One of a cluster of peaks in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains near Mt. Wilson, Occidental Peak is not mentioned in Robinson’s Trails of the Angeles. Yet, this peak has a commanding position overlooking that gaping chasm in the front range known as Eaton Canyon.
Occidental Peak bears the name of the stellar college in the Highland Park area of the basin below. Almost a century ago, in 1915, some Occidental College students built a trail up to Mt. Wilson. The supervisor of the Angeles National Forest at that time was impressed enough by their efforts to name this peak after their school.
The distance to the peak on either route described below is minimal (1 mile) and the summit area for the hiker is diminutive. But to go there will give you a little sense of adventure because of the primitive condition of the use trails on both ridge routes and because you have to practically push away the brush to stand on the summit.
The most widely used route to this peak begins at a spot along the Mt. Wilson Road, 3.8 miles from the road’s intersection with Angeles Crest Highway. There is a large dirt parking area on the left side of the road, about 200 feet before a driveway on the right which leads into the fenced locale of a huge transmission tower. From the parking area, cross the road and either pick up a faint use trail that begins near a fence on your left, or go to the right of the parking area and you will see another use trail. If you begin by the fence you can follow this fence to the end of the transmission tower where you will encounter a helipad. Alternatively, the use trail that begins to the right of the parking area stays below the fence on its way to the helipad.
At the helipad, check out the great views of Eaton Canyon as it sweeps from Eaton Saddle south into Altadena.
Eaton Canyon from helipad along east ridge to Occidental Peak
You also get a great view of Twin Peaks to the north.
Twin Peaks from helipad on Occidental Peak's east ridge
Looking west, you will see Mt. Lowe, and, sweeping clock-wise from Lowe, you will note the flat-topped summit of Mt. Markham, then Occidental Peak, and then San Gabriel Peak.
Occidental Peak from helipad on its east ridge
After crossing the helipad, continue along the use trail. The “trail” gets very indistinct in certain places, but it generally stays to the right below the ridge-top. Resist the urge to follow the very top of the ridge. Promising paths will appear there and then disappear into impenetrable brush. In fact, on one little hump on the ridge, there is a plastic bottle register. On a piece of paper inside the bottle, someone has written: “This is not Occidental Peak.”
The summit area is a small enclosure, with a few rocks surrounding the ammo box register and a mantle of heavy brush around that.
Summit of Occidental Peak
However, step a few feet away to a clearing in the brush looking southwest and Mt. Wilson will be in sight.
Mt. Wilson from summit of Occidental Peak
To get more views from the summit you have to carefully ease yourself down the extremely steep ridge in a westerly direction to get clear of the brush. Now, you will have nice views of Mt. Markham to the west, Mt. Lowe and Echo Mountain to the southwest, and San Gabriel Peak to the northwest.
Mt. Lowe from summit of Occidental Peak
San Gabriel Peak from summit of Occidental Peak
Mt. Lowe (L), Mt. Markham (R) from top of Occidental Peak
Mt. Markham from summit of Occidental Peak
San Gabriel Peak from summit of Occidental Peak
Upon retracing your steps for the return, you will completed 2 miles of cross-country hiking with 200 feet of gain.
The second, probably much less used route to this peak, begins at the Eaton Saddle trailhead. This is a 2-mile cross-country ridge route with 840 feet of gain. From this trailhead, the summit is southeast of you. From the trailhead parking area, your route is the northwest ridge which ridge begins just to the left of the trailhead gate. You will will negotiate two small bumps on the way to the summit.
Looking down Eaton Canyon from near start of NW ridge to Occidental Peak at Eaton Saddle
From the 210 Freeway, exit at Angeles Crest Hwy (SR 2) and go north. At 9.5 miles, you will come to the Clear Creek Ranger Station and the junction with Angeles Forest Highway. Continue straight on SR 2 about 4.5 miles to the junction with the Mount Wilson Road at the Red Box Ranger Station. Turn right.
For the first route described above, drive 3.8 miles to a dirt parking area on the left side of Mt. Wilson Road. This parking area is about 200 feet before a paved driveway on the right that leads into a fenced transmitter site.
For the second route described, after you turn right onto Mt. Wilson Road, go 2.3 miles to the Eaton Saddle trailhead (there is a parking area here on both sides of the road).
You will need an Adventure Pass to park your vehicle anywhere within the Angeles National Forest. These passes are not sold at most trailheads. However, they are currently sold at the Red Box Ranger Station (thus on the way to the two trailheads mentioned here) ($5 per day or $30 for a yearly pass). Otherwise, you can purchase one at most sporting good stores.
No permits are required for hiking.
While there are lots of campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest, there are none in the immediate vicinity of this peak.
When to Climb
All year round. However, equip yourself appropriately when there is winter snow cover. There are no water sources on the routes mentioned.
Check forecast information for nearby Mt. Wilson in local newspapers or internet weather services. Snow is, of course, common at elevations above 3,000 feet during the winter.