CHILAO CAMPGROUND, ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST
I adore the Angeles Forest high country. The fact that it's only an hour's drive from my house only increases my admiration. The glorious conifers--Jeffrey, Coulter and Sugar Pines, Incense Cedars and Bigcone Doulas Firs--the exposed granite, the shushing of winds sliding up and down the canyons, the possibility of water and a wildlife encounter.
I've day hiked this forest a lot. But these days--with a little kid in tow--the best way to get at it is to camp. We recently invited our friends from Ramshackle Solid to join us at the Chilao Campgound, about 27 miles up the Angeles Crest Highway from La Canada.
Chilao is a good choice if you're camping with young children. There are several flat campsites, piped water, and an easy trail nearby. We staked our tents at sites 3 & 4 in the Little Pines section of Chilao. (Like all campground in this forest, the only toilets are pit toilets, so don't look down! ) We arrived Thursday afternoon to enjoy a quieter campground. (It can be somewhat crowded here on summer weekends.)
Before leaving I called the district ranger's office to check conditions, verify water availability and campfire regulations, and get recommendations. The Forest Service also posts campground info on its website. In this forest "Be Aware of Bear Activity" means put all your food and smelly stuff (including toiletries) in your car. Try that in Sequoia National Park you'll be ticketed and perhaps have your car trashed by bears.
The ranger recommended the Little Pines Loop. It's not signed, but I guessed that it's this one: From Little Pines Campground head back to the main Chilao road. (This road loops from the campground to the picnic area and defunct visitor center.) Look for the trail that's behind the sign pointing to the campgrounds. We picked up the stretch of the trail that parallels the road. Much of it is flat, and fairly shady.
It's a lovely trail, but I have to admit to some disappointment. Drought has really dried up the Chilao area. What I remembered as a lovely meadow with a tinkling creek was bone dry in early May. And it was hotter than I'd expected. I'm also wistful about the days when there was a sweet visitor center here. Sadly, the Forest Service has closed it indefinitely because of lack of money to repair, maintain and staff it.
If you have older kids--or a baby that won't be hoofing it himself--I recommend the Buckhorn Campground, six miles up the road from Chilao.
Once again, the highlight of the trip for our two-year-old was the campfire. This time he got to roast marshmallows--and make banana boats! Our friends showed us how to insert our marshmallows and chocolate into a banana, wrap it in foil and roast it.
Another favorite campsite activity: swinging--and wrestling--in a pair of hammocks. I enjoyed a glimpse of some western bluebirds. Our friends spied on some grey squirrels. Scarlet bugler (Penstemon centrathifolius) and ceanothus were blooming around the campground.
We also sampled the silver moccasin trail, which runs through the area. You can pick it up next to Little Pines campsite #36 (or was it 38?). Please bring a trail map/trail book with you. I use John Robinson's Trails of the Angeles (the 8th edition). But his map only includes the trails he describes, so I recommend picking up a topo map.
Saturday we hiked a fire road from Cloudburst Summit into Cooper Canyon. The trail ultimately leads you into a gorgeous (steep) canyon and drops you at Buckhorn Campground, but we didn't get that far. (It's hike #61 in Trails of the Angeles.) The boys ran downhill exuberantly; then petered out and demanded to be carried back (uphill, of course). I enjoyed seeing the blooming lupine; we even got a look at a snow plant. This all red plant doesn't contain chlorophyll. It feeds off the roots of nearby pines and the humus that accumulates under them.
- Charlton Flat to Vetter Mountain Lookout. It's two miles roundtrip, much of it on paved road. (#55 in Trails of the Angeles)
- Chilao to Horse Flats. This trail is steeper. It's been a while since I hiked it, so it might not be ideal for little ones (#58 in book)
More on this trip from Ramshackle Solid.
Here's my camping checklist. And an Amazon link to the Robinson book. (Yes, I get %10 if you buy it from this link.) The campground fee is $12 a night.