Mount Baldy Notch Moonlight Hike
Date Hiked: October 7, 2011
Best Season: Autumn Spring Summer
Check Trail Conditions: Mt. Baldy Visitor Center Interpretive Site (909) 982-2829
Notes: Adventure Pass required if parking anywhere else.
- Distance: 4.3 miles round-trip
- Elevation Gain: 1,310 feet
- Route Type: Out-and-Back
- Trail Type: Fire road
- Difficulty: Moderate
The Mount Baldy area is a Southern California hiking treasure. In fact, three of our favorite hikes (Backbone Trail to Baldy Summit, Ice House Canyon, and Stoddard Peak) are all in the same general vicinity. As a result, we are now on the e-mail list for the Mount Baldy Ski Resort, and get their solicitations regularly.
One promotion that caught our attention was their Moonlight Hike at BBQ at the Top of the Notch Restaurant, which we had previously enjoyed for an apres’ hike beer after visiting the summit. The BBQ consists of tri-tip, chicken, roasted red potatoes, vegetables, and salad for $16 in advance when purchased online. You can hike both ways, or purchase the dinner with a round trip ride on their chair lift for $33.50, or hike one way and ride the lift the other for $26. They will even allow you to plan to hike both ways, eat dinner, and then change your mind and buy a one way ticket down for $10.
In doing some quick research, we found that in the past few years, they do this on the Friday closest to the full moon every month during the warmer months–or at least the months where there isn’t snow on the mountain. This allows you to walk down after dinner in the light of the moon, which sounded pretty cool to us.
Unfortunately, the first Friday that worked for us wasn’t until October, which was to be the last one for the year. Having it on a Friday makes it a little tricky if you actually work for a living (which both of us do–mostly). Dinner is served from 6:30-8, so there is a bit of a window to arrive in, and we planned to arrive at 5:30, so that we could hike up in the light as the sun set, and make sure we got up there by 8, just in case the hike was harder than expected and took longer than we planned.
We got to the base right on time, and exchanged our pre-paid voucher print-out for a meal ticket at the shop/office in the parking lot. At the far (west) end of the parking lot, you could find the fire road/trailhead to the top. The first 1,000 feet was the steepest part, and the road (on this day at least) was in the worst condition of the hike. At the end of that 1,000 feet, you hit an intersection with another fire road that was in better shape, and not quite as steep. Turn right here, and there are no other decisions to make on the two mile hike up.
Hiking up at sunset gave us some great views down the canyon towards the Inland Empire as the sun, well… set. Seemed like every turn of the trail gave us more changing colors. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Catalina from the Baldy notch and the trail, but while the particulates in the air blocked that particular view on this evening, they also made for a beautiful sunset!
After that initial stretch (which really wasn’t so bad), the walk was really quite pleasant to the top. We reached the “Top of the Notch” restaurant just as it got dark, and the meal was actually really good! It was served buffet style, and there was a bar with beer and wine there as well. There were fireplaces and tables inside, with live entertainment being provided by a man on a guitar. But even though it was warm and cozy inside, and pretty cold outside and a bit windy, we had brought our dog, so we sat out on the patio to eat, near the outdoor fireplaces, with a view of the lights of the Inland Empire below.
We wandered away from the lights of the restaurant a little bit to take in the stars above and even the view of the High Desert off the back side of the notch not too far away. The way down was even more pleasant than the way up! We had brought headlamps and flashlights for the walk down, but with the light of the moon, there were only a couple of spots along the way that were too shaded by trees to let the light through where we actually had to use them. The rest of the hike was very nicely lit by the natural light from above, and it seemed like we were back down in the parking lot in no time–it is quite obvious where you have to make the left turn near the bottom to get back where you want to go, as it is the only junction you’ll hit.
We enjoyed it enough that we’re looking to do it again this year with another group of friends. It really does make for a nice group date night with outd00rsy friends. If you wanted to make it a little more rugged, there is a single track loose gravel trail that goes right up the middle of the canyon under the chair lift that is shorter, but steeper, and much less traveled than the fire road route. There’s also, of course, the much easier route–the chair lift!
A second option that we may consider in the future is their “sunset and stargazing” dinners, which are very similar to the moonlight dinners, except they are held on non-full moon nights, when the stars are a bit more visible. You’d likely need flashlights/headlamps (or the chairlift) to get back down, but I’m sure those are nice evenings as well.
They just started these dinners up again this month (May), and they will likely run through October again, weather permitting.
NOTE: While we love lots of things about Mount Baldy, their website is terrible, and it is very possible that the direct links to the event pages will not work. If not, just go to their front page: http://www.mtbaldyskilifts.com and click on either the ad at the top, or one of the dates at the bottom.
NOTE 2: We have since done this a second time, this time on a very hot June day. But while it was very warm at sunset at the trailhead, and comfortable on the entire hike both directions, it was still very cold at the top in the wind on the patio with the dog. We have decided that while it is definitely worth doing yet again, next time we will leave the dog behind so we can go inside, to the warm, comfortable dining room with the fireplace and the live music.
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