The Big Horn Mine Trail Hike

[A must-see 4-mile hike just outside of LA]

Author: Michael POWER

The beautiful scenery and breathtaking views of the Angeles National Forest make it a worthwhile visit for hikers of all experience levels. A hike up the Big Horn Mine Trail that winds through the forest shouldn’t be too challenging, yet will also offer a lot to see for anyone interested in the California scenery.

The trail ends in an abandoned mine circa 1895 - a popular spot for photos and careful exploration. With Mount Baldy in the background, anyone looking for a stunning backdrop or new profile picture can spend some time with their camera at the top.

In this guide, we’ll cover the Big Horn Mine’s location, what to expect on your hike, turn-by-turn directions, and look at some maps for your planning stage.

  • Total Distance: 4.2 miles (6.75 kilometers)
  • Difficulty: Easy (Beginners should have no trouble completing the hike)
  • Elevation Gain: 840 feet (256 meters)
  • Highest Elevation: 6,932 feet (2113 meters)
  • Minimum Elevation: 6,460 feet (1969 meters)
  • Fees: None, except parking fee (list of Adventure Pass vendors)
  • Season: Year-round
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on leash
  • Trail Condition: Well-maintained and easy-to-follow
  • Total Time: Average 2 hours
  • Park Website: Angeles National Forest
  • Park Phone Number: 626-574-1613

Finding The Trailhead

The parking area for the trailhead is at the Vincent Gap. You can navigate to the address below to get started:

Vincent Gap, CA 93563

Google Maps has an accurate location for the trailhead. Check your other maps to ensure you’re in the right place.

Make sure you’ve displayed your parking pass clearly on the dashboard of your car. The Adventure Pass is most popular for parks in Southern California. A National Parks Pass also works, and is advisable for those hiking throughout the entire United States. If you have neither, you can purchase a day permit from the ranger’s office for $5.

Try to arrive a bit early as the lot may fill up, especially on weekends. While the park is open year-round, poor weather conditions in the winter may close roads to the trailhead. Check with the park website or call the ranger station beforehand if you’re in doubt.

Preparing For Your Hike

Because this is an easy hike, you won’t need any special gear or accessories. The route is well-marked and easy to follow, however a GPS device or app can add a layer of safety to your day out. A hiking backpack for your gear, water, and snacks is always recommended. Wear comfortable shoes, as it is a good few hours of walking.

The only time you might consider extra gear is during the winter. Snow and ice on the ground usually mean poles and spikes are a wise choice. Again, check with the local authorities to see the conditions before you arrive.

Trail Map Overview

The well-maintained path toward the mine is easy to follow. You’ll walk the path along the side of the mountain, reach your destination at the mine, then return the way you came. A map for the route can be found here.

Check out Hiking Guy's website: HERE. He has a ton more information than we do.

Navigating During The Hike

You can download a PDF map at the link above. A guide to the trail can provide more detail on the hike: which parts are hard, which are easy, and where the major landmarks lie.

If you have a dedicated GPS device, bring it. You probably won’t have to rely on your GPS, but it’s always good to have just in case. We don’t recommend using your smartphone to navigate during the hike. The last thing you want is to drop your pricey smartphone during a hike, and the poor cell phone reception on the trail limits GPS signals anyway. A printed map will work just as well, as the trail is fairly clear and direct.

The Big Horn Mine

The destination for this hike is the Big Horn Mine itself. This history of the site alone draws thousands of tourists per year. Founded in 1895 by Charles Tom Vincent, the mine was at one point the largest gold mine in Los Angeles county, worth over 2 million dollars in the year of its founding. That alone makes it worth seeing, but the deathbed confession of Charles Tom Vincent adds an extra twist to the tale.

Born Charles Vincent Dougherty, the mine’s founder was a Civil War veteran for the Union. He took up mining in Arizona and murdered three men he found robbing his home. He fled to California, changed his name, and only admitted his crimes in his last days to earn burial in L.A.’s National Cemetery, where his body rests today. The Vincent Gap and Vincent Gulch are named after him.

Vincent is among the more colorful characters in Los Angeles’ late 19th-century history. A mountain man through and through, he was known for being incredibly strong and having a peculiar personality. He would bathe in scalding water at the end of every day, even if other people were nearby. A sheep hunter before he discovered the mine, he could track deer and other game for miles, and had a disdain for city folk.

The full history of Dougherty AKA Charles Tom Vincent was covered by the Wrightwood Roots Historical Society. It’s an interesting read (PDF warning) if you’d like to learn more about the mine and its founder.

With over 1,200 feet of mine shafts, the Big Horn Mine should not be explored on your visit. You may see people climbing on the century-old structures, but that’s no reason to be careless when you’re nearby. Don’t go into the mine itself. If you’d like to see the interior, Check out: this link from Stranger Ranger. Save your camera for pictures of the trail and vista.

The mine operated between 1895 and 1985, when the price of gold dipped below the price of exploration. In 2006, the Wilderness Land Trust bought the land from the mining company and gave it to the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. It now ranks among the most popular hikes in LA County and is a worthwhile visit for any outdoor explorer.

Hiking Directions

When you arrive at the starting point you’ll see several trail heads for Vincent Gap. Head toward the white gate. You’ll see the sign for Mine Gulch and Baden-Powell Summit. If you go right, you’ll be joining the Pacific Crest Trail toward Mt. Baden-Powell. You don’t want to do that - it’s a much harder hike, but you can do both in one day if you’re looking for a challenge (see below for an overview of this hike).

The bathrooms outside of the parking lot aren’t impressive, but they’re the only restrooms around. Be sure to go before starting on the adventure. It’s at least two hours roundtrip.

Once you pass the white gate (just walk around it), continue on the trail toward Big Horn Mine. There aren’t any signs for the mine yet, but you’re on the right direction if you passed through the gate.

After a short descent you’ll head toward an intersection. Keep right toward the mine; a sign will let you know you’re two miles away. Another sign points toward Vincent’s Cabin; save that spot for later.

The trail may be a bit overgrown in places but it’s easy to follow and widens out often on a path through pine trees. The trees give way to scrubs at the trail’s only tricky section. Although there are occasional rockslides, the only potential concern is black ice in the winter. Don’t run through this section; tread carefully, at least until you reach the wider portion of the trail afterward.

The trail moves up a gradual incline as you reach the last leg of the trip. This section was, at one point, a dirt road miners used to move back and forth between the mine. You’ll pass a few mine shafts on your path straight toward the Big Horn Mine.

There are a few ups and downs on the final portion of the trip, however with the mine in sight you’ll have no trouble crossing a small stream. Just be careful on the last 20 feet; the downhill is short but very steep.

If you’ve arrived later in the day, you’ll have to wait for your chance to take a picture. Crowds usually form around 10 in the morning and remain large until dusk. Arrive earlier if you want a more private view. There’s a large open space near the mine’s entry where you can take a break or even have a picnic if you’ve packed in advance.

Getting back is as simple as following the same trail down the mountain.

A Pitstop at Vincent’s Cabin

On your way back, it’s worth checking out Vincent’s Cabin if you’re not hurting for time. Once you reach the first intersection back at the start of the trail, you’ll see the sign pointing toward Vincent’s Cabin. As the name suggests, this is where Charles Tom Vincent (AKA Charles Vincent Dougherty) lived during his time as a mountain man and mine owner.

It’s only a half mile to the destination across a level path. Not everyone who does the mine hike stops at Vincent’s Cabin, but those who do usually recommend it as a quick and interesting pit stop on the way back.

A tree trunk lies across the trail to Vincent’s Cabin, but it’s easy enough to climb over and continue your journey. Once you reach the cabin you can go inside and pretend you’re a mountain man. Or just take a few pictures and enjoy the nature around you.

Optional: The Mt. Baden Powell Hike

The parking lot for the Big Horn Mine Trail is also right outside of the mouth of the Mount Baden-Powell Trail. At the white gate just before you begin, turn right instead of left and you’ll start the journey to the summit of Mount Baden-Powell.

This hike is much more challenging and takes at least 4 hours over its 8.3-mile span. It’s a tough road to the top but offers some of the most expansive and beautiful views of the San Gabriel Mountains, with 1500-year old limber pine trees offering rest stops along the way.

You can do both hikes in one day if you start early, pack accordingly, and are fit enough for over 12 miles of total hiking. It’s not recommended for beginners or those underdressed for the alpine temperatures. That being said, the two trails are so close by that some experienced hikers just can’t resist taking them both on in one day. Most people choose to do one or the other, since a single hike is less time-consuming.

If you decide on hike per day is enough (and hey, we probably agree), make a mental note of where the Mt. Baden-Powell trail begins. You may want to come back at some point in the future.

Wrapping Up

The Big Horn Mine Trail hike is a simple one that offers great views and draws locals and tourists alike throughout the year. You don’t need much in the way of gear or experience to make it to the top. Use your head and keep careful through the steeper spots, or where the trail is a bit more overgrown. Once you get to the Vincent Gap, you’ll be able to follow the signs toward the mine.

Make sure to snap lots of pictures and enjoy a break at the top before you start heading down, in the same direction you came up. On the way back, it’s a good idea to stop at Vincent’s Cabin to bask in the history of this colorful prospector and see what 19th-century mountain living looked like. If you’re feeling up for a particular challenge, a second hike up Mount Baden-Powell is possible, but only if you’ve got the experience and stamina (and time).

Otherwise, make your way back to your vehicle, keep your parking pass for later, and head back home to plan your next hike along a beautiful southern California trail.