Perhaps you might want a more challenging route to Echo Mountain and/or Inspiration Point. Perhaps you might be tired of the crowds heading up and down the Lower Sam Merrill trail and want a hiking option devoid of fellow hikers. Well, if that is the case, I have the trail just for you. This trip report describes a nice but strenuous hiking loop up to Muir Peak/Inspiration Point via Rubio Canyon.
The trail begins at the Rubio Canyon trail head that starts in between two private lots with houses. After a couple of minutes, walk past the trail that branches to the left with lots of switchbacks up the hill (this trail connects to the Lower Sam Merrill trail near the set of power lines halfway to Echo Mtn). A few hundred feet later, you will see a trail that branches to the right at a very small clearing of dirt and heads down into Rubio Canyon. The trail then heads up the other side to the ridge that contains the set of power line towers visible on the hills east of Rubio Canyon. (If you miss the trail connector like I did, you will walk south towards an access road. Head up a set of concrete stairs on the left, follow the steel fence around to the north -- don't worry, it isn't electrified -- and you will see the Lone Tree trail that heads up the hill.)
Once you are on the trail, it is a no nonsense calf burner that will immediately bring tears of joy to experienced hikers, or tears of pain for those expecting an easy stroll. The switchbacks are short segments and are very, very steep. However, the trail is in great shape and the plant growth is trimmed back from the trail (thanks, JPL Trail Building Club). Keep heading up the mountain and you will see the set of power line towers above you. Pass the towers and continue up the hill with a very steep grade and more switch backs. There is some straightforward scrambling in this stretch but nothing too challenging. Eventually, you will be fairly close in altitude with Echo Mountain (visible roughly to the west) and will pass through a beautiful Canyon Oak forest just below the ridge line. On the day I hiked, the temperature was easily 10 degrees cooler in the forest than the surrounding ridge line trail, and there was even dew on the grass after 12 PM.
After about 10 minutes in the forest, you will pop back on the ridge line and another rock scramble will be in view. For someone that has few rock scrambling fundamental skills, it is pretty easy to climb up. There are some loose pebbles on a steep slope, but above that stretch you can grab hold of some sturdy rocks. There are lots of mini trails and no clear single path up is apparent, so just make sure you head up and over the rocks along the ridge line. Eventually you will make it up to the Panorama View fire road and will see a water tank. I walked along the road on the north side of the ridge and took the trail up to Muir Peak (marked by a JPL Hiking Club sign), but it is probably feasible to walk above the water tank and trek along the ridge to Muir Peak (don't quote me on that). Once I bagged the peak, I headed back down to the Panorama View fire road and walked over to Inspiration Point. The total time it took me from the trail head to Muir Peak was about 2 hours 35 minutes. I did not measure the distance myself, but another blog post (http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=1539441) stated it is roughly 2.5 miles and 3000' elevation gain.
There are several options to head down the hill via Inspiration Point. On this particular day, I decided to take the Castle Canyon Trail back down to Echo Mountain, which is a very nice canyon hike with lots of trees and some occasional steep descents (and is described in detail in many other trail reports). Then, I headed over to the very southeastern tip of Echo Mountain and took the (in theory) very poorly maintained, or (in practice) not maintained at all, Mt. Lowe Railway trail (as labeled on Google Maps). This trail is god awful. There is overgrowth everywhere and it beat my shins to a bloody pulp on the way down (I wore shorts). The trail itself is a mess -- lots of loose rocks, erosion, and debris, not to mention a few spots where some (very brief) rock climbing is required. The trail has a few markings here and there, but it was somewhat challenging to find the trail that heads downhill (if you see the Mt. Lowe Railway signpost in the attached photo you are heading the right way). The trail will take you back down into Rubio Canyon and to the same trail head where I started. Instead of this option, it might be wise to take the Lower Sam Merrill trail down to just past the power lines, and as the trail makes a hard right/almost u-turn, pass through the bushes and head down the trail that takes you to Rubio Canyon. (Full disclosure, I've never done this trail myself, so it could be fraught with issues.)
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