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For A Safe Summer Hike Near LA, Try This Shady And History-Tinged Trail Above Altadena

Walking along the Dawn Mine trail, you'll pass right by this little cabin in the woods. It's still in use and in good shape. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)
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We've been having some pretty hot days here in L.A., and while many people will choose to stay inside, some nature lovers still want to go out without melting in the sun.

Those simmering triple-digit temperatures may be too much for many hikes, but there are some key elements to look for in a trail on the more bearable summer days.

  • Shade: Shady hikes are going to be much more comfortable when the sun is out
  • Water: You may not want to drink it, but you can dunk your bandana to cool off
  • Elevation: Hikes a little higher in the mountains will be much cooler

The other big factor in having your best summer hiking experience is timing. You're much better off setting out early or late for a sunrise or sunset trek, according to Casey Schreiner, founder of the site Modern Hiker. The temperatures are lower and you can get some gorgeous views.

To give safe summer hiking a try, we explored the Dawn Mine trail, located just north of Altadena.

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The shaded path of the Dawn Mine is great for a sunny SoCal day, but be careful taking on any trails if it gets too hot. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

There's a couple ways you can do this hike: as a 4.5-mile out-and-back trek to the old mine or as a 6-mile loop that combines with the Echo Mountain trail (although the end of this second option is a bit sunnier and steeper).

The trail starts along a ridge, with views of Altadena, Pasadena and the downtown L.A. skyline in the distance on one side and the San Gabriels on the other.

"One of the great things about the front range of the San Gabriels is they're super close to a lot of people who live in the city," Schreiner said. "But what's great is you look to the right, you see the city, you look to the left and it's basically wilderness."

The start of the Dawn Mine trail, before you descend into the shady canyon, is sunny but offers some great city views. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

The first portion of the trail does get pretty sunny, but it's flat, and pretty soon you come to a fork in the road where you descend into the canyon and the shade. This is also where you get to see some reminders of the local past hidden along the route.

Just past an old bridge you can see a cabin that's still in use today but dates back to L.A.'s. 'Great Hiking Era,' which lasted from the 1880s to the 1930s and brought plenty of Angelenos to hiking trails and cabins in the San Gabriels.

"Like many places in the foothills and even the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, this was where you could lease out a cabin from the Forest Service," Schreiner explained. "Some of them are remnants of old camps, some were mini-vacation homes for people and some of them used to be old miners' retreats."

Santa Anita Canyon is also a good place to see these old cabins, Schreiner said, and every once in a while one of them will come up for sale. (The hike to Sturtevant Falls in Santa Anita is also a nice shady hike for the summertime.)

History like this is a fun addition to the natural beauty of a hike, and Dawn Mine has plenty of history to offer -- as the name indicates, it used to be a functioning mine.

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The foothills of the San Gabriels have a rich gold mining history, and some of the earliest mines were actually in Millard Canyon, where the Dawn Mine is located. Like most mines in the San Gabriels, this one wasn't particularly lucrative, but it was open for many years, Schreiner said.

As you make your way out to the site of the mine, you'll see some of the old equipment along the way.

Old mining equipment litters the Dawn Mine trail and lets hikers peek into SoCal's mining past. (Photo courtesy Casey Schreiner/Modern Hiker)

The trees make this a pretty green trail, and the creek the route runs along adds some natural charm. Depending on the time of year, you could even be treated to some wildflowers. At the 2.2-mile mark you'll reach the site of the mine and get a look at the mine shaft, but for safety reasons it's no longer open for exploring.

The trip out to Dawn Mine and back isn't too difficult, but if it sounds like a slightly longer, more strenuous hike than you had in mind, there's another good shady trail nearby: Millard Canyon Falls.

Schreiner said this trail is short, easy and ends in a waterfall, which makes it a perfect light hike for a summer day.

But if you do try hiking in the summer, be mindful: some days are just too hot, even on the shadier trails. Schreiner doesn't advise hiking when it gets much hotter than 90 degrees out.

"If you think it's too hot, or even if you're on the trail and you're sweating and if you're getting dizzy, if you're not having a good time, it's OK to turn around," he said. "You don't have to finish the trail every time."

And of course, make sure you bring plenty of water, sunblock and snacks anytime you head out for a hike in the sun. You can read up on more hiking safety tips here, courtesy of L.A. County's parks and recreation department. Happy trekking!

Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it here on KPCC's Take Two.

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