On the eastern extremity of the San Gabriel Mountains, seemingly far from L.A.’s smoggy blanket of air, lies the Big Pines Recreation Area, designated as an all-season recreational area within Angeles National Forest. During the winter months, the area’s downhill-ski and snowboarding facilities draw crowds of snow-starved city-dwellers who would rather not drive an extra 200 miles or more to reach major-league ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada. In summer, several campgrounds, picnic areas, and interpretive trails, including the Big Pines Nature Trail profiled here, attract visitors escaping the lowland heat.
San Diegans can most easily navigate to Big Pines by way of Interstate 15, Highway 138, and Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway). Just continue through Wrightwood another five miles on Angeles Crest Highway to reach Big Pines. There you’ll find an Angeles National Forest ranger station and visitor center. The visitor center, open year round Wednesday through Sunday, offers printed leaflets, maps, interpretive brochures for some of the area trails, and reference materials such as a wildflower identification guide. Eleven campgrounds and four picnic grounds are located within a five-mile radius of the center. You’ll need a National Forest Adventure Pass to park here.
The short and easy, self-guiding Big Pines Nature Trail highlights many of the native trees and shrubs of the Big Pines area. The trail originates behind the visitor center and starts by winding up through a sparse grove of centuries-old Jeffrey pines. If you aren’t, as yet, very familiar with the flora of Southern California’s lofty mountains, this is a good trail to further your education.
Along the way, you’ll be introduced to the canyon live oak and black oak, four kinds of pines, and shrubs such as ceanothus (mountain lilac), manzanita, yerba santa, flannel bush, service berry, and mountain mahogany. Interpretive plaques cover some of the uses of these native plants by the Gabrielino, Serrano, and Cahuilla Indians.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.
Big Pines Nature Trail
Enjoy the sweet scent of summer-warmed pine bark on a short nature trail near Wrightwood.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 145 miles
Hiking length: 0.5 mile