Exploring the Ruins of Echo Mountain & Mt Lowe Railway

Echo Mountain is one of the most popular hikes into the San Gabriel Mountains for Los Angeles residents. It is located at the end of Lake Ave, one of Pasadena’s main streets, and the trail provides access to both great hiking and LA county history. You may not know, but the top of Echo Mountain once housed a beautiful hotel and a full railway system to shuttle people from Pasadena central to the top of the mountain. Today there are only remnants of this structure that crumbled over a century ago, but it is still a fantastic way to get out in nature and explore the history of the area.

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  • Free parking but watch street signs
  • 6 miles roundtrip
  • 1,500 feet of elevation gain
  • Limited shade
  • Information from my visit in 2016


Taken from history on Mount Lowe Railway here:

Atop Echo stood the magnificent 70-room Victorian hotel, the Echo Mountain House. Only a few hundred feet away stood the 40-room Echo Chalet which was ready for opening day. The complement of buildings on Echo included an astronomical observatory, car barns, dormitories and repair facilities, a casino and dance hall. Passengers could then transfer to another trolley line, the Alpine Division, which would take them to the upper terminus at Crystal Springs and Ye Alpine Tavern, a 22-room Swiss Chalet hospice with a complement of amenities from tennis courts, to wading pools, to mule rides.

Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:White_City.jpg

 A series of natural disasters ate away at the facilities, the first of which was a kitchen fire that destroyed the Echo Mountain House in 1900. A 1905 fire destroyed the rest of the Echo buildings except for the observatory and the astronomer’s cabin. In 1909 a flash flood tore out the Rubio Pavilion. In 1928 a gale force wind toppled the observatory, and in 1936 an electrical fire wiped out the Tavern. The Mount Lowe Railway was officially abandoned in 1938 after a horrendous rain washed most everything off the mountainsides.

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The best place to park is at the end of Lake Ave and E Loma Alta Dr at the Sam Merrill Trailhead. There is a decent amount of street parking here, but it can be busy on the weekends and make sure to read signs, so you do not get a ticket.

The Hike

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After parking, you will enter the Cobb Estate, which is the start of the trailhead to Echo Mountain and other hikes.

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From here, the trail meanders slowly through a shaded area and across a water runoff that provides beautiful views of the mountains above.

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After that, you will hit the base of the mountain and begin the switchbacks. For the 2 miles, you will be heading up the entire time and will gain 1,600 feet of elevation. This is a pretty good climb, but most people should be able to do it if you take your time.

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During this part of the hike, there is almost no shade, so make sure to prepare for that. I would recommend bringing a hat and sunscreen and not hiking in the heat of the day. It never ceases to amazing me when I come down from a mountain to see people starting at 11 AM on a hot summer day; this is the recipe for a bad time.

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As you proceed upward, the views get better and better, and the drops get steeper. The trail is well graded and maintained, but make sure to watch your footing when going across some of the more narrow areas.

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When you reach the electrical transformers, you will know you are halfway. As you continue the climb, make sure to look back at what you have accomplished thus far.

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The trail continues another mile uphill from here, at which time you will see a split in the road. Make sure to stay right as that will take you to the ruins, while the path to the left will continue to take you up to another part of the trail. In the below photo, you will be walking up from the left path and will proceed past where this picture was taken, not up to the switchback to the right.

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The Ruins

About 50 feet from the split in the trail, you will see the ruins of the hotel in the distance.

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From here, the trail begins its historical aspect as there are signs with old pictures, historic plaques, and abandoned railroad pieces.

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One of the first things you will see is a portion of the track with a big old piece of the railway on it.

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There is even some shade up here with picnic benches so you can relax and have your lunch while escaping the heat.

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As you proceed to the ruins, there is a massive old cog-wheel that was used on the railway and is pretty cool to see up here still.

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The broad foundation of the house is still pretty much intact, but that is about all that is left. All along the property, there are historical pictures, timelines, and information on the ruins though. I loved immersing myself in it.

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On the top of the small hill, there is an old water tank, which is where my crew sat and enjoyed our lunch.

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The Echo Phone

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This is also where the famous echo phone is, and it is more fun than you would imagine. Basically, the way that the hills are up here provides for a pretty unique echo. This is not one of those instant echos you are used to, but when you yell into the phone, it echos about 6 seconds later in the hills.

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You can take as long as you would like exploring this area as there is a lot to take in if you are interested in the history. On the way down, be sure to take your time and not to roll an ankle on the loose rock.

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I would love to hear your views on this hike in the comments, and if you are looking for more information, I recommend SocalHikers guide as it is comprehensive and it is what I used to accomplish the hike.

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