If you enjoy the High Sierra you may get some sense of déjà vu atop Mount Hillyer, a rounded promontory off Angeles Crest Highway in the San Gabriel Mountains. The warm (but not hot) summer breeze sings in the branches of sugar pines, Jeffrey pines, Coulter pines, and big-cone Douglas firs. Angular outcrops and large boulder piles lie on the slopes. The noxious aerial effluvium from nearby Los Angeles seldom sweeps over this part of the San Gabriel Mountains; rather, the ambient air normally flows in from over the sparsely populated Santa Clara River valley. The view from Hillyer's summit is only fair; the main attractions here are peace and quiet and the clean, pine-scented atmosphere.
The 6-mile looping hike described here, rambling over and around the summit, can be done on a leisurely morning or afternoon. An early start is nice -- camping sites are abundant in the immediate area, known as the Charlton-Chilao Recreation Area. You get there by driving 27 miles uphill from the L.A. foothill community of La Cañada on the twisting but speedy Angeles Crest Highway (State Route 2). Once the highway reaches what appears to be true forest -- stately pines, firs, and cedars -- your turnoff, toward Chilao visitors' center, is imminent. Go 0.7 mile past the visitors' center and stop at a small parking lot and trailhead for the Silver Moccasin Trail.
Walk north on the Silver Moccasin Trail, using switchbacks to gain a slope covered by scattered pines and dense, sweet-smelling chaparral. Nearing Horse Flats Campground after 1.1 mile, the Silver Moccasin Trail continues over a low ridge to the east, but you veer left (west) toward Mount Hillyer's south ridge. On more switchbacks you ascend further to a rounded summit area, where two high points (6200+ feet) lie. Continue down the ridge to the northeast, passing a 6162-foot knoll that topographic maps label as the official Mount Hillyer.
Due north of the 6162-foot knoll, an old road bed goes sharply downhill. Follow it to paved Santa Clara Divide Road (3.5 miles into your hike), which carries only light traffic during the summer season. Turn right, walk south on the road 0.5 mile to the Horse Flats Campground turnoff, then go 0.7 mile to the south end of the campground. There you can pick up the Silver Moccasin Trail and retrace your steps back to the starting point.
You'll need to post a National Forest Adventure Pass ($5 per day, $30 per year) on your car for trailhead parking. For more information, call the Chilao visitors' center (626-796-5541) or Angeles National Forest (626-574-5200).