Backcountry Sights

Photos and stories from the outdoors

Brown Mountain Loop

The hike up Millard Canyon is one of my favorites, particularly when paired with the wild terrain leading up to Brown Mountain. The loop described below encircles the entire mountain but isn’t the only way to visit the summit. I’d personally recommend an out-and-back through Millard Canyon – all the best parts, twice!

Trip Planning

Specs: 11.3 mi | +/- 3400 ft

Difficulty: Class 1 [Read more about difficulty ratings]

Location: Angeles National Forest | Home of the Kizh, Tongva, and Fernandeño Tataviam peoples| View on Map

Route: Begin at the Mount Lowe Road Trailhead and head east on the Mt. Lowe Road. A few tenths of a mile up the road, take a left on the Sunset Ridge Trail into Millard Canyon. Follow signs for the Dawn Mine, remaining in the cool confines of the canyon. Continue up the trail to the Tom Sloan Saddle and then follow a faint trail up the steep eastern ridge of Brown Mountain. Continue following this faint path to the summit (marked by a large cairn). The trail continues down the western ridge, meeting the Ken Burn Trail at a dusty saddle. Take this wide mountain bike path south and east, wrapping around the south face of Brown Mountain. You’ll eventually reach the Millard Falls campground. One final trail leads from the campground up to the Mt. Lowe Road Trailhead.

Route map

Permits & Regulations: You don’t need any permits to hike this loop or park at the trailhead. The usual set of outdoor ethics (e.g., Leave No Trace) apply to this area.

Resources: I’ve struggled to find a map that includes this loop. The USGS quads don’t have the trail through Millard Canyon or the trail over Brown Mountain. The USFS maps depict part of the Millard Canyon trail but also lack the path over Brown Mountain. The Thunderforest OpenStreetMap includes all of the segments though! I recommend creating a route on CalTopo or Gaia GPS and downloading it to your phone or GPS device before hitting the trail. Also check the Angeles National Forest website for current alerts, warnings, and restrictions.

New Year, New Hike

1 January, 2021

It’s a beautiful winter day in Los Angeles, if you can even call this winter; the temperature is well above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite it being mid-morning (normally a rather late start at a crowded LA trailhead), I snag a parking spot right at the trailhead! The hike begins on the Mount Lowe Road, just past a closed gate. I shoulder my backpack and begin climbing up into the hills while admiring the city below.

As a midwesterner spending their first winter in LA, I’ve been waiting for months for the deciduous trees to change color. To be honest, I’d begun to think maybe they stay green all year long, but the past few weeks have brought “peak color.” The red, orange, and yellow foliage dots the otherwise green Los Angeles sprawl.

los angeles
Colorful trees dot the landscape

Only a few tenths of a mile past the trailhead, I leave the Mount Lowe Road for the much smaller Sunset Ridge Trail. This path winds along a cliff overlooking Millard Canyon for a short while. The canyon floor rises quickly to meet the contouring trail, however, and I’m soon strolling along Millard Creek. The air is cool – almost chilly – in the shade of the trees and dappled sunlight streams through the leaves.

millard canyon trail
A pretty spot where the trail crosses Millard Creek

A couple miles down trail I reach the long-abandoned Dawn Mine. There are three entrances; two are closed with large metal beams, but one is open. The tunnel behind it is only about 50 feet deep and leads nowhere. I spend a fun half an hour exploring the area; old rails and some kind of riveted tank are lying around in the streambed near the mine.

millard canyon dawn mine
An old water pump at the Dawn Mine

Beyond the mine, the trail grows a little fainter, evidence that most hikers turn back at the mine or make a loop back up to the Mount Lowe road. I enjoy the shaded forest for a little while longer but am soon out in the sun as the trail switches back up the mountainside. The ascent ends at the Tom Sloan saddle where the trail forks in several directions. Two lead to the Mount Lowe Road, and the other descends into Bear Canyon.

The path to Brown Mountain is not marked, but fairly easy to find. I scramble up the faint use trail and crunch through several patches of snow left over from a winter storm that passed through earlier in the week. The route winds along the ridgetop for a while, offering sweeping views of Millard Canyon directly below, Pasadena, and Los Angeles in the distance. The trail disappears here and there, but the way is clear: stick to the ridge and keep ascending!

I enjoy strolling along the ridge and absolutely love the sense of wilderness and solitude that this peak provides. Once at the summit cairn, I spend a nice half hour eating lunch while staring out at the city. It’s a clear day and I can make out ships in the harbor and even Catalina Island off the coast! I sign the summit register (the first entry of 2021!) and then continue on my way.

los angeles
A sweeping view of Los Angeles, including Catalina Island!

The descent down the western ridge of Brown Mountain is prickly, unpleasant, and even fainter than the path leading up the eastern ridge. Somehow I successfully avoid sliding into any of the needle-sharp yucca plants and reach the saddle just east of Wella’s Peak. From here, it’s easy walking all the way back to the trailhead. Easy, but a tad boring compared to the beautiful hike up Millard Canyon. And while the trail is wide and free of large roots and rocks, it’s a popular mountain biking route so I’m on high alert the entire time for the jingle of bikers’ bells. I can’t really recommend this latter half of the loop; I would make this an out-and-back trip and enjoy Millard Canyon in both directions.

brown mountain hiking
A particularly colorful tree beside the bike trail

After several hours of walking, I reach the Millard Campground and then wearily trudge up the connector trail to the Mt. Lowe Road Trailhead. The late afternoon sun bathes the mountains in warm light; sunset arrives early this time of year.

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