Winston Ridge and Winston Peak are name-sharing neighbors in the high San Gabriel Mountains near the Mount Waterman Ski Area. While Winston Peak is the high point of the hike at 7,502 feet, the summit is covered with pines that leave little room for panoramic views. The best vistas come from the shorter 7,003-foot Winston Ridge, which has fewer pines and broader views. To bag the Double Winston, you’ll tackle some tough terrain, including a half-mile long 775-foot ascent. The 4.85-mile round trip hike to Winston Ridge and Winston Peak combines a dirt service road, the Pacific Crest Trail, and a few backcountry use trails to form a partial loop. The trek is a bit of an adventure, with 875 feet of elevation between the high and low points of the hike. The journey is strenuous in places, and you’ll go up and down enough to feel like the hike has over a thousand feet of elevation gain.
From a small paved pullout along part of the Angeles Crest Highway (CA 2) called Cloudburst Summit (itself at 7,018 feet), hikers are given two options. There is a dirt single track, Winston Peak Trail, which heads straight to the summit, reaching Winston Peak after 2/3 of a mile. This is the return route for hikers who are first setting out for Winston Ridge. To the right of the trail is National Forest service Road 3N02, which also heads north from the trailhead, easing downhill around the east side of Winston Peak toward Winston Ridge, further to the north. Start hiking down this dirt road, enjoying views through the pines toward Cooper Canyon to the east.
The dirt road at the start of the hike
After 0.8 miles of gradual descent, you will come to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail at the lowest point of the hike. Turn left on the single track, heading uphill toward a saddle on the north side of Winston Peak. When you reach the saddle, after 0.6 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, you might notice a faint path on your left heading up Winston Peak. You will use this dauntingly steep route later…
Between Winston Peak and Winston Ridge, there are two saddles separated by a small peak that tops out at 6,903 feet. How you get around it appears to be a matter of choice. There are three worn routes to the second saddle below Winston Ridge:
- The recommended option is to head around the left side of the mini-summit on the ridge
- The more punishing option is to hike up and over the nasty little peak, gaining 175 feet of elevation
- The third option is to go around the right side, lingering a little longer on the Pacific Crest Trail
Unfortunately, if you take the third option, it is tough to spot the path connects the PCT with the northern saddle. You could easily walk right past it and end up descending into Cooper Canyon. It is preferable to save this side for the way back, when it is easier to follow the trails.
The footpath along the left (west) side of the ridge crosses some loose gravel, so be attentive on the steep slope. There are views west toward Squaw Canyon as you approach the saddle below Winston Ridge, 0.33 miles after the saddle below Winston Peak.
The faint path to Winston Ridge
From the second saddle, Winston Ridge runs roughly east to west and the saddle is near the east end of the ridge. Things become momentarily steep as you follow a use trail up the side of Winston Ridge, reaching a dip in the ridgeline after 0.15 miles. Head west, climbing just over 200 feet in the next half-mile to the unpronounced highpoint of the ridge. There are boulders dotting the ridge, and well-spaced Jeffrey pines that allow plenty of sightseeing. You’ll have numerous chances to look northeast across a canyon toward Pleasant View Ridge, which is topped by Pallett Mountain and Will Thrall Peak.
For the best views of the hike, continue west a little further along the ridge. When the ridge turns downhill and becomes topped with jagged rocks framed by steep narrow slopes, it’s a smart time to turn around. Before you do, you’ll find mesmerizing panoramas looking north down canyons carved by Little Rock Creek that lead all the way out to the Mojave Desert at the base of the mountains. It is a dramatic presentation of the transition from mountains to desert.
The west end of Winston Ridge
After enjoying the views from Winston Ridge, the next task is to hike back to the first saddle on the north side of Winston Peak. Descend off Winston Ridge and shimmy over or around the spike between the saddles to retrace the last mile of the hike.
The saddle beneath Winston Peak
If you’re tired, the easiest option is to hike back down the Pacific Crest Trail and up the service road for a 5-mile round trip hike. Otherwise, you will gain 775 feet in the next 0.55 miles while ascending the north face of Winston Peak, followed by a 2/3 of a mile descent to close the loop back at the trailhead.
From the saddle, the path heads straight up the north side of Winston Peak, and “straight up” is not much of an exaggeration because the mountainside is quite steep. When you stop to catch your breath, you’ll find occasional views north toward Winston Ridge and the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains.
The steep north face of Winston Peak
Boulders and pines cover the mountainside so you should at least have shade for the tough ascent. You’ll cross what looks like an old dirt road on the way up, but stick to the path to reach the top. Bagging the summit of Winston Peak delivers bragging rights, but it’s not much of a vantage point. From the rock pile at the top, the surrounding trees block out any climactic views of the surrounding mountains.
Having gotten your exercise for the day, enjoy a nice cool down, descending 500 feet over the last 2/3 of a mile on Winston Peak Trail. The lofty Mount Waterman will appear through the trees to the south as you descend, finishing the hike a few feet from where it began.
Surrounding pines obscure the view from the summit of Winston Peak
Mountain bikes are not allowed on this hike, but dogs are. Winston Peak and Winston Ridge were named after a Pasadena man who froze to death in a blizzard while hunting on Winston Ridge in 1900. It is common for snow to cover these mountains in the winter months, so be prepared. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park at the trailhead, but no permit is required to hike Winston Ridge or Winston Peak, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From the 210 Freeway in La Cañada Flintridge, head northeast on Angeles Crest Highway (CA 2) for 32.7 miles. The pullout will be on the left. Look for the yellow gate at the top of National Forest Service Road 3N02. If you pass the Mount Waterman Ski Area, you drove a third of a mile too far.
Trailhead address: Angeles Crest Highway, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Pearblossom, CA 93553
Trailhead coordinates: 34.35132, -117.934352 (34° 21′ 04.75″N 117° 56′ 03.66″W)
Use the map below to create your own directions:
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