Winding its way lazily upward onto a ridge of the San Gabriel Mountains, San Olene Fire Road leads to a spectacular viewpoint overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and much of the Los Angeles Basin. The unpaved road climbs 3.5 miles at an almost steady six percent grade -- a bit tedious at walking pace; perhaps better for running or mountain biking. On clear days, the scenery is uniformly pleasant, especially after winter storms have dusted the surrounding summits with snow. Edging along north-facing slopes much of the way, the road twists and turns through stands of mature chaparral and mini-groves of bay laurel and maple. Best of all, you're likely to meet no one at all beyond the first half-mile.
The route is also suited for a late-afternoon or early-evening stroll. From the ridgetop you can catch the sunset, watch the city lights turn on, then return by the light of a three-quarter or full moon (January 19-25 or February 17-23). Remember, however, that a vehicle gate below the trailhead parking area closes at 10 p.m. daily, so make sure you return on time.
You begin walking at Chantry Flat, a popular staging area for trails in the so-called Front Range of the San Gabriel Mountains, above the San Gabriel Valley communities of Sierra Madre and Arcadia. To get there from Interstate 210, follow Santa Anita Avenue north past the last subdivision at the foot of the mountains. You pass a vehicle gate (open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and continue north on Santa Anita Canyon Road several miles to reach the parking lots at Chantry Flat. Be sure to post the requisite National Forest Adventure Pass (available for purchase at the ranger station or concession here) on your car.
Route finding for the hike or bike-ride up the fire road is easy. You simply follow the paved service road upward from Chantry Flat's picnic area. At 0.7 mile you pass an air-attack station -- a heliport for fire-fighting craft -- where the pavement ends and a dirt road continues. At 3.5 miles the road levels. There's a microwave reflector structure on the left and a water tank signed "Santa Anita Ridge" on the right. Proceed another one-quarter mile down the ridge to the south for the best view of the valley spread before you. Down below, only 3 miles to the south, you'll spot the Santa Anita Park race track. To the north and northeast, the "High Country" portion of the San Gabriel Mountains looms, possibly dusted with snow if it's early enough in the year.