Page Contributor(s): Marshall Yale, LA
Cycling Mt. Wilson -- a top Southern California bike climb beginning in La Cańada Flintridge
Ride 18.1 miles gaining 5,376’ to elevation 5,658 at 4.5% average grade.
Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.
Beginning in Flintridge, we ride through a residential area for 1.8 miles to the point where road narrows to two lanes and becomes more rural and scenic. While this is a great climb from mile 9.2 on, the first nine miles are unpleasant due to a narrow shoulder and heavy traffic that travels at highway speeds (60mph+). At the junction of Highway 2 and County Route N3, we continue on Highway 2 for another 4.5 miles to Mt Wilson Road. The grade on this route is fairly steady, in the 4-6% range and rarely exceeding 7%.
Start of ride.
First 13.8 miles of this bicycle climb are on Highway 2.
The most scenic and less nerve-wracking (i.e., lighter traffic) part of this climb is from mile 9 to the radio towers at the top at mile 18. We turn off of Highway 2 at mile 13.8 and it is approximately four miles to the television towers at the top of the climb.
Enter Angeles National Forest at mile 2.3,
Established 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt; 655,387 acres.
Turn onto Mt. Wilson-Red Box Road at mile 13.7
4.3 miles at 4.6% to TV Towers and end of bike climb.
The road from Highway 2 to the top is very scenic and along a portion of the road that has sheer drop-offs just over a short rock barrier. There are excellent views of San Gabriel Peak to the southeast for the first mile, we pass through Eaton Saddle at mile 16.2, and for the next couple of miles have great views of Highway 2 and the San Gabriel Mountains to the northeast as we continue up Mt. Wilson road.
Mt. Wilson Red Box Road -- Wilson Observatory in photo middle.
This climb ends at the KCAL TV towers at mile 18. The Mt. Wilson Observatory is another half mile past our end point, but at a lower elevation.
Just about to the top.
Excellent views of Los Angeles from the top of this climb.
Before heading out to climb Mt. Wilson, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.
The Mount Wilson observatory was founded in 1904 by solar astronomer George Ellory Hale and his team. Hale acted as director of the observatory until his retirement in 1923. An informative article about Hale’s life and the beginnings of the Mount Wilson observatory can be found here. Hale had an accomplished scientific life, and is best known for his discovery of magnetic fields in sunspots, and in addition to founding Mount Wilson, he also founded the Yerkes Observatory, Palomar Observatory, and the Hale Solar Laboratory. More information on Hale can also be found here.
We arrived too early to visit the observatory.
Hours as of August 2019 were 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Einstein visits the observatory in 1931.
Evidence supporting the theory of relativity was gathered here.
Inside the observatory
Today, the observatory is open for free tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is home to two historical telescopes: The 100” Hooker telescope which was the largest aperture telescope in the world from 1917 to 1949, and the original 60” telescope which was the largest in the world when it was completed in 1908. The first telescope on Mt. Wilson was built in 1904 and funded by the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Due to the inversion layer that traps smog over Los Angeles, at 5,710’, Mount Wilson has the steadiest air in North America. Thank you LA smog...I guess???
Inversion layer at work.
The brown line just below the blue in the center of the photo is smog.
This is the alternate route to Dawson Saddle (Map) which avoids the six miles of closed Highway 39 along the “main” Dawson Saddle climb, but is also much longer (45 miles to the Saddle, making it just over twice the length of the more traditional route) and includes a little over 2,000’ of descent -- so, it is not a true Top Climb, by Fiets standards, anyway. We also must travel along the busy section of Highway 2 for 10 miles.
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: Highway 2 has a very narrow bike lane which is often merely a white line with 6” of pavement and loose gravel to the right. Traffic is heavy and fast-moving for the first 9 miles of the climb. For those who wish to avoid highway traffic, do not undertake this climb, or begin at mile 9.2, after the junction of Highway 2 and County Route 3.
That’s a wrap!
 Most of the traffic along the first stretch of Highway 2 turns onto Angeles Forest Highway (County Route N3) at the 9.2 mile mark, this is the route to Palmdale and a connector to Highway 14.