Angeles National Forest

Angeles National Forest is a mountain paradise located less than 30 minutes from downtown L.A. It’s an urban forest that provides the people of Los Angeles with the wilderness retreat every happy human needs. This forest is roughly 700,000 acres of pure California wilderness. The chaparral environment slowly fades into pine and fir forest as the elevation slopes up from 1,200 feet all the way to 10,064 feet.  

A mountain road in Angeles National Forest
A mountain road in Angeles National Forest – Photo by John Michael Wilyat on Unsplash

Spring is the best time to visit the Angeles National Forest, especially if you would like to bask in the glow of hundreds of California wildflower species! Let the natural perfume of wild roses and strawberries ease you into a perfect state of relaxation as you drive the winding gradient up the San Gabriel Mountains. Be sure to snap a picture or two of your favorite poppy or silverleaf lotus when you get out on those colorful trails (just don’t pick them!)

Vigilant visitors may be lucky enough to spot wild bobcats, bears, mountain lions, or the majestic desert bighorn sheep. Also, if you would like to experience the beauty of California wildlife without the hike, just drive to the top of Mt. Wilson at the crest of Angeles Forest for a spectacular view, and keep your eyes peeled along the way!

History of Angeles National Forest

Established in the year 1897 by president Grover Cleveland, the Angeles National Forest area was originally part of a group of 13 conserved lands in the western United States known as “Washington’s Birthday Reserves.” As you may have guessed, the signing of this act to conserve 21million acres for future generations occurred on George Washington’s birthday.

There is no better place to get a feel for the history of the park than Big Santa Anita Canyon. Many early 20th century cabins still remain here. Ask the booking office about staying in one of these historic campsites! Big Santa Anita Canyon is the only remaining historic site that preserves the original cabins from a time when roads were not yet established in the area. Every plank and nail had to be hauled in through the canyon on muleback.

Ranger Districts in Angeles National Forest

This land is divided into two main sections: The Los Angeles Gateway District, and The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The Gateway District is 147,871 acres of oak-sycamore forest that steadily progresses into a sky-high pine landscape as the elevation rises from 1,200 feet to 8,700 feet. Recreation in this district includes mountain biking, camping, and splash-fun in the clear waters of the cool mountain streams.

This district is also one of the most popular areas in the forest to shoot movies. Did you know that films such as Donnie Darko, Mission Impossible, and Star Trek were shot in Angeles National Forest? The next time you visit the theatre, keep an eye out for The San Gabriel Canyons and Mount Wilson, two prominent features of the Gateway District!

The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, also known as The San Gabriel River Ranger District, is the eastern-most part of the forest. This monument’s acreage is 182,425. The 95 miles of hiking trails available range from easy to strenuous. Casual walkers and rock-climbers alike can take their pick in this highly diverse and picturesque district.  

Sunset in Angeles National Forest
Sunset in Angeles National Forest – Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Recreation in Angeles National Forest

An incredibly helpful tool you can use to plot out your trip to Angeles Forest can be found here. Use this online mapping technology to filter through the exact locations of the park’s trailheads, campsites, picnic areas, and lookouts.

 If riding OHV’s and shooting is more your thing, they have that too! Just look for the signs in the designated areas, or use the above tool to find the exact location of your slice of fun in the park. Try out the Drinkwater OHV Staging Area at 4.1 miles long, The Indian Canyon OHV Trailhead at 1.2 miles long, or the San Gabriel Canyon OHV Area featuring 160 acres of open riverbed.

In the mood for snow sports, but stuck in California? Don’t Worry, they actually have that covered too. Mountain High Resort will provide you with skiing, mile-high frisbee golf, and even shopping!

Click here to acquire your adventure pass, the fees of which fund Angeles Forest park amenities. Day passes, annual passes, and kid’s free passes are available.


What style of camping best suits you? Choose from single campsites, group campsites, and RV sites; there’s really no shortage of ways to spend the night. The plots are first come-first served, with a maximum stay time of 14 days per site. A single campsite may accommodate up to 8 people with 2 vehicles.

The San Gabriel Mountains are a park favorite for campers. There are 28 individual sites and 5 group sites spread throughout this national monument. You and your tag-alongs can enjoy fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, nature viewing, OHV riding, picnicking, and scheduled programs.

The San Gabriel Mountains include Mt. San Antonio, the highest peak in Angeles National Forest. If conquering the cliffs is your deal, then these are the campsites you should be looking into. Call the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument office at 626-355-1251 Ext. 221 for details.  

Desert Bighorn Sheep, rugged residents of Angeles National Forest
Desert Bighorn Sheep, rugged residents of Angeles National Forest – Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay 

 Wilderness Areas in Angeles National Forest

Designated wilderness areas set aside for preservation include: Magic Mountain, Cucamonga, Pleasant View Ridge, Sheep Mountain Wilderness, and San Gabriel Wilderness. Click here to access this list from the USDA’s information page. Here you can select the specific wilderness area that interests you. This includes information on trails and location as well as the total acreage and elevation of each area.

The winding roads that curve their way up the mountains and slope idly down the valleys of The San Gabriel National Monument provide some of the most spectacular views in the world, particularly at sunrise or sunset, when the glow of the rosey-pink sky illuminates all of wild California. Take a drive on Angeles Crest Highway, or up Mount Wilson. Here you might find a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities of the neighboring mountains, valleys, rivers, and even distant counties. You may even need to point that camera skywards when you get a look at those perfect, fluffy cumulus clouds!  

If you do choose to head out early for some birding, drink your coffee and look alive. You don’t want to miss these singing wild wonders of nature! The Angeles National Forest is habitat for everything from tiny chickadees and pygmy nuthatches to Townsend warblers and white-headed woodpeckers. And don’t forget to look on the ground for those famously adorable burrowing owls! You can find birds on any trail, however, if you would like to maximize your luck, pick a trail with fewer people and tread quietly to capture these lovely creatures going about their daily lives.

Visit the Forest

At the end of the day, this is a magical environment that has to be seen to be believed. The unique conjunction of desert landscape with conifer forest is a staple of California, and only those who see it with their own eyes can truly experience this rare beauty. To start planning your trip, go ahead and visit this site map and start picking out the places that look the most interesting to you. Or, go the mobile route and just plan to drive the whole thing! From horseback riding to winter sports, you will not be disappointed in the plethora of activities available in both of Angeles National Forest’s districts, abundant in life, scenery, and unforgettable experiences.

-By Heaven Morrow

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