The Mount Lowe Railway is an obligatory Pasadena hike for its historical significance. Built in the 1890’s by Professor Thaddeus Lowe, the railway served to ferry visitors the three and a half miles between the Echo Mountain House hotel and Ye Alpine Tavern below Mount Lowe until in 1938 fire and flood swept through the area.
The railway was only part of an even grander vision for the Front Range of the San Gabriel Mountains. Professor Lowe had planned to extend the railway to the summit of the mountain that now carries his name. There he envisioned yet another hotel and cable cars to link it to San Gabriel Peak where visitors would study the heavens and the environment. However, he depleted his money by 1895 and was forced to end development two and a half miles shy of the summit.
Although the railway is but a portion of what was planned it is still an engineering marvel even by today’s standards. The railway consisted of 18 bridges and 127 turns. The longest straight stretch of track was a mere 225 ft long. Today, the tracks are all gone and all that remains of the bridges are the stone and concrete foundations, but markers at each of the tram’s former stations remind visitors of a time long gone when vacationers could venture into the rugged San Gabriel Range in a more civilized fashion.
From the top of Lake Avenue take the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain. Here you can survey the foundations of the Echo Mountain House and enjoy panoramic views of the San Gabriel valley and beyond. From Echo Mountain follow the signs marking the old railway’s path to Ye Alpine Tavern which has since been converted to a lovely, shaded campsite. The most direct return route is via Inspiration Point where you can enjoy picnic tables and sighting tubes pointing out the highlights of the sprawling LA basin below. Return via the the Castle Canyon trail to Echo Mountain then down the way you came up. Allow 6 hours to complete the loop and always be prepared for a full day in the rugged Angeles National Forest.
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