If you blink you may miss this mountain town hidden among the lush pine trees in the San Gabriel Mountains. The population of the town after all is just 4,500 residents that are scattered around in unique log cabins throughout the forest.
There is just one main highway running through which connects city dwellers in Los Angeles to the mountains. But, as I travel more and more I am learning that perhaps the most overlooked destinations really can be the most enjoyable ones. Here is all you need to know about the delightful town of Wrightwood.
Wrightwood’s beginnings are quite similar to the start of many of the small towns and big cities throughout Southern California and the western side of the country. In the exploration era of the 19th century, Nathan and Truman Swarthout first homesteaded here in the San Gabriel Mountains searching for land to start a new life. They were cattle ranchers who’s ranch successfully continued into the 1920s when the area was sold to developers for both businesses and homes to be built. It was the end of an era but the beginning of Wrightwood as it is now.
Things To Do
What exactly is there to do in Wrightwood? One of the most popular answers to this question is an activity enjoyed in the snowy, winter months. Skiing!
First let us go back to the 1920s when the town was beginning to be built. It was then when early ski enthusiasts discovered that there was ample skiing to be had on the north facing slopes of the San Gabriel Valley. This wilderness area is above what is known as the Swarthout Valley. The skiing slope remained a Los Angeles County park until in 1937, when the ski resort named Big Pines opened and expanded to include a chairlift for its 1946-1947 ski season.
Today, Big Pines is known as the present day Mountain High Resort. The resort has expanded quite a bit from the early days with three separate mountains to explore. Here you can ski or snowboard, take a tube ride, enjoy a scenic view on the chair lift, sled down the hills or simply just snow play. Gear rentals are available on site, as well as ski and snowboard lessons for beginners. In the warm summer months you can play on the 27-hole Ski High Disc Golf frisbee course rated number 3 in the country. The course itself is set on an easy 2.5-mile hike through the historic Angeles National Forest where you may be joined by hawks, deer, coyotes and more.
Have you ever wanted to see what the forest looks like from the air? Located right next door to the Mountain High Resort is Ziplines at Pacific Crest. The company offers two zipline courses that are literally built in the trees. The Canopy Tour is one of the most thrilling zipline courses in the nation, which is set 300 feet off the forest floor, and from platform to platform has lengths of over 1,500 feet. The Mountain View Tour provides another unique zipline experience with a twist! At one point you leap off a tree platform in controlled free-fall! It is definitely the course for any thrill seeker.
Hiking is a must do whenever visiting the San Gabriel Mountains. Here you can truly get lost in the wilderness without being too far from the big cities. Here are some of the best Wrightwood has to offer:
- Pine Mountain: This 9-mile hike is not an easy trek. Starting on the Acorn Trail you climb through the shaded forest to test your fear of heights on the North Backbone Trail. But the views are worth the effort as well as the emptiness of this lightly trafficked hike.
- Table Mountain: This almost 6-mile hike is a moderate one that brings you through shaded groves to spectacular views. In the spring you can enjoy the vibrant flowers or try snowshoeing up to the top in winter.
- Inspiration Point and Grassy Hollow: A drive up highway 2 takes you to this easy 4-mile hike. This trail is a great one for kids with only a 600 foot elevation gain. You will be rewarded with lovely views and not too, too many people as you hike along a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Places to Stay
Wrightwood is not a large town by any means. It has one small general store and absolutely zero commercial retail chains. Where do you stay in a quiet place like this? If you are looking for a traditional hotel setup then I highly recommend the Cedar Lodge Motel. Located tucked up in the mountains; this lodge is family owned with six uniquely designed rooms. This warm motel has everything homey to make you feel, well, at home.
A more luxurious stay can be found at The Rhinestone Rose Inn & Wellness Center. This wellness center is equipped with spa features such as a sauna, hot tub, and couples message. The five star B&B offers a vegan breakfast option with its three distinct cabins.
Are you wanting a bit more rustic staying experience? There are a few lovely campground options in Wrightwood. My absolute favorite one is the small Guffy Campground located on the Blue Ridge above the town. With only a handful of spots this campground is first come, first serve. The views are incredible with limited amenities such as a vault toilet and fire pits. Another nearby option is the Blue Ridge Campground. Situated at 8,000 feet it is another first come, first serve option with picnic tables, pit toilets, and fire rings.
Lastly, Wrightwood has numerous Airbnb and home rental options. You can choose from log cabins with warm fireplaces to more modern yet cozy A-frame gems. There are many cabin rental options to explore in this small community.
Wrightwood may be the best kept secret in Southern California. With its friendly community, beautiful natural surroundings, and fun activities to explore it is not hard to see why it is a wonderful place to visit with the entire family. So wonderful in fact I am tempted to keep it all to myself.
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus