The five-mile Mt. Pinos Trail offers the peak-bagger four opportunities to climb an 8,000-foot peak. Between Mts. Abel and Pinos, there are easy cross-country climbs to Grouse and Sawmill mountains. The trail passes through dense pine and fir hollows, visits historic Sheep Camp, and ascends Mt. Pinos, a blustery peak that offers views of the San Joaquin Valley, the Mojave Desert and the sprawling Los Padres National Forest high country.
You can travel from Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel or vice versa; the Mt. Abel trailhead is much less visited.
Directions to trailhead: Exit Interstate 5 at the Frazier Park turnoff and drive west on Frazier Mountain Park Road, then Cuddy Valley Road. About five miles past the hamlet of Lake of the Woods, you'll reach a junction. To reach the Mt. Pinos Trailhead, bear left and continue nine miles to the Chula Vista Picnic Area. One more mile on a dirt road (closed in winter) takes you to the Condor Observation Site near the top of Mt. Pinos and the beginning (or end) of the Mt. Pinos Trail.
To reach the Mt. Abel Trail, bear right at the above-mentioned junction and proceed eight miles on Mil Potrero Road to Cerro Noroeste Road. Turn left and go seven miles to the signed trailhead, half of a mile below the summit of Mt. Abel. Parking is not plentiful right at the trailhead, so park in a safe manner along the road.
The Hike: Leaving the trailhead behind, you descend a draw into a forested hollow, 1/2 mile from the start. Bear left at the signed junction here. The trail begins ascending the side of Grouse Mountain, named no doubt for the resident blue grouse population. You might flush a number of these dark, ground-dwelling birds out of the bush.
Soon the trail levels off and you'll come to a saddle on the east slope of Grouse Mountain. If you want to ascend to the summit, scramble a short distance up the slope to your right.
The trail continues following the saddle to a junction with North Fork Trail. To reach Sheep Camp, bear right on North Fork Trail and descend a pine-covered slope past a trickling little spring. Sheep Camp, half of a mile from the junction, was used as a base camp by San Joaquin Valley ranchers in the 19th-Century. Today, Sheep Camp is one of the highest trail camps in Los Padres National Forest. For the day hiker, it's a pleasant picnic spot.
Return to the main trail, which soon passes close to the summit of Sawmill Mountain. It's an easy cross-country climb to bag the peak.
Continuing on the main trail, you will descend the pine-covered slopes of Sawmill Mountain, then ascend an open slope via switchbacks up balding Mt. Pinos. Every height ascended thus far has seemed the ultimate one, but they have been mere stepping stones to 8,831-foot Mt. Pinos. Stand among the gnarled Ponderosa pine atop the summit and enjoy the view from the highest peak in the Los Padres National Forest, then return the same way.
Mt. Pinos Trail
Mt. Abel to Sheep Camp: five miles round trip, 500-foot elevation gain.
Mt. Abel to Mount Pinos: 10 miles round trip, 900-foot elevation gain.