LA Daily: off the radar on mount lowe

This week's LA Daily is about one of my favorite off-the-radar places:

Did you know that around a century ago there was an exclusive, 70-room resort hotel in the hills above Altadena? How about a casino? A zoo? An observatory? A funicular railway that climbed 1400 feet up the mountain at a 62 percent angle to get visitors there and back?

Well, it's true. All of this and more was part of a massive complex of buildings connected by railways that sprawled out across the San Gabriel Mountains from Rubio Canyon to Mount Lowe from 1893 to around 1938. Fires and windstorms repeatedly damaged or destroyed the various buildings, and they eventually gave up trying to go all Swamp Castle on the place and abandoned it, but you can still take a relatively easy hike up the Sam Merrill trail in Altadena to see the ruins, as well as some sensational views of Los Angeles.

Depending on the feedback I get from this column, I may do some more in the future about other off-the-radar places I love, because who doesn't love discovering new places that have been sitting in plain sight for their whole lives?

30 thoughts on “LA Daily: off the radar on mount lowe”

  1. Nice article Wil! (they also used a good photo of you too!) I’ll make a point of hiking up there when I’m down later this month. =)
    Also loved the earlier post about Twitter. 😀 I am linked to you over there – even if I rarely open it up and take a look. Just too busy!

  2. Hey Wil,
    I’ve hiked Mt. Lowe several times and it never ceases to amaze me how manpower, donkey and horse power got it all together enough to turn that hill into a resort. I heard it burned, or something to that effect…but too bad it wasn’t kept up, or kept in place. I assume you’ve probably done the hike yourself so I’m preaching to the choir here but def. a unique place of history for these parts.

  3. Hey Wil,
    Last fall after the Santa Monica tournament you promised more writing about Poker.
    Is Poker still a topic you will cover in your blog this year?

  4. I’ve lived in North Hollywood for over four years now and I sill don’t know much about my own backyard, so to speak. I for one would love to hear about more nifty off-the-radar places like this.

  5. Sometimes reading your posts really makes me want to live in CA. But then I go out and enjoy the twinkling snow falling outside and change my mind.
    Oh, and I so wanted to mention that Toy Soldiers just came up on! Now I enjoy my favorite juvenile delinquents without resorting to my squiggly old VHS copy…

  6. I grew up in the foothills of Pasadena and loved running amok in the hillsides and neighborhoods. To know a glittery maze like this is waiting there just makes me want to get my boots on and run off all over again.
    I know I’ll dream about it tonight. Thank you.

  7. I find this article quite fascinating. I would love to do this hike. The link to the old pictures are beautiful yet saddening in a way. It’s a testament to the thinking of “out of site, out of mind” that these long forgotten treasure troves go unexplored.
    More please!

  8. I love off the radar places! It’s one of the reasons I took up geocaching, besides the fact that it was like having an RPG quest. A few cache placers around here (Pittsburgh, PA) like to put caches in off the radar places and provide a little historical background on their caches. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to LA –when we visited we weren’t into geocaching, heck it didn’t even exist– but I’d love to hear about these places.

  9. Yes! I know that place.
    When I use to live in Orange county we would backpack through those mountains. Years ago there was a trail that started in the parking lot of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We would take that and hike a big loop over to the old tram site. As I remember, there wasn’t much other than a foundation and a BIG gear at the top of the mountain. But it’s a great hike.
    If I remember correctly, the book we use to use as our trail guide was “Trails of the San Gabriels”. I have no idea if it’s still in print.

  10. When I was living in LA and first started geocaching I’d wanted to check out the remains of that resort but never made it out there. (Nor to the Salton Sea, much to my disappointment…)

  11. Me and my husband have hiked up there a couple of times. The first time it took like 3 hours to get up there (or at least it felt like it). The second time took like 1.5 hours or so. It’s a very beautiful view of Los Angeles and a fun hike. The ruins aren’t that great. There’s just the bare outline of the foundation of a few buildings, a big round pit, some old rail tracks, and some old signs that talk about the history of the area with pictures of the old hotel and such. But I’d say it’s worth it for the exercise.

  12. Oh, I thought the ruins were perfect, but I wasn’t expecting much of anything. Mostly, it was just the history of the place, and how I couldn’t believe that there had once been a resort there.
    I can’t wait to go all the way around the railway loop, though. I hear that’s really something.

  13. oh wow that is so super cool!!!
    ok. that was a little over-excited, it happens. please please please do continue with these fantastic off-the-radar posts! one can never have too much seemingly useless information crammed into their brains

  14. I used to live in one of the teeny bungalows that was once connected to the resort by the funicular railway and was delighted to learn the history of the place.
    I love that trail, too, and am so sad that it’s not kept in better condition.

  15. I guess I was expecting more. I was thinking maybe partially remaining buildings that we could explore Scooby Doo-style. I didn’t know about going around the rail loop. I’ll have to check that out.

  16. Wil said: “Did you know that around a century ago there was an exclusive, 70-room resort hotel in the hills above Altadena?”
    I didn’t know there was a place called Altadena.
    And I’m far too wigged out by the imposter Kristen posted above this reply to really think too deeply about HighValley. My whole identity is being confused. Ugh. Need coffee.

  17. I love hearing about things like this, especially if they’re railroad-related. I’m definitely going to have to hike this trail sometime in the future. (After I shed a few pounds, so I don’t have a heart attack.)

  18. Above our community we have a similar ruin, the old Malan’s Basin resort that once stood near Malan’s peak. There is a beautiful hike up to the old grounds and some spectacular views. I am always struck by the fact that less than a century ago this was a popular destination, and now it is just gone. What do we have now that will end up that way?

  19. I haven’t thought of the place in years.
    When I was 12 my Boy Scout troop hiked to the ruins and set up camp in the foundation of the old hotel. That evening, with the stars bright overhead and the city lights as a far off backdroop, a buddy and I found two appropriate lengths of wood and had an obligatory lightsaber fight.
    Thanks for the trip down memory ‘trail.’

  20. I think I have caught some of the geek…
    I loved the reference to Schrödinger’s cat. And I found a new place to explore next time I am in So Cal. Thanks!

  21. That big pit at the top made me a little dizzy as I imagined falling into it while everyone else started hiking down at the end of the day. I doubt I would be able to get out of it on my own.
    And what the hell is that two foot high covered structure you can see from the trail on the way up?

  22. Wil – I had never heard of this place until I read your article, but when I mentioned it to my daughter, she replied, “Oh… you mean the haunted forest??” I said, “What do you mean haunted?”. She explained that when she was in high school, a bunch of her friends used to hike up from Lake Avenue and get into all kinds of mischief. She said they heard rumors that satanic rituals took place in the woods around the trail. Could that possibly be the same area????? She told me it is off-limits at night now, but during the day it’s still a good hike. Could they have perhaps be referring to another trail, or have you heard anything like this??

  23. There are a lot of cool trails that start at the top of Lake, and there *is* a place up near Echo Mountain that could be thought of as a Haunted Forest.
    I doubt there were any actual rituals, though. Rumors like that seem to plague every community that has something neat like this. I can think of several places in Sunland and La Crescenta where I grew up that people said were Satanic this or that.

  24. One of my best memories of living in Lancaster is climbing up Saddleback Butte and watching dust devils dance across the valley. One good thing about having lived there, I never lack for images of the Antelope Valley as just about every commercial and every other movie has scenes of the roads around where we lived, the J Trees, the butte, that gas station, etc.

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