Devil’s Backbone Trail offers spectacular views from an impressive ridge-top trail. The spine-tingling hike along a tantalizing spine starts from Baldy Notch and ends at Mount Baldy, the highest summit in the San Gabriel Mountain. Devil’s Backbone Trail is 3.3-miles long with 2,350 feet of elevation gain, and can be reached several ways:
- From the summit of Mount Baldy after hiking 4.5 miles up Baldy Bowl Trail as part of the 11.3-mile Mount Baldy Loop
- By riding the Mount Baldy ski lift up 1,500 feet in elevation to Baldy Notch for a cost of $20
- By hiking 3.5 mile up a dirt road from Manker Flats to Baldy Notch
- By hiking 2.3 miles from the parking lot at the base of the ski lift to Baldy Notch.
The non-loop options up to Baldy Notch are explained in more detail in the Manker Flats to Baldy Notch report.
To get to Devil’s Backbone from the top of the ski lift at Baldy Notch, follow the road as it turns up the mountain to the west. You will pass beneath a non-operating ski lift a few times before coming to the top of the lift after 1.05 miles. Continue straight ahead along a narrow ridge known as the Devil’s Backbone.
The single track crosses the spine of a skinny ridge with steep drops to the north and south, providing sweeping views and shaky knees for those with a fear of heights. You would not want to hike this way in the winter, but during the summer under normal weather conditions, the trail is devilishly exciting. The views are immense!
The trail leaves the top of the ridge after 2/3 of a mile and crosses the gravely southern face of Mount Harwood (Baldy’s eastern neighbor). Daunting Mount Baldy appears to the west, but keep an eye on the ground. The narrow trail gives way to a steep slope of scree. Cross a forest of sparse pines to a saddle between Baldy and Harwood. The elevation here is 9,360 feet. The summit is at 10,064 feet, so there are about 700 feet between you and the top. That distance is covered in 0.7 miles of steep switchbacks. This is the steepest section of the trail, but push through, the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains waits for you at the top. As you climb, Mount San Gorgonio and Mount San Jacinto appear over your shoulder in the distance to the east and southeast.
Enjoy 360-degree views at the summit. You may head back the way you came, or return to Manker Flats via the Baldy Bowl – Ski Hut Trail. To hike this scenic loop, take the path heading directly south from the summit. This trail descends a ridge to Baldly Bowl where you will cross a green building, the Sierra Club Ski Hut, before continuing down the canyon past San Antonio Falls. Note that if you parked your car by the ski lifts, you will have to walk another quarter mile up the road from the bottom of the trail to get back to your vehicle. If you are hiking the loop, it is recommended to head up the Baldy Bowl side of the mountain and down the Devil’s Backbone.
Devil’s Backbone Trail leaving from the summit
Descending from the summit via Devil’s Backbone Trail:
There is a marker on the summit of Mount Baldy at the start of the eastbound Devil’s Backbone Trail. Descend 0.7 miles to the saddle between Baldy and Mount Harwood. Watch your step. The gravel may be slippery underfoot. From the saddle, follow the trail along the south side of Harwood and on to the Devil’s Backbone. Cross the spine of to steep ridge to the top of the ski resort. Take the dirt road that passes to the left of a non-operational ski lift down to Baldy Notch. The road passes in front of a large ski lodge and wraps down the mountain to return to San Antonio Canyon.
To get to the trailhead: Take the 210 east to Baseline Road (exit 52). Turn left at the light at the end of the ramp on to Baseline Road. Make the next right on to Padua Avenue. Drive 1.7 miles and turn right onto Mount Baldy Road (there will be a traffic light). Continue 7 miles up Mount Baldy Road through Mount Baldy Village (where there is a visitor center) and follow the road for another 4.4 miles up the mountain past Manker Flats Campground to the bottom of Falls Road on the left. Park along Mount Baldy Road, display an adventure pass, and begin hiking up Falls Road.
Trailhead address: Mount Baldy Road & Falls Road, Angeles National Forest, Mount Baldy, CA 91759
Trailhead coordinates: 34.266172, -117.62684 (34° 15′ 58.21″N 117° 37′ 36.62″W)
Use the map below to create your own directions to the trailhead:
These photos were taken in May of 2009 and March of 2012. Click to enlarge.
|Mount Baldy Loop|
This 11.3-mile hike incorporates the Devil’s Backbone and the Baldy Bowl – Ski Hit Trail into one see-all loop.
|San Antonio Falls|
This 1.4-mile hike visits a multi-tier waterfall along the trail to Mount Baldy.
| Baldy Bowl – Ski Hut|
The Baldy Bowl – Ski Hut Trail offers a steep but scenic ascent up the south side of Mount Baldy, crossing 4.5 miles and 3900 feet to the summit.
To hike the scenic Devil’s Backbone to Mount Baldy, you must pass through Baldy Notch. You can hike to the notch, or take a ski lift.
|Icehouse Canyon Trail to Icehouse Saddle|
This 7.2-mile hike climbs 2,600 feet through a picturesque canyon to a saddle with panoramic views and extended hiking opportunities.
|More trails in the San Gabriel Mountains|
Explore other destinations in the range.
Twenty-one sites service campers at the base of Mount Baldy. The grounds are nothing exciting, but if want a staging area for your ascent, this is it.