Echo Mountain: Echoing History and Foreshadowing the Future

A story of my first hike to the top of Echo Mountain.

In October of 2008, my life changed forever. Two classmates of mine, Dave and Kris, asked me if I would like to hike up a mountain with them. As a Chicago transplant, living in California for about a month at this point, and someone who had never seen a mountain up close, I felt simultaneous intimidation and excitement. That was the first day I hiked Echo Mountain.

We drove up Lake Avenue in Altadena to where it ended – and we parked on the right side of the street with about thirty other cars. None of us – Kris, Dave, or myself – were prepared for hike properly.  We wore school backpacks with bottles of Mountain Dew and cookies stored inside, donned our basketball sneakers, and none of us remembered to wear sunscreen. Nonetheless, we hiked onward: passing prickly pears, a small stream, and conquering switchback after switchback.

After a mile, we paused to appreciate a beautiful view of the Los Angeles Basin. We had ascended about 600 feet and it felt exhilarating. Our trip, however, was not complete. The trail to Echo Mountain is 2.7 miles long and we were hardly halfway.

We pressed on. None of us were in very good shape, but we were determined to reach the summit of Echo Mountain. We passed foreign looking plants – chaparral, Manzanita, and assorted desert flowers – and we attempted to keep our traction on loose granite with our traction-less footwear.  

Finally, after an hour and a half of determination, we reached the top of Echo Mountain – and was it worth it.

Kris, Dave, and I all explored the ruins of a once prominent hotel that burned down a century ago. There were plaques with old photographs and explanations of the hotel ruins. There was once a railroad (Mt. Lowe Railway) that traveled to Echo Mountain – and all that is now left are railroad ties and occasional pieces of railroad cars. Most impressive of all, however, was the view that we had atop Echo. We could see all the way to Catalina Island and the Pacific Ocean. This concept blew my mind.

The irony in this trip is that Echo Mountain is a very historic mountain – laden with stories of a very eventful past. However, I could not have predicted that this hike would be a prelude to a bigger hiking future for me – where I would hike over 1,000 miles in the next couple years, become much healthier, and eventually write a weekly hiking column.

Hike At A Glance:

Difficult Level (1-10): 5 (depending on a the shape a person is in)

Distance: 5.4 miles roundtrip

Scenery: Exposed, overlooks Los Angeles/Pasadena

Best time to go: During the week (it gets crowded on weekends), year-round, early morning (afternoons get HOT!)

Trail condition: Excellent, well marked and well maintained, but a bit slippery in spots.

Other considerations: Echo Mountain gets crowded, but there are many trails that link up to the summit.   If you travel on any of these (especially Castle Canyon), you will not encounter nearly as many people and you will be treated to more nature-ful scenery.

Amy McLean March 19, 2011 at 01:39 PM
Hi Matthew, Thanks for another inspiring article. Have you been back to Echo Mountain since the Station Fire? Are the ruins ruined? We haven't been up there in quite some time, but remember it as quite a demanding hike, even for our (at the time ) very athletic dog, who went from shade to shade all the way down the mountain, and even found a litte cavelet to hide away from the sun in. Thanks for your articles, and keep it up! Amy McLean
Matthew Cavanaugh March 24, 2011 at 05:28 AM
Hi Amy- Thanks for the encouraging feedback! I really appreciate hearing that my articles inspire you! Echo was untouched by the Station Fire. However, just a 1/2 mile across Las Flores Canyon/Sunset Ridge Trail, towards Dawn Mine...that area was toasted and is officially closed. If you're interested in hiking Echo again, you should go sometime soon - there are TONS of blooming flowers on its summit and everything is so green!


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