The most challenging peak in the front range of the San Gabriels. This trail loops through a shaded canyon, brush, and exposed rock-face Class Three bouldering before descending to idyllic meadows in the shadow of Strawberry Peak’s dramatic north face. Hands down, one of the best hikes in Los Angeles.

NOTE: THIS TRAIL WAS HEAVILY DAMAGED IN THE STATION FIRE AND IS CURRENTLY OFF-LIMITS TO HIKERS. Hiking on this area may result in fines and citations, as well as damage to an already fragile environment. Please try a different hike!

Strawberry Peak was one of the first hikes I did in the San Gabriels that reminded me that hiking is more than just strolling in the woods. It starts out with a swiftly ascending canyon trail, moves to an unmaintained, thorn-lined use-trail, and tops off with some straight-up class 3 rock climbing. It is, as they say, a doozy. But it’s also a lot of fun, and one of the few peaks close to the city that feels like a real-life mountain climb.

As I parked at the busy trailhead, I could see the deceptively rounded summit peeking out from behind two shorter hills. I laced up, stretched out, and headed up. When I did this hike, there was also apparently a Search and Rescue mission going on. This is one of those trails that doesn’t seem like it can be dangerous … until it is. If you’re planning on taking the mountaineers route / scramble to the top, you should know what you’re getting into before you do it.

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The trail at Colby Canyon starts out by dropping a bit from the road to the canyon floor. It’s heavily forested and you should enjoy it … because this is pretty much it for the shade on this trail.

This early section also had a small seasonal creek. When I hiked this in October there was nothing but dust in the riverbed. Today, it was full of croaking frogs and the occasional bathing bird.


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In this lower section of Colby Canyon there is a lot of poison oak – especially near the seasonal stream. Just watch where your arms and legs are going and you should be fine. After a short distance, the trail climbs the east wall of the canyon and leaves most of the vegetation behind it. From here, you’ll get your first views of the south face of Strawberry Peak.

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After one more quick dip into the creek bed, the trail rises into classic SoCal chaparral with some nice views of both Strawberry Peak in front of you and the front range behind you. From here on out, it’s pretty much a shade-free journey, so I hope you brought sunscreen and lots of water.

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At about the 2 mile mark you’ll come upon Josephine Saddle, where the trail splits toward Josephine Peak to the west and Strawberry Peak to the north at a water tank that may have some interesting graffiti. If you’re looking for the more fun mountaineer’s route to Strawberry Peak, walk north toward the Strawberry Peak Trail but keep your eye peeled for a short use-trail on the east side of the path very close to the Saddle. Make a quick scramble up to the ridge and walk about 0.2 miles to what looks like the end of the trail at a rugged rock face.

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I remember the first time I got to this part of the trail and thought about going back and taking the long way around. If you’re not used to rock scrambling – or in a fiesty mood – this can get very intimidating very quickly. But it’s really not as tough as it looks. A kind vandal was nice enough to mark a suggested path up the rocks which – while technically graffiti – is actually pretty helpful when you don’t know where you’re supposed to be going.

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After a short climb, you’re rewarded with a small sense of accomplishment and some great views.

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… and the knowledge that you’ve got a tougher climb ahead of you.

The trail makes a steep but steady climb until you reach the 2.9 mile mark. You’ll meander through giant boulders, dive under chaparral, and avoid Spanish bayonets along the way.

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And eventually, you’ll hop over a large pile of broken rocks and come face to face with this:

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The face of Strawberry Peak looks steep because it is. In the next quarter of a mile, you’ll be gaining over 400 feet in elevation on a steep class 3 scramble. There are marked stones to help you along the way and the route is not especially difficult if you’ve done any sort of climbing before. I’ll admit that while this section of the trail is very exhilarating and definitely the highlight of the trip, I still get nervous when I’m up there. There are a few spots where your eye line makes it seem like you’re grasping onto the edge of a straight-down drop-off. Just keep your cool and take your time and you’ll be fine. Soon you’ll be back on (relatively) flat ground … and if the air is clear, you’ll have great views.

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When you’re finished hanging out at the summit, either return back the way you came or continue down a steep, rugged trail that runs along one of the eastern ridges of Strawberry Peak. It’s not nearly as adventurous as the western ascent nor are there any fun climbing spots … but the trail is fairly easy to follow and only runs into Bayonet gauntlets a few times along the way.

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You’ll also get some nice views of the neighboring – and less heavily traveled – ridge of Mount Lawlor.

In a mile you’ll reach the bottom of the eastern trail, where you can tack on a scramble up Lawlor or head back to Red Box for a car shuttle. Instead, turn north on the Strawberry Trail to start the long loop around the north side of the peak you just bagged. Enjoy the shaded, slightly declining trail as it loops north and west, passing a seasonal spring at the 5.2 mile mark.


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This section of the trail is very pleasant and seemed rarely traveled. I didn’t see any other sets of recent footprints in the dirt, nor did I come across any other hikers on this leg. Scenery wise, it really picks up when you get to Strawberry Meadows around the 7.5 mile mark, a large stretch of flat grassland and pine trees in the shadow of Strawberry Peak – which looks much more impressive from the north.

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Gaze up and know that you just climbed that. Pat yourself on the back. Snack on a CLIF bar. And enjoy the completely silent, faux-alpine field feeling of the Meadows.


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From the Meadows, it’s about a mile and a half back to Josephine Saddle. Head back to the trailhead the way you came in.


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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on May 21, 2007

29 Comments

  • Mike P. says:

    Quick update for those looking to bag Strawberry. The Colby Canyon route to the saddle is still closed as the trail has not been cleaned up yet, however, the trail from Red Box is open. I hiked out of Red Box (across the street – north) to Strawberry/Lawlor Saddle and up to Strawberry Peak yesterday – not a lot of shade so bring a hat and lots of water. I left Red Box at 9:30am and was on the peak at 11:10am, basically ran down in just over an hour. Trail in great condition up to saddle and not too difficult between saddle and strawberry peak. Randomly a ton of flies, butterflies and insects on top – no problem 15 feet down from summit. something is up there that flying insects really enjoy. Fire road to josephine peak & saddle is open to but who likes fire roads. Thanks as always for the site casey!

  • Shane says:

    Is this trail open? Just kidding. This is a great hike. Now I want to discuss this. What defines front range? Isn’t Cucamonga Peak and Etiwanda front? If those aren’t, then neither is Strawberry. Those are much more front and much more high. Am I right? No?

    • Shane, you almost had me there :)

      But you raise an interesting question – when I first started hiking, I often referred to these lower San Gabriels as the “Front Range,” but that’s fallen out of favor apparently. I’m about to undertake a huge overhaul of the hike write ups and will probably change that description to just “Low San Gabriels” because you’re right – there are other mountains right near the foothills that are steep and tough, too (although I still think the scramble near the summit of Strawberry is tougher than Cucamonga or Etiwanda).

  • Matthe says:

    Is this trail still closed (Feb 2013)

  • Modern Hiker says:

    The hike is still closed. When these trails re-open, I will remove all that red warning font up at the top :)

    FYI – several hikers tried to do this trail over the weekend and had to be rescued. DO NOT attempt any of the trails in the Station Fire Burn Zone, for your safety and for the health of the forest.

  • David says:

    Any news on if this hike is still closed? Looks like a good one.

  • Josh says:

    I just did this hike this past weekend. It was just my wife and I heading out from Red Box to the peak. There was only one other hiker who did the trail – he passed us early on and we never saw him again.

    The trail closure signs had us concerned, but we asked the otehr hiker who informed us it was standard for most trails in the area and just to ignore them. So we did.

    Trail was narrow at points with some washouts, some worse than others. But generally passable. A few areas of the trail are reinforced by wooden beams/supports, etc that appear to have broken down over time making me realize more washouts are sure to come and the trail may one day be totally impassable.

    Getting to the Lawlor/Strawberry saddle before the “offtrail” turnoff up the ridge to the top of the peak was generally passable. Some overgrown brush for sure and a bit challenging at times finding the most direct, safest route.

    All in all the trail is totally doable. Just be prepared for the few washouts and brush on the final ridge and you’re fine. I would not do this in rain/snow.

  • Daisy says:

    so…I house~sit up in that area and just finished for the fourth year in a row…I was actually in the Station Fire house~sitting at that time and it was insane! Luckily the house was spared but everything burned around it…anyway, I was just up there and hiked almost everyday..did Mt. Wilson last Saturday…anyway, I know that a lot of the places around the house are still closed but I also know that they have been opening up a lot of the trails as well…I am curious if this hike is open yet..i have done Switzer many times and then did Red Box trails recently too…

  • Lije says:

    doing this tomorrow! can’t wait…

  • J. Westpfahl says:

    All these hikes back in Angeles National Forest are still closed due to the Station Fire two years ago. Make sure you check for details before you go find a trail. There are a few open trails on the south side of Hwy 2; anything on the north side is closed. Check with the Forest service before you go. I was way excited to do these trails and sorely disappointed when I got all the way out there for closed trails.

  • Bill Reichenstach says:

    Thanks for the heads-up and quick reply.

  • Bill Reichenstach says:

    Going to be heading up in the late winter/early spring. Are there sections where you feel like the trail has the potential to be lost due to snow coverage? Any insight would be great. Thanks for posting!

  • Jim M says:

    Called today. This trail is closed due to the fires.

  • silkworm says:

    want to log some miles in the san gabes, but am not sure which areas were burned by the station fire, anyone have a good burn zone map? or just some advice on unaffected trails?

  • Merris says:

    Tried to do this one today, but found Angeles crest Hwy closed just abouve La Canada. Headed out to Point Magu instead. Great website, keep the hikes coming! This may be just what we need to get us out there a bit more.

  • CM says:

    On a recent trip up there I got a pic of a bobcat. The streams and waterfalls were flowing nicely. Here’s the pic: http://getoutsidemore.com/?p=1344

  • Karolina says:

    Hi
    Thanks for this really good account of the trail. Last weekend my boyfriend, his friend + dog and I, hiked the peak via Colby Cyn. I just wanted to share this, because I thought you will find it amuzing to know that we climbed those rocks (OMG!) with the dog…
    I also want to thank you for other posts, I am just learning a lot about locat mountains and trails, and I get really good information from your site.

    ka

  • beau lebaron says:

    Hey

    Im headed to strawberry peak this weekend and was wondering how do I get to the trail head exactly. Please let me know! Love you ! Beau

  • Laurel says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. I absolutely love this hike, but my book does not have a great map for it. Your post is very helpful, and I hadn’t managed to get back via the Meadows before. I agree that going back down the climber’s route is hell – I got lost on the way down, even though it was my second time bagging the peak. I felt even worse because I had dragged a less-rugged friend along, and she was weary enough with the hike itself and the extroverted yucca. Anyway, I just wanted to say hello because I feel like there is no outdoor culture in the LA basin (I live near Pasadena) and I got the warm fuzzies reading about someone else’s adventures in our backyard mountains. Have you had better luck than me finding other hiking kin? I have gone on Sierra Club stints occasionally but that’s a bit crowded for my taste. Anyway, hike on and thanks for taking the time to post your adventures!

  • Zac Titus says:

    We did a night summit Oct 23 and had a group of 6. It was a great experience and challenged the group. Love the varied hiking/scrambling

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