This season of the year, cross-country skiers often make a pilgrimage to Mt. Pinos, the highest point in the vast Los Padres National Forest. With 40 miles of trails, it's a favorite place for ski touring in the Southland.
Even if you're not a Nordic ski enthusiast, a paved road takes visitors high into an evergreen forest that surrounds the 8,831-foot summit. And from the parking lot, hikers and skiers can follow a 1.7-mile trail to the top.
Mt. Pinos spans the Ventura-Kern county line and is west of Interstate 5, just beyond the Tejon Pass summit. After driving north from Los Angeles on I-5, exit the freeway between Gorman and Lebec toward Frazier Park.
Ascend Frazier Mountain Park Road three miles and bear right on Mt. Pinos Way, the business exit to Frazier Park. That friendly town is headquarters for Mt. Pinos visitors.
A Rendezvous Center
Continue about half a mile to Frazier Ski and Pack, 3620 Mt. Pinos Way, the rendezvous center for outdoor enthusiasts. Owner Lloyd Wiens is a storehouse of information and a booster of Mt. Pinos recreation during all seasons.
This time of year his shop is filled with cross-country ski gear, including skis, boots and poles you can rent for $9 a day. Also in stock are warm hats, gloves and boots, as well as toboggans, sleds, saucers and other hard-to-find items for snow play.
Hikers will find everything from boots to backpacks, and the store also sells pedal bikes specially built for bicycling over mountain trails.
This time of year Nordic ski instructors at Frazier Ski and Pack hold classes on weekend mornings and guide cross-country excursions in the afternoon. Call (805) 245-3438 for details and reservations.
Highly recommended is Wiens' illustrated $5 guide, "Mt. Pinos Cross-Country Ski Area," which describes 15 marked trails accessible from the paved highway going up the mountain. Another guide outlines hiking routes to mountain peaks in the region.
Highest Point in Range
Mt. Pinos is the highest point along the east-west Sierra Madre Range that extends from I-5 to Santa Maria near the ocean. The pine-covered mountain was considered sacred by the Chumash Indians.
California condors rode the mountain's thermal currents until the huge birds' virtual extinction in the wild recently. A condor observation post remains near the top of Mt. Pinos. The peak also is marked by an Air Force microwave tower.
You can drive to a parking lot at an elevation that's just 650 feet below the mountaintop, but be certain to carry tire chains. County crews keep the roads plowed, but unpredictable winter weather may close the mountain route briefly at any time.
Get to Mt. Pinos by heading west from Frazier Park to Lake of the Woods, another rural community. Continue about five miles on the same highway, which changes its name to Cuddy Valley Road. At the junction with Mil Potrero Road, stay left and climb the twisting mountain road through the forest of towering pines.
End of the Pavement
After 8 1/2 miles you'll reach the paved road's end at the Chula Vista parking area. Along the way are trailheads for cross-country skiers and hikers. You'll also see entrances to forest service campgrounds, which are closed until May 15.
There are no gas, food or other facilities on the road up Mt. Pinos, so fill your tank and get supplies in Frazier Park. There's a modern supermarket near the Frazier Ski and Pack store, as well as Bear's Pizza and B&B Corral (for hamburgers).
Sandwiches also are available in Lake of the Woods at Village Burger and Mountain View Mini-Mart & Deli.
For lodging you'll find the new nine-room Frazier Mountain Motel on Mt. Pinos Way in Frazier Park; phone (805) 245-3788. Or overnight at the Caravan Motor Inn adjacent to I-5 in Gorman; call (805) 248-6411. Meals are served there, too.
On Mil Potrero Road, about six miles west of the road to Mt. Pinos, is another community called Pine Mountain, where cabins can be rented through Woodland Realty; phone (805) 242-1777.
Road and Snow Report
Before your trip, call the Mt. Pinos ranger district of the U.S. Forest Service for its daily recorded road and snow report: (805) 245-3449.
Frazier Ski and Pack also has a recorded ski and snow report: (805) 245-3050. Or call direct to the store, (805) 245-3438, open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Return to Los Angeles by rejoining I-5 south.
If the roads are open, a roundabout way home through Los Padres National Forest is to continue west past the Mt. Pinos road junction to reach California 33. Then go south on that official state scenic highway via Ojai to Ventura and join U.S. 101 to Los Angeles.
Round trip from Los Angeles for outdoor adventure at Mt. Pinos is 177 miles.
Readers are advised to confirm the hours of attractions, restaurants, etc., before embarking on any trip.