An Epic Hike To The Highest Point in Los Angeles

Here’s something I don’t do every day: Climb a ladder up a cell tower, rising from the top of a mountain!


Don’t worry, mom, I only climbed 15 feet or so. The tower wasn’t fenced off. I couldn’t resist!

The climb happened at the summit of Mt. Lukens, a place I’ve wanted to go for quite some time. The top of Mt. Lukens is 5,066 above sea level, and it’s technically (and barely) within the city limits of Los Angeles. That makes it the highest point in the city.


Since the city also touches the Pacific Ocean, that means Los Angeles has the greatest elevation gain within city limits of any city in the country – from sea level to 5,066 feet. That’s the sort of fun fact that my nerd brain really enjoys!

I roped in my buddy Jeff, who’s always up for an epic hike (whether it’s to Inspiration Point, the Bridge to Nowhere, or an illegal teahouse). There are a few ways to get to the top, and we chose one that started in the Deukmejian Wilderness Area, in the neighboring city of Glendale. Within a few minutes of hiking, we could see our destination: the collection of radio, broadcasting, and cellular towers waaaaay off in the distance, above my head:


The first few miles were punishing. We got 2,500 feet higher in about 3 miles, up endless switchbacks and ridges. The trail was very narrow and extremely rocky, and required constant attention so we didn’t slide or tumble into a canyon.


It wasn’t a terribly clear day, but the views were incredible anyway. This area burned in a huge wildfire about 6 years ago, and the trail passed through groves of dead, scorched tree trunks, wove around smaller peaks, and provided vistas in all directions. If it weren’t so smoggy, we probably could’ve seen all the way to Catalina Island.

It was particularly exciting, once we got high enough, to see frost in the shady areas:


When we got near the peak, the was actual snow! SNOW IN LOS ANGELES!


The views from the top were stunning. This is looking east, at the rest of the Angeles National Forest…


…and looking west, with the towns of Glendale, La Crescenta, and La Canada Flintridge in the valley in the distance:


Jeff and I enjoyed the summit for a while.  We ate a snack (almonds and chicken jerky for me), and that’s where I climbed the tower. And, of course, we took a selfie.


We also found a round, raised platform which made for a cool photo op (we didn’t know what it was used for).


The platform reads “Sister Elsie,” which was the mountain’s original name, up until the 1920s. Sister Elsie Peak was named after a nun that supposedly died caring for the sick during a smallpox outbreak, but that story (or her identity) has never been verified. It was renamed after Theodore Lukens, a conservationist and two-term mayor of Pasadena in the 1890s.

We hiked down a different path, which was equally as beautiful and loaded with disorienting switchbacks. At one point we dropped into a very lush river bottom, crossing over a small little creek a half-dozen times before climbing out of it.

What I liked even more was looking over and making out, from afar, the trails we climbed on our ascent. It was a steep hike! I traced the trail we took in red:


(The trail continues at the lower end, it’s just blocked by the other mountain.)

I was exhausted by the time I got back to the car, and for good reason. Here are the stats from our hike:

  • Duration: 5 hours, 28 minutes (an hour of which was breaks)
  • Distance: 10.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,283 feet

Jeff’s Garmin tracked our route:


We did that route counter-clockwise, starting on the Crescenta View Trail, to the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail. We came down the Rim of the Valley Trail, to the Cooks Canyon Trail.

I had my heart rate monitor on the whole time, and it said I burned 3,261 calories!

Keep it up, David!


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2 Responses to An Epic Hike To The Highest Point in Los Angeles

  1. Laura says:

    Looks like s helicopter landing pad!

    • David says:

      I had that thought, too, except that it’s a little small, they’re usually painted with a giant H, and they didn’t have a way to get down off of it. I had to climb up and jump down. I’m thinking it was the foundation for some sort of tank or structure.

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