Added protections to California’s San Gabriel Mountains would boost access for park-poor communities

San Gabriel Mountains, California.

San Gabriel Mountains, CA

Michael Gordon

Under proposal, expanded wilderness and monument status plus links to urban areas

The San Gabriel Mountains offer an unconventional Southern California “backyard” -- miles of wild terrain including majestic mountain peaks, clear rivers and countless recreational opportunities for urban communities that might not otherwise have access to nature. The fact that it is within a 90-minute drive for17 million Los Angeles area residents makes it all the more significant. Additionally, one-third of Los Angeles County’s drinking water comes from the Angeles National Forest, and the landscape represents 70 percent of the county’s open space.

Under a new proposal from Sen. Kamala Harris, the San Gabriels would gain new protections. Some highlights of the bill, which follows proposals advanced in the House by Rep. Judy Chu in 2017:

  • Expanded protection for the existing Sheep Mountain Wilderness and San Gabriel Wilderness as well as two brand new wilderness areas, Yerba Buena and Condor Peak. 
  • Expansion of the broader San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, bringing its westmost point near Santa Clarita
  • A new national recreation area stretching immediately to the south of the national monument area that would support much-needed local parks in the San Gabriel Valley
Hiker in San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, California

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, California

Mason Cummings, TWS

"With public lands across the country facing unprecedented attacks, Sen. Harris has shown a clear commitment to protecting our critical natural resources," said Dan Smuts, The Wilderness Society's senior regional director for the Pacific region, in a statement. "Her proposed legislation would help restore the health of forests and rivers, expand access to nature for those who need it the most, boost the economy of communities that depend on outdoor recreation and reduce the dangers posed by wildfire."

The San Gabriel Mountains are popular for hiking, picnics, fishing, camping and nature-watching, receiving about 4 million visitors annually, including many looking for a respite from urban life. But a lack of transportation to recreational sites has made it challenging for public transit-dependent and lower-income communities to access this amazing local resource.

Other challenges include a lack of visitor facilities, multilingual services, and trail signage to accommodate the diversity and volume of its visitors. Issues like limited staff and funding make the area vulnerable to wear and tear.

Proposed monument expansion—monument status was originally conferred by President Obama in 2014—will advance the work of preserving the area and improving visitor services. This will ensure the forest can continue to provide more than one-third of L.A. County’s drinking water and serve as an outdoor recreation antidote to the obesity and diabetes crises. 

In past polls, about 80 percent of Los Angeles County voters expressed support for protecting the San Gabriel Mountains and rivers, including preserving wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities and clean air and water. Of note is the San Gabriels’ special significance to Latinos, who make up nearly half of all Los Angeles County residents and are uniquely at-risk for health issues that could be alleviated in part by easier access to outdoor activities. 

Photos of the San Gabriel Mountains

Forest landscape in the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Cucamonga Wilderness in the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Michael E. Gordon

The San Gabriel Mountains form a natural boundary between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert. They provide clean water and air to the nation’s second-largest urban areaand are also a critical haven for wildlife. The range contains some of the region’s most beautiful alpine and chaparral scenery, as well as habitat for Nelson’s bighorn sheep, endangered California condors, mountain lions, spotted owls and more.

Snowy Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Snowy Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Trey78, Flickr

The San Gabriel Mountains are tremendously popular among hikers in search of a challenging climb and a great panoramic view out to the sea. As the above photo of Cucamonga Peak attests, the higher elevations are appropriately snowy in the winter time, despite the range’s proximity to sunny Los Angeles.

Tent on Mt. Baden Powell in the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Mt. Baden Powell in the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Chris Nelson, Flickr

Mount Baden-Powell is among the tallest peaks in the San Gabriel Mountains at just under 9,400 feet, and it is a major recreational attraction both for the challenging hikes it offers and the fact that it is named for the founder of the Boy Scout movement. Hiking up Baden-Powell takes you through an astonishing array of vegetation and terrain.

Tree-covered slope in the Angeles National Forest, California

Angeles National Forest, California

lovz2hike, Flickr

The San Gabriel Mountains are the signature feature of the Angeles National Forest. Elevation in this diverse stretch of chaparral, pine, fir and mountain crags ranges from 1,200 to more than 10,000 feet. As one of the few remaining open spaces in the region, the forest is a vital refuge for people who don’t get to spend much time in nature. Millions of people visit the national forest every year.

Hikers in Sturtevant Falls in Angeles National Forest, California

Hikers in Sturtevant Falls in Angeles National Forest, California

USDA, Flickr

With its close proximity to Los Angeles, which is densely populated yet has few intra-city parks, the San Gabriels offer healthy outdoor recreation that can address Southern California’s obesity and diabetes crises. The area is already popular among cyclistshikers and anglers, but improved upkeep of visitor facilities and conservation of the area itself would enhance the outdoor experience for all residents and visitors.


A creek in Sheep Mountain Wilderness within the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Sheep Mountain Wilderness in the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Yosoydemichigan, Flickr

Water is a big part of what makes this area unique, and a big draw for anglers. Much of picturesque Cattle Canyon, a tributary of the San Gabriel River’s east fork, is contained in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, providing a popular but less-strenuous hike for outdoor adventurers. At certain points, Mount Baldy can be seen in the distance.

Cucamonga Wilderness in the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Cucamonga Wilderness in the San Gabriel Mountains, California

Brad Eells, Flickr

Smaller than nearby wilderness areas in the monument, the existing Cucamonga Wilderness is nonetheless an irreplaceable chunk of Southern California nature, containing some of the rare alpine landscape in the San Gabriels. Along with 18 miles of walking trails, the wilderness provides habitat for deer, bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep