San Gabriel Mountains - Silver Moccasins Trail - Mt. Baden-Powell
Silver Moccasins Trail Award patch
Silver Moccasins Trail Award patch

While I was in the Navy, on August 13-18, 1956 I went with a Boy Scout group from Los Angeles, California let by Jim Goldstein on the 54 mile Silver Moccasins Trail.

The Silver Moccasin Trail is one of several hiking award trails offered by the Los Angeles Council, Boy Scouts of America. The route varies from time to time as new roads are built; forest fires destroy areas, etc.

The trail starts on the fringes of the large Los Angeles metropolitan basin and proceeds to the ridge of the San Gabriel Mountains which it follows East. It ends shortly after the climb of Mt. Baden-Powell, named in honor of the founder of Scouting.

Most of the route is heavily developed and offers little real wilderness. One of the prettiest campsites was Little Jimmy Springs.

The following has been adapted from an article on Wikipedia.

The Silver Moccasin Trail is a 53-mile trail located in the San Gabriel Mountains, northeast of Los Angeles. It begins at Chantry Flat Recreation Area above the city of Arcadia, California, traversing upward and down through several canyons and along the high ridges of the Angeles National Forest.

This trail connects Mt. Baden-Powell, Mount Burnham, Throop Peak and Mount Hawkins. It comes to its highest point of 9,399 feet at Mount Baden-Powell after which point it descends to its terminus at Vincent Gap on the Angeles Crest Highway near Wrightwood.

Silver Moccasins Trail route map fromWikipedia
Silver Moccasins Trail route map from Wikipedia

The landscape of the Silver Moccasins Trail varies from lowland chaparral slopes, to oak-lined canyons, to the fir and pine forests of Mt. Baden-Powell, where several Southern California councils of the Boy Scouts of America have placed a monument to their founder, Lord Robert Baden-Powell.

The Silver Moccasins Trail started as a series of Indian trails originally created by the local Native Americans (probably Tongva), but its use was continued by Anglo settlers who either hunted or hiked along its route.

In 1942, the Los Angeles Area Council of Boy Scouts established a designated route as the Silver Moccasins Trail, and any Scouts who complete the hike, usually involving several days travel, are qualified to receive the Silver Moccasins Award. Boy Scouts, especially those who are enrolled in "hiking troops," walk this trail usually as part of a five-day backpack trip.

The LA Area Council, BSA map that was printed before 1953 (has the name "Flores" in the corner) showed a 60 mile route. It started at the end of the Pacific Electric rail line at Grand View Avenue (6 miles from Chantry Flat). The trail ended at Camp Pepperdine (elevation 6150 ft elevation) near Jackson Lake.

The map identifies the six USGS topographic maps for the trail (Sierra Madre, Mt. Wilson, Alder Creek, Waterman Mtn, Crystal Lake, and Mt Baden Powell Quadrangles). The map showed the Mt Baden Powell summit as a short side trip off the main trail.

Alternate starting points, or trailheads, have been established for the SMT more than likely due to overuse or overcrowding at Chantry Flat, which has somewhat reduced the adventuresome attractiveness of the younger, less-traveled version.

However, sections of the trail which are only 8 miles to 10 miles in length while reaching the Baden-Powell summit qualify it as a 20-mile (flatland) hike due to gains in elevation which are about 5,000 feet. The Baden-Powell portions of the hike are also beneficial for acclimation to altitudes for beginning hikers who may experience mild altitude sickness between 8,000 feet and 9,000 feet.

The following segments are listed from the Chantry Flats starting point to the Vincent Gap terminus and show "via routes" and the one-way mileage:

Mount Baden-Powell
Baden Powell Monument Dedication Plaque
Baden Powell Monument Dedication Plaque

While I climbed 9,406' Mount Baden-Powell as part of the above Silver Moccasins Trail backpack, it can easily be reached as a day hike from several road heads. The peak is named after the founder of the Scouting movement and has a plaque on top.

Vincent Gap to the summit is 8 miles round trip with 2,800-foot elevation gain. This trail and peak honor Lord Baden-Powell, a British Army officer who founded the Boy Scout movement in 1907.

The well-engineered trail, grooved into the side of the mountain by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s, switchbacks up the northeast ridge to the peak.

The peak was once known as North Baldy, before Southern California Boy Scouts lobbied the Forest Service for a name change. Mount Baden-Powell is the terminus of the scouts' 53-mile Silver Moccasin Trail, a rugged week-long backpack through the San Gabriels. Scouts who complete the long trail earn the Silver Moccasins Award.

The trail follows a moderate, steady grade to the top of the mountain, where there's a monument honoring Lord Baden-Powell. On the summit, you'll meet those ancient survivors, the limber pines, and be treated to superb views across the Mojave Desert and down into the Iron Fork of the San Gabriel River.

The hike: The trail immediately begins ascending from Vincent Gulch Divide, a gap which separates the upper tributaries of the San Gabriel River to the south from Big Rock Creek to the northwest.

You begin switchbacking southwest through Jeffrey pine and fir. The trail numbers more than three dozen of these switchbacks, but so many beautiful attractions compete for the hiker's attention that it's hard to get an accurate count.

In 1.5 miles, a side trail (unmarked) leads a hundred yards to Lamel Spring, an inviting resting place and the only dependable water en route.

With increased elevation, the switchbacks grow shorter and steeper and the vegetation changes from fir to lodgepole pine. Soon, even the altitude-loving lodgepoles give way to the heartiest of pines, the limber pine.

A half-mile from the summit, around 9,000 feet in elevation, the first of these squat, thick-trunked limber pines come into view. Shortly, you'll intersect a side trail to the limber pine forest.

To Limber Pine Forest: A tiny sign points right (southwest) to the limber pine stand, 1/8 mile. These wind-loving, subalpine dwellers are one of the few living things that can cope with the rarefied atmosphere. Pinus flexilis, botanists call the species, for its long, droopy, flexible branches. They bow and scrape like hyper extended dancers and appear to gather all their nourishment from the wind.

Back on the main trail, a few more switchbacks bring you atop the ridge where Mount Baldy can be glimpsed. You walk along the barren crest and intersect the Pacific Crest Trail. PCT swoops off to Little Jimmy Spring.

You continue past the limber pines to the summit. A concrete monument pays homage to Lord Baden-Powell. Enjoy the superb view out across the Mojave to the southern Sierra and east to Baldy, San Gorgonio and San Jacinto.

Mount Baden-Powell Identification Plaque on the Baden-Powell Monument
Mount Baden-Powell Identification Plaque on the Baden-Powell Monument
Scout Oath Plaque on the Baden-Powell Monument
Scout Oath Plaque on the Baden-Powell Monument

Check out the HikeSpeak website for an excellent description of the trail with a map and lots of pictures.