Mount Pinos and Sawmill Mountain

Los Padres National Forest, California

Trip Date: Saturday, August 29th, 2015
Last Updated: Tuesday, April 9th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Hard
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 6 miles roundtrip
Time 3.5 hours
Terrain Strenuous Climbing, 1200 feet of elevation gain
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

This is your chance to summit two California county highpoints; at 8847 feet above sea level, Mount Pinos is the highest point in Ventura County, and at 8822 feet, Sawmill Mountain is the highest point in Kern County. Not only do these mountains offer incredible views, their cooler high elevation temperatures and pine forest offer a great escape from the urban heat of LA.

The trail begins a 600 foot climb to the summit of Mount Pinos almost immediately after you leave the parking area for the forest. Since the trail is a road, the slope is relatively gradual. After about 300 feet of elevation gain, the trail levels out as you reach a beautiful meadow, which may be covered in wildflowers depending on the season as pictured below. On the west end of the meadow, you'll be able to see the dome of Mount Pinos's summit with a tower rising above the trees.

Yellow wildflowers blooming on Mount Pinos

Yellow wildflowers blooming on Mount Pinos

The summit itself is covered in electrical equipment surrounded by barbed wire (but you still need to visit this area to claim you've truly climbed the peak). The fence and equipment obscure most of the views here, but you can still see some distant mountains (possibly the Topatopas) poking above the Southern California haze, as pictured below.
The view south from the electrical equipment atop Mount Pinos

The view south from the electrical equipment atop Mount Pinos

Continue on the trail to the west end of the peak, where you'll find the Condor Observation Site. Now you'll enjoy the unobstructed views you were waiting for! To the southwest, you can see the Pine Mountain Ridge (with its highest point on Reyes Peak still over 1300 feet lower than you), as pictured below.
The Pine Mountain Ridge as seen from the Condor Observation Site

The Pine Mountain Ridge as seen from the Condor Observation Site

The road ends at the Condor Observation Site and the narrow Vincent Tumamait Trail begins. You'll start seeing fewer people as you begin the descent. After switchbacking down about 300 feet, you'll reach a saddle. The trail flattens for a bit, then continues uphill another couple hundred feet. As you near the summit of Sawmill Mountain, start looking for a use trail on the right side -- it's pretty well traveled and should be conspicuous. You'll know you've made it to the top when you see the large stone monument pictured below.
The giant stone cairn adorned with prayer flags marking the summit of Sawmill Mountain

The giant stone cairn adorned with prayer flags marking the summit of Sawmill Mountain

From the summit, you'll have amazing views -- better than from Mount Pinos in my opinion. As the second highest point in the San Emigdio Mountains that form the southern boundary of the Central Valley, you'll be able to see the agricultural patchwork of the Central Valley as you look north (see the two pictures below). Take your time to relax and prepare yourself for the additional 300 feet you'll have to ascend on your way back!
The flowery terrain of the San Emigdio Mountains as they descend into the Central Valley

The flowery terrain of the San Emigdio Mountains as they descend into the Central Valley

The view north into the Central Valley's patchwork of farm fields and orchards

The view north from Sawmill Mountain into the Central Valley's patchwork of farm fields and orchards

Whether you're a peakbagger or just enjoy mountaintop views, a hike to Mount Pinos and Sawmill Mountain is a worthwhile experience. I hope you enjoy the meadowy forest and rugged mountains! Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Rules about dogs are not directly specified by the Forest Service, but dogs are most likely allowed on leash and possibly off leash. This is a strenuous climb at high elevation unsuitable for children. Spring, summer, and fall are the best seasons for this hike since it will be covered in snow during the winter months. The high elevation means that it will be nice and cool, even when temperatures are hot in the LA area. This is a moderately popular trailhead. Expect to see many people on your way to Mount Pinos, but fewer make the trip to Sawmill Mountain since it requires uphill on the return trip.

Directions

From Los Angeles, take Interstate 5 north. Past Gorman, take the exit for Frazier Mountain Park Road and turn left. Drive through the town, then turn right on Cuddy Valley Road. Follow the road as it winds up the mountain and park in the large parking lot where the road ends.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free during the warm seasons. In the winter, this becomes a popular cross country skiing trail and an Adventure Pass is required. There are pit toilets in the lot but no water is available.

External Links

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