Easily accessible from the LA area, Mount Baldy (properly known as Mount San Antonio) is the tallest peak in the San Gabriel mountain range, reaching 10,069 feet. This hike is great for conditioning your legs to steep elevation gain and gives hikers multiple options to reach the top. The full loop is just about 11 miles.
Starting at Manker Flats trailhead (adjacent to Manker Flats Campground) the trail ascends past the trickling San Antonio Falls. Further up the trail, that's a lot like a road, you pass the Ski Hut Trail on the left. Taking you off the road and onto rocky terrain, this trail is the more direct of the two routes to get to the top, making it a steeper climb albeit quick and beautiful.
The trail is fairly shady with scorching scree sections every other mile or so. Passing along the ski hut a few miles in offers a great place to sit for a snack in the shade. I also prefer this route because of its strenuous climb and visibility of the summit. The last stretch is grueling, with little shade and long switchbacks. Its obvious when you're nearing the top because you approach a hill that resembles a bald head!
At the top, there's a ton of open space to find a stoney nook and eat your lunch. The views are 360 degrees around and totally worth the climb. Bring a jacket for the top because it can get pretty windy up there! And bring cold pizza, like me.
Heading down via the Devil's Backbone Trail, the descent whips you right back into it with a few hundred feet of scrambling along the scree. Once you pass this area, it's easy sailing down the beautiful backbone ridge all the way to Baldy Notch, home of the ski lodge and lifts. This ridge has a reputation for being dangerous, but I think thats only the case in icy/winter conditions. Always be cautious up there!
From the Notch, you can purchase a ticket down the ski lift at the lodge or hike the last two miles down the fire road, completing the loop back to Manker Flats. This trail offered beautiful views that were new to me, looking into Wrightwood and Apple Valley from the top. Although a real kick in the butt, this trail is not one to skip.