I was drawn to hike Mount Hillyer after reading the following description: “The Chilao-Horse Flats country is a gentle region of rounded ridgetops, shallow draws, and small flats set deep in the heart of the San Gabriels. The forest here is open and parklike; tall Jeffrey pines and incense cedars cluster in sheltered recesses and dot the rolling hillsides. The chaparral is rich and green and the sky a deep blue, with seldom a trace of the brown murkiness that so often invades the south slope of the range.” The description proved to be true on all accounts except for the autumn yellowed chaparral, which offered a beauty all its own.
For anyone worried about difficulty level, rest assured this hike is a pretty easy going 4.6 mile roundtrip ascent. The only real trouble is keeping your heads up for the occasional mountain biker, the slightly thinner air, and the scant possibility of running into a bear. The rewards are some impressive boulders, crisp mountain air, a near deafening silence, patches of snow to frolic [see below], and an abundance of the biggest pine cones we’ve ever happened upon. This isn’t so much of a serious summit hike as a leisurely opportunity to climb up to vantage point where can scope out various other higher summits beckoning all around, with several of the large boulders offering an excellent picnic destination just an hour away from Los Angeles.
I recommend you travel past the top most region of Mount Hillyer and descend past the forest meadow up top about 5 minutes down and bushwhack across to the boulder outcroppings on the right to sunbathe and take in the scenery (just watch out for the nearby bustling beehive inbetween the cracks of one of the boulders). This was our final destination before turning back.
How to get there: Coming from LA you’ll travel north on the Highway 2, merge right onto the 210 and quickly exit afterwards onto Angeles Crest Highway. It’s then a winding hour ride into the Angeles Forest, through most of the burned areas still recovering from forest fires. Once you pass the roadhouse cafe on the left, then soon after the Chilao campground (there’s a succession of signs related to Chilao), keep an eye open for a sign listing Horse Flats Campground and Bandido campground. Turn up onto this campground road, which will wind you up past burned sections to unscathed forest. The Horse Flats Campground entry is where you want to park (with Adventure Pass in your window; I had to run back after forgetting!) and hike into meet the Mount Hillyer trail (veer downward right), shortly after the #10 campground.