Mount Pinos Adventures

08.9.12


Pining for Pinos

Poised between the interstate and the interstellar, 8,831-foot Mount Pinos—Ventura County’s tallest peak—takes the high country to whole new heights. Here are three ways this mountain stands out for adventures!


Star watch on Mount Pinos

Multimeteor Show

Where's the best place to check out meteor showers? Claim your seat near the top of Pinos, where cloudless skies, low light pollution, and an easy-to-reach location at 8,300 feet make the parking lot at the end of Mount Pinos Road one of Southern California’s top astronomy hotspots. Expect this place to draw a lively crowd on the nights of August 11 through 12 (and into the early morning of August 13), as the annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak in the late night and pre-dawn hours. Several first-come, first-serve campgrounds are within a few miles of the parking area, but even if you don’t snag one, you can still catch the show! It's for both the merely curious and the star-junkies alike. Bring a chair, warm layers, and—for a true Galileo geek-out—a red flashlight to keep your eyes adjusted to the darkness. At peak times, you might see as many as 40 meteors per hour. Good company and perhaps a thermos of your favorite mountain-air beverage are helpful ways to wait out the lulls between meteors. Astronomers on the scene might even let you peer through their powerful telescopes for a closer look at the heavens, but even a pair of binoculars will take you deeper into space. Oh, you lucky star.

TIP: The best time to visit Mount Pinos for stargazing is on Saturday nights closest to the new moon during warm weather months. The parking lot fills with astronomers and organizations like the Ventura County Astronomical Society. Many of the regulars will let you take a peek through their serious gear—everything from Dobsonian to apochromatic telescopes.

Mount Pinos is about 22 miles northwest of the Frazier Park exit from Interstate 5. Follow Frazier Mountain Park Rd west for about 7.2 miles, and at the intersection with Lockwood Valley Rd, stay right onto Cuddy Valley Rd. In another 5 miles, you’ll reach a junction with Mil Potrero Rd, where you’ll follow signs for Mount Pinos as you stay straight for Mount Pinos Rd. Continue about 10 miles to the end of the road and park at the Nordic Center. Arrive well before dark in order to get a parking spot and to avoid using headlights, which disrupts the astronomers. Adventure Passes ($5) are required on Mount Pinos (though there are a couple of campgrounds where they're not), and can be purchased Tuesday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Mount Pinos Ranger District Office (34580 Lockwood Valley Rd; 661-245-3731). Passes are also available at several businesses in Frazier Park; a list of the locations is available at the Forest Service website. Dog-friendly, but not ideal around all the fragile telescopes.

Mount Pinos summit hike

Summit Up

Compared to most nearly 9,000-foot mountains, Mount Pinos is almost a drive-up summit. Almost. Reach the top via a short, bountiful 4-mile (round-trip) hike that highlights some of the mountain’s best features. The Mount Pinos trail begins on the left side of the giant parking lot at the end of Mount Pinos Road in Los Padres National Forest. From here, it’s 2 miles and less than 600 feet of climbing to the top. You’ll actually cross from Kern County into Ventura County while ascending through a forest of Jeffrey pine and white fir. Next, you’ll reach a pair of broad meadows brightened with yellow-blossomed rabbitbrush. At the second of the two meadows, where an Air Force microwave facility and solar panels command a rise, you can take a prominent side trail on the right. It leads in a few hundred yards to an overlook with spectacular views: everything from the checkerboard farmland of the Central Valley to the southern Sierra topped with snow and clouds. Keep your eyes open for California condors riding the thermals; Mount Pinos is a prime viewing spot. Double-back to the main route or continue steeply up the side trail toward the communications station, which sits atop the actual peak of Mount Pinos. Just beyond the peak, you’ll soon reach the mountain’s ceremonial summit. Enjoy top-of-the-world panoramas among wind-sculpted limber pines before returning the way you came.

TIP: If you’re up for more hiking, the Tumamait Trail continues several miles beyond the summit into the rugged backcountry.

Mount Pinos is about 22 miles northwest of the Frazier Park exit from Interstate 5. Follow Frazier Mountain Park Rd west for about 7.2 miles, and at the intersection with Lockwood Valley Rd, stay right onto Cuddy Valley Rd. In another 5 miles, you’ll reach a junction with Mil Potrero Rd, where you’ll follow signs for Mount Pinos as you stay straight for Mount Pinos Rd. Continue about 10 miles to the end of the road and park at the Nordic Center. Dog-friendly!

McGill Trail Mount Pinos

Boot Camp

Somewhere far below Mount Pinos, cars are overheating on Interstate 5. But up on the mountain’s McGill Trail, it’s all about chillin’ in the high country—and getting in some serious cardio. Get the flavor of the Sierra Nevada less than two hours from L.A. by biking or hiking on the 7.5-mile (round-trip) trail to McGill Campground. Starting from a signed trailhead along Mount Pinos Road, the mostly shaded route immediately starts its 1,500-foot climb and doesn’t let up much until the campground. It’s definitely a workout as you wind through the forest of Jeffrey pines, and edge along steep drop-offs above deep canyons. A few trail sections open to views over Lockwood Valley or northeast toward the Grapevine. But the real reward comes on the downhill, a long plunge that challenges bicyclists to use both speed and technical skill. Hikers can catch their breath and savor the forest—beautifully dappled by daylight and filled with the scent of the pines. High-five above the 5!

FOODIE BONUS: Power down your Mount Pinos adventure with the house-baked pastries at Coffee Cantina (3011 Mount Pinos Way) in Frazier Park. The made-from-scratch blueberry scones are berry delicious.

Follow directions for the Mount Pinos Trail. About a half-mile after the junction with Mil Potrero Rd, look for a turnout and the signed lower trailhead for McGill Trail. To reach the upper trailhead for car shuttles, continue up Mount Pinos Rd and in about 5.5 miles, look to the right for McGill Campgound. The upper trailhead is on the left just past the entrance. Day use is $8. Dog-friendly!

Airline of Adventure

Now boarding: affordable adventures to really cool places! Alaska Airlines believes that low everyday fares and additional seat sales empower you to explore more and spend less (which is always fun, right?!). With flights departing from airports across the greater Southern California area, Alaska Airlines’ route map is designed to easily connect the travel dots—including the most flights to Mexico out of LAX and—Aloha!—the lowest fares to Hawaii**  from San Diego. The cherry on top? $50 off already low everyday fares* with Alaska’s free, award-winning Mileage Plan™. Alaska Airlines has taken California under its wings. Ready, set, take off!

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***Based on average fares, excluding non-revenue tickets, from the West Coast (CA, WA, OR) to Hawaii according to U.S. DOT data for year ending December 31, 2011.
*Terms apply. See site for details.

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