming red building, you step right into a mini-forest diorama-like situation. Complete with trees and forest canopy, stuffed critters, and a babbling brook through the room. To the right were more displays about the rich history of the Mt Baldy region, and a little gift shop. There’s no hurry to race up to the mountain, so take a moment to enjoy this elegant educational treat. You can buy your California Adventure Pass here if you don’t already have one. Be optimistic and get the annual pass!
The ski lift
Read any review of skiing at Mt Baldy, and you’ll come across people moaning about the slow rickety old lifts built in the 1950s. While that might be a problem if you’re freezing cold and wanting to get a bunch of ski runs in, it actually is quite fun during the summer. Slowly exciting for the kids, especially when they stop the lift and your little wooden chair with no sides sways back and forth over the abyss. We laughed and joked about falling to our deaths the whole way up. They don’t let kids under 14 yo ride alone. And they weren’t too happy about me having two little ones by myself in one chair. The operators kindly stopped the lift for us to get on, and they threw our day packs on the chair behind us. My daughter sat in my lap, and I kept a tight grip on both of them.
The top of the lift is called The Notch, a low point between two peaks – Mt Baldy and Thunder Mountain. If you have young kids, forget about hiking to the summit of My Baldy. It’s a steep grade and 3.5-mile (one way) hike along a trail called the Devil’s Backbone. Instead head the other direction to the top of Thunder Mountain. A 1.5 mile (one way), 1,500 elevation gain (from 7,000 to 8,500) along a wide, safe fire road. The trail has views in almost all directions and plenty of shaded spots to take rests and snack breaks your kids will beg for. Take your time going up if you’re not used to the altitude, and encourage the kids to conserve their energy. There’s no hurry. Take breaks, enjoy the view. The hike down is easier!
After the hike
Despite snacking every 10 minutes on the hike, we stopped at the Top of the Notch ski lodge for a late lunch before heading down. The food is ok and the service is slow but who cares. It is a beautiful spot with a magnificent view. There was live music and lots of friendly people sharing in the experience of being out of the city and doing something great.
Follow your smart phone directions to the Mt Baldy ski lifts (8401 Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759), not just “Mt Baldy”. Or you’ll end up on some dirt road in the hills behind Rancho Cucamonga and be super pissed just like I was. You want to take the 210 East and get off on Mountain Ave. I still don’t know how I missed all the signs to Mt Baldy.
Have fun and let me know how it goes! Come back and comment with any tips or suggestions.