Hiking the Mt Baldy Summit & Eating at Top of the Notch Restaurant

As an avid hiker, I love the sheer amount of peaks, waterfalls, and rivers that Southern California has to offer. While many of the easier ones are crowded and not taken care of, Mt Baldy is a hike that provides a surreal experience and is a lot more accessible than you think. The start of the Mt Baldy trail is about 15 minutes off the freeway in the small Mt Baldy Village. A little background on the mountain is as follows.

“Mount San Antonio, also known as Mt Baldy, at 10,068 ft (3,069 m), is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, and the highest point in Los Angeles County. The peak, which marks a boundary between San Bernardino County and Los Angeles County, is called Baldy because of the absence of trees around the summit. The Tongva tribe call the mountain Yoát or Joat, which means snow, and the Mohave call it Avii Kwatiinyam.”

The Lift

Mt Baldy has multiple ways to the summit, two from the parking lot at the base and one “cheating way” which is the way that we took. During the summer months, Mt Baldy is not the ski area that it is during the winter, so it runs its lift for hikers and people who want to have dinner or lunch at the Top of the Notch Restaurant. The restaurant itself sits at 7,300 feet and offer beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and cities. The lift costs $20-$25 dollars.

Now the hike from the lift to the summit is still a difficult one if you don’t hike very much. It is about 6.5 miles and 2,300 feet of elevation gain. Taking the lift cuts off 4 miles from your trek and 1,300 feet of elevation, making it a much more manageable climb for most people.

Devil’s Backbone

We set out from the notch and worked our way up the ski path to the base of the Devil’s Backbone. The Devil’s Backbone is an interesting part of the climb — it has sheer drops on both sides, and an uphill hike that feels like you are walking up the backbone of a colossal animal, thus giving its name.

From there you hit a traverse, where you have to hug the side of a hill as you walk across it, and it can be a little uneasy for those afraid of heights because there is nothing to break a fall. It is not a big deal during the summer, but in the winter it is a lot scarier.

The hike then bends around to weave through a forest before dumping you out at a broad plateau that has only a small amount of plant life and a view of the summit in the distance. From here on out is where you gain most of the elevation during the last push.

The Summit

This part of the hike is the worst part, but it is entirely manageable as long as you take your time. Just keep pushing forward and after what seems like a false summit you will make it to the actual top. When we were there at least 30 people up there. It was a beautiful day, and people kept streaming in as we hung out. There was a cool memorial to September 11 up there with a flag and a sign that says “Like the towers that soared before it so does this flag.” Check out the comments for Bill’s story on how they lugged the flag up in the middle of a rain storm!

Make sure you plan for some time up here as the views are breathtaking, and you want to be able to take them all in. You can see San Gorgonio one way and Catalina Island the other (on a clear day).

Top of the Notch Restaurant

After we had spent a good amount of time on the summit, we made the trek back down. You lose a lot of elevation in a short amount of time so be careful with your knees on the constant downhill. We arrived back at the Top of the Notch Restaurant and decided to stop in for a meal. Lunch was about $8 to $12 a person with a broad range of salads, hamburgers, and sandwiches. I got the highly recommended tri-tip, and it was a decent sandwich. I wouldn’t say it was anything to write home about, but the view and location of the restaurant make it worth going to visit. The lift itself is a fun ride as well.

My friend Joelle went for breakfast and said that was also worthwhile. They often have deals on Groupon for lift rides and breakfast, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for them. Here is a picture of the breakfast she had, looks pretty good to me.

San Antonio Falls

If you elect not to take the ski lift, there is another way up the mountain which is steep but pretty short and takes you past a couple of cool sites. The first of these is San Antonio Falls. The falls flow differently depending on the time of year. When we were there, it was flowing, but not too much. It is a beautiful stop about a half mile from the start of the ski hut trail. You can see people at the base of the falls in the below picture to get a sense of scale.

Ski Hut Trail

After checking out the waterfall, you will go around a couple more bends then see the single track that takes you up the ski hut trail. This is a no-nonsense 4 miles that gain about 4,000 feet of elevation and really should not be underestimated. It is easy to miss the trail, so check out the picture below of what it looked like when I was there. You want to go left.

From there you will proceed up a lot of switchbacks until you reach the half way point which is the ski hut.

Ski Hut

The ski hut is a great place to relax and have a snack, and it even provides a small outhouse. I had no idea this was here until I was on this trail and when I went up to the door one of the volunteers was there and offered to let me walk around. The inside can sleep about ten people, and you can rent it out for the night if you have a big group of friends. There are a bunch of bunk beds in the top and then a communal room with a kitchen below.  I cannot wait to do this because it seems like it would be a blast.

When I was there, the prices were as follows.

From there you simply head up the switchbacks to the summit, you have a real grind though from this point to get to the summit as there is a lot of elevation gain. We used this hike to prepare for our Mt Whitney Summit. Check out the rest of the details about the summit in the summit section above.

Let me know if you have done this hike, and make sure to add it to your list if you haven’t. Check out the rest of the pictures below.

Hike Video

This video shows the whole hike as a video.

Photo Gallery

Get Directions

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Thanks for checking out the blog, I am happy to be sharing my adventures with you! You can get to know me by reading my about me, which includes a video and additional information on the site, myself and my full disclosure. Also, follow along on Twitter here or read all of my posts on this blog here.

  • William Staley

    Hello Josh.
    Like your website. Good photos and captions. You’ve got a really cool hobby going on here. You, like me, are one of those guys who’ll eat that Nacho Grease Dog at Pinks and in the same weekend, climb to the top of a 10,000 ft mountain. I like it!

    FYi – It was my girlfriend, her brother and I who placed the memorial atop Baldy. We made a midnight mission of it. Saturday night 9-10-11, 10pm start and 3:30am summit. Very dark, cold, and windy. We must have anchored it pretty good though, as there has been some pretty hellish weather up there the last few weeks and she still stands. Hoorah!

    Anyhow, I’ll check out your site every now and again to learn of your travels and I’ll pass the word on to friends and family.

    Very Sincerely,
    Bill

    • JoshMc

      Bill,

      This is a great story! I can’t believe you guys made that late night trek it must have been a trip, would love to see pictures if you have any! We really loved seeing that memorial on top of the mountain it was a great experience. Everyone else who was up there seemed to enjoy it as well and there was a constant line taking pictures by it so you did a cool thing.

      Thanks for the kind words about the site and I hope you do come back and check out some more posts!

      Josh

  • William Staley

    Unfortunately we took no pictures, as we were just focused on humping the flag, pole, rope, plaque, stakes,tools, and of course our normal hiking stuff to the top. We almost called it quits because there was lighting off over the desert and still a few lingering clouds around that night and we were just a little leary of carrying an 8′ lenght of 1″ metal conduit! But it all blew out by the time we reached the backbone, so it was mission go. Tools-because we had to assemble everything at the top and then erect it in 60 mph winds. It was fun and crazy.

    I went up solo the following weekend during the day (like normal people do) to make sure she was still OK and to get some pics, as we had nothing from the night we did it. So I have a few pics taken with my cell phone from that weekend.

    Q: do you ever do an off-road excursions in 4WDs / Jeeps / that kind of thing?

    Like hiking, It is a great way to see a lot more of untraveled California.

    • JoshMc

      Haha man that is great story, I am going to update the post to tell people to check out the comments for your story on the hike up!

      I have to ask, what motivated you to put the flag up on Baldy of all places?

      I have done a little bit of quading but haven’t done much 4×4 offroading, I’m sure that is a blast in some of the great mountains we have down here though!

  • William Staley

    Hi Josh. Been out of town for a week. As for the motivation, I think it was the KABC Ch. 7 commercials asking, “what will you do to remeber the 10 year anniversary of 9-11?”.

    I thought of the idea on Thursday night, was at the LA County Fair on Friday nite and bought a brand new 3’x5′ flag there, layed in bed Fri-nite staring at the ceiling – thinking of how I would fabricate a flag pole that was light-weight, stable, and would allow the flag to rotate with the wind, hit Lowe’s on saturday morning, fabricated all the parts by 3pm that afternoon, packed, went to Grandpa’s 80th birthday bash, spilt out of there at 9pm and hit the trail at 10:15pm. Summited at 3:30pm.

    So it was pretty much spur of the moment, but it was good.

    Curious to find out if she’s still standing. Unfortunately, I m booked the next few weekends and gotta get my homework done too, so I might have to break out my 10″ telescope on a clear day.

    Take care. I’ll cruise your latest stories when I have more time. I like your style. keep up the good work.

    Sincerely,
    Bill

  • Hey josh just a question, so after taking the lift it’s about 2 miles hike? just curious about how long it took you to hike up to the summit. Also, the lift takes you straight to the restaurant but you can hike up further? just want to clarify. thanks man

    • Snook, from where the tram drops you off it is 6 miles round trip. There is a lot of elevation that you gain in this 6 miles though so make sure you are ready for it. You can see our trail map here. It took us around 4-5 hours to get there and back. The lift itself takes you right to the restaurant, but you can hike all around in the wilderness up there, there are a lot of trails. Let me know if you have other questions!

  • Kendra C

    Hi friend,

    I found your site searching for a hike to do when I fly down to the LA area on Friday for work. I have all of Friday free. Which of your Ten Best Hikes in Southern California (or another personal recommendation) would be good for me this time of year? The weather looks decent for Friday, but I’m not sure what the weather does once one heads into the mountains down there….

    I am flying into SNA that morning and picking up a car, so I would need a hike within an hour or 1.5hrs of the airport maybe? I am a fit hiker – have gear, will hike! Thanks so much!

    Love all the photos and detailed info. I will definitely be back down for Mt. Baldy in the summer! Cheers.

    Kendra

    • If you are going to be in LA then the Hollywood sign is a nice close one. Sturtevant Falls is a little further east but has a lot of cool trails that you can take and is low elevation so I would guess it doesnt have snow. The Malibu ones like Escondido Falls and Point Dume are also great options as they are relatively close to LA as well and have a lot of beautiful trails. Let me know if you want more specific info, but in terms of closeness to LA those are prb the easiest to get to. Def take Mt Baldy down when you are here in the summer it is a great place to hike and a super rewarding summit!

  • Kendra C

    Thanks Josh! See you on the trails!

  • This looks great I need to get up there!

  • Menchu

    Did the ski hut trail a day after climbing Mt. Wilson. A real grind!

    • That’s intense doing those two hikes back to back, training for something big?

  • merlyn

    The trail looks similar to the San Gorgonio Mountain…photos are beautiful

    • Ya the high peaks in that range do share some similarities. All are equally beautiful as well!

  • Vanessa Bartsch

    Will be trying this hike this weekend! thanks for the info on the ski hit trail!

    • No problem, hope you have fun! Let us know

  • Jimmy

    photos and videos are great, Thanks !! Just curious how many miles and hours to hike from the top restaurant to the summit ?

    • Its about 6 miles and 2,400 feet of elevation. It may not seem long but it is uphill the entire time so make sure you are prepared for it. The time to complete would depend on your own hiking abilities but I generally plan about 2 miles an hour for myself.

  • andrew

    Hello Josh,

    My name is Andrew Bydlon I work at Backpacker magazine and have a place to put a image of Baldy peak. Please contact me when you get the chance so we can talk about compensation.

    Talk soon,

    Cheers,

    Andrew Bydlon

    Multimedia Specialist

    Backpacker Magazine

    5720 Flatiron Parkway

    Boulder, CO 80301

    P. 303.253.6416

    E. abydlon@aimmedia.com

    @andrewbydlon

  • L.A. Lady

    Hey Josh: Do you remember what the parking situation was like there? I’m actually staying overnight at the ski hut and want to park our car safely somewhere at the bottom. Any suggestions?

    • It it not bad in the morning if you are there early, I am not sure how it is for overnight though, you may want to call the ranger for that area and ask.

  • Mike

    Josh…what is the soundtrack to the quadcopter video?

    • I don’t actually remember, it was one of the free songs that is in the Youtube Music Library. That is what I use for all my videos.

  • My son and I completed this hike yesterday (8/3/2014) in a driving rain (with hail). We took the fire road up to the notch, then the ski trail from there to where it met with Devil’s Backbone. At that point, soaked and freezing, we contemplated turning back, but persevered and got to the top in total time of about 4 hours. You ain’t kidding when you say the last part is a grind; we had to take it in baby steps.
    Unfortunately, the top was completely engulfed in clouds, so we got not views at all; however this is a good reason to go back and do it again!

    PS. We are doing Sandstone Peak this coming weekend after reading about it here.

    • Well done and thanks for sharing a photo! That looks crazy foggy for sure and at least you guys have a great story to look back on from this trip! Have fun on Sandstone, make sure to bring water!

  • Simla

    I usually hike Griffith on a regular basis and I wear my new balance shoes. Is this more of a serious hike where u need real professional hiking gear? We were thinking of taking the lift and hiking from there all the way to the top of the summit. Please advise ..

    • The hike from the lift to the summit is not a hard hike but by no means an easy hike either, mostly because of the effect being at the elevation will have on you and the constant uphill climb. You can do it in New Balance shoes if that is what you are comfortable in, but I would recommend a hydration pack with water snacks and a hat to protect from the sun at the bare minimum. Some people like using trekking poles as well for the downhill portion. Hope that helps and let me know if you have more questions!

  • Carla Villanueva

    Can you direct me where I can get a discounted lift ticket…. $15 vs. $20. Thanks.

    • That deal has ended since I wrote the post. I have updated it to reflect that, thanks for the comment!

  • Lisa G

    This post is awesome! I was looking for fun, different things to do and staying the night at the ski hut is now on list! !

    • Thanks for the comment! I want to stay in the hut one of these days too. It seems like it would be a lot of fun!

  • HL Pilgrim

    Josh..great write up, photos and videos! I love Baldy and have done the Run to The Top for many years. I am taking a hiking group up in June and your information here has been incredible helpful. Thanks again and happy hiking!

    • Thanks for the comment and have fun on your group trip! Also, the run to the top sound pretty nuts, I would love to hear more about it!

  • liliana

    Awesone post! How does one rent the ski hut? Is it $20 per bed? TIA

  • How long did this take you to do roundtrip, from the lift to the summit?

    • It usually takes me around 4-5 hours to get to the summit, eat a snack on top then get back to the top of the lift.

  • Glory

    Hi Josh! I’m so excited because I’m finally going to do this hike!! Thank you for the great info and the awesome videos. I’m also planning to do the lift on the way up and save my legs from a lil aches and pains for the way down. Now that’s it’s springtime and we haven’t had snow, I’m thinking it’s okay- what’s your thoughts?

    • I would check with the Baldy slopes or the ranger station as they should be able to give you more information on whether or not the snow has cleared up there. Have fun!

  • Lizzle

    Hi! I had a question about the lift. Is it only used one way? Or could you use it for going down or up? That would be very helpful to know! Thank you!

    Awesome pics, by the way! the blog is informative, too!

  • Excellent post-thank you! ~Teraisa

    • Thanks for the comment!

  • Oscar Torres

    awesome blog! i’ll be hiking up Mount Whitney in late August! this would be a really good hike before my trip and get use to to the elevation change. there’s a deal in Groupon for a lift & meal. i’m thinking of getting that deal to get familiar with the hike before actually doing the hike starting from the base. i heard people get lost hiking up Mount Baldy due lack of trail signs. i don’t even know where the base of the hike starts. my co-worker says its near a church/school. anyways, would you really recommend real hiking shoes for this hike? i’m more worried about that side of the hill. i’m not afraid of heights or anything but how wide is that part of the trail? by looking at your video, it looks like its 2 feet. cant’ wait for this hike!!

    • I would recommend real hiking shoes, especially if you are preparing for Whitney as that will help you break them in. That area of the backbone trail is something you should be very cautious with if you attempt it. I would recommend taking your time and if you feel uneasy about the trail then turn around as the mountain will always be there. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • Amily

    How long does it take from the lift to the summit? or round trip? What is the distance?

    • Sorry, I missed this comment. I am guessing you may have already gone. The hike itself from the tram is not very long but it is uphill and at a high elevation. This is the main reason that it is difficult and can take a while as your body is not used to elevation. Hope that helps and let me know how it goes!

  • Tammy

    Not sure if you’re still checking these questions, but I’m planning to hike up there. My real fear is coming back down. I am afraid I’ll slip & slide all the way down. Any tips?

    • Thanks for the comment! I would recommend getting a set of hiking poles if you are worried about slipping. Poles like that give you a lot more stability on the way down from a hike. There are lots of options on Amazon and REI and such. Hope that helps!

  • Nilabjo Banerjee

    amazing info! if you had to pick between baldy or san jacinto, factoring in difficulty, view, etc, which one would you choose?

    • Baldy is my go-to, it is just such a great hike for distance, views, etc. Both are great but I always pick Baldy.

      • Nilabjo Banerjee

        The highest I have climbed before is 6000 ft. Should I try other hikes with elevation before I get used to hiking 10k ft

        • It is always best to test out higher elevations just to see how your body does with them, especially if you haven’t done any hiking that high before.