Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
Escape L.A. traffic and experience igneous rock formations at Waterman Mountain that even Gaudi couldn’t make up. A remote peak at the doorstep of the San Gabriel Wilderness, Waterman is also a skiing destination during Southern California’s rare snowpacks. Incense-cedars and pines cover the mountain and fill its surrounding ravines, giving hikers a memorable aromatic experience.
Waterman Mountain is not the tallest at San Gabriel—Mount Baldy towers at 10,064 feet—but what it lacks in elevation, it makes up in character and trail versatility. Multiple junctions allow for loops, extensions, and off-trail explorations. Views of Twin Peaks will knock you off your feet, figuratively that is. The mountain’s dormant ski lifts create an abandoned amusement park ambiance in certain places. Don’t be fooled by this trail’s relative proximity to the city nor by its winter role as a ski resort. Hiking to the true summit of Waterman Mountain affords a sense of solitude rarely found in Los Angeles County.
-Mapped by Casey Schreiner
- Distance: 10.3
Location: 34.346687, -117.921085
From the parking lot on the east side of the road, cross the Pacific Crest Highway and travel 140 feet north to the trailhead. The wooden sign is in poor condition but a small, vertical metal sign also marks the start of the trail. Bear left @ Y-junction and walk toward the second metal sign, ignoring the apparent trail to the right. Continue south on the unnamed trail that is parallel with the road.
Location: 34.344138, -117.92156
Bear right @ Y-junction and merge onto the Waterman Jeep Trail. The trail gains elevation as it climbs along a wide dirt road.
Location: 34.344643, -117.924057
The first views of the Waterman Mountain summit appear through a south-facing clearing on the jeep trail. It’s the forested peak just beyond a closer bump to the right.
Location: 34.343998, -117.925644
Stay right @ Y-junction, favoring the more established jeep trail.
Location: 34.346161, -117.92804
Continue left @ Y-junction and ignore the fire road that branches off to the right.
Location: 34.344208, -117.932823
Bear a slight left and travel south at this multiple junction of jeep roads and ski trails. Between the jeep roads and the broad ski trail, there is a low-lying ridge that the trail climbs over. Walk up a southwesterly ski-route toward a lower summit, about .4 miles from the top of Waterman, keeping the ski lifts to your left.
Optional: Stay right at intersection, sticking to the jeep trail, which continues up the mountain. Passing a ski hut and small pond.
Location: 34.342087, -117.936523
Pass one of the Waterman Mountain ski lifts to the south as you climb the snowless ski slope.
Location: 34.342075, -117.937546
Continue west, going straight between a small patrol hut on the right and a chairlift on the left.
Location: 34.341549, -117.93808
Veer right @ Y-junction of two well-used jeep trails. The left road takes you to a dead end at the top of Waterman’s northern ridge. On this trip’s initial jeep road, the sign for Forest Road 3N03 appears on the right after about 800 feet. There will be no other signage to identify the road. For a short distance, the trail becomes lost in pine-needles, clearings, and off-trail paths.
Location: 34.339302, -117.939888
The trail becomes faint, fading in and out.
Location: 34.338615, -117.940155
Turn east into the San Gabriel Wilderness Boundary, which is marked by a thin metal rod that reads “Wilderness Boundary.” The trail becomes very clear here and heads east.
Location: 34.338298, -117.938412
The sign marking Waterman’s summit is not near the actual summit: walk off-trail to the south of the sign to a broad, northwest-southeast ridge. There is no distinct path, but it is easily hikeable. Travel 200 feet south and loop to the west toward the false summit.
Location: 34.337642, -117.939289
The false summit is near a tall outcropping of boulders. This group of rocks, which are right before the mountain slopes down immediately to the south, stands out from lower boulder formations. It’s a fitting place for both bouldering and relaxing. Ahead, veer east for 0.1 mile.
Location: 34.337873, -117.937476
Turn right and hike 0.1 mile southeast along the broad summit ridge to another outcropping of vertically aligned boulders. The summit of Waterman is a very gradual ascent from this ridge. No scrambling or climbing necessary: just walk along the summit plateau.
Location: 34.336491, -117.936773
Waterman Mountain (8,038 ft.): Look for the USGS summit marker. The view is forested in most directions. Look to the north and you may be able to see Waterman’s northern peak. (You would have seen it on your left as you hiked up the ski slope and past the patrol booth and ski lift). There is a small concrete structure on this peak. Optional: Continue hiking off-trail to the south. As the mountain slopes downward, views of Twin Peaks and the rest of the San Gabriel Wilderness open up.
Location: 34.335621, -117.928604
Turn left @ Y-junction. Turning right will put you on the trail to Twin Peaks. It’s a 3.8-mile trek to the summit that will take you back through large, majestic incense cedars and pines. Be aware: it’s a tough path full of established trail and unofficial climbing routes with intense elevation gain in both directions. The established trail goes to a saddle between Waterman and Twin Peaks, just north of Twin Peaks. From there, the unofficial climbers trail (not even Class 2 scrambling), ascends another half mile to the southeast toward the eastern peak of Twin Peaks. The trail you’re on there makes a sharp turn east, and switchbacks down a long slope.
Location: 34.33564, -117.924113
Look straight (directly south) to view the eastern Twin Peaks. The majority of the mountain view will be slightly on the right. It is the closest, most prominent peak visible from this location.
Location: 34.338267, -117.921774
Small spring during the wet season.
Location: 34.34042, -117.921577
Pass another seasonal spring.
Location: 34.343068, -117.923121
A solitary picnic table sits nearby a small, rocky stream: a nice spot for a snack near the end of the hike. The trail continues in a northern direction through large cedars and pines, eventually crossing the jeep road you turned on back at the beginning of the hike. From there, continue back the way you came in.
Location: 34.3377, -117.939034
This appears to be the highest ground from the summit sign, but it’s not the summit of Waterman.
Lone Picnic Table
Location: 34.343077, -117.923083
Location: 34.341583, -117.922195
Lots of nice cedars and pines here.
Location: 34.34414, -117.92152
The Waterman Mountain Loop Trail intersection — trail to the left, road to the right.
Location: 34.33564, -117.928362
Junction to Twin Peaks and Chilao.
Twin Peaks View
Location: 34.335711, -117.923877
A great, clear view of Twin Peaks from the trail.
Location: 34.342094, -117.936264
The Waterman Mountain ski lift.
Location: 34.343914, -117.932846
Leaving the trail for ski slopes.