Some call Wrightwood the most criminally overlooked town in the US State of California, hiding within the lushness of the pine forest in the San Gabriel Mountains, while only an hour-and-a-half drive out of the Los Angeles area. Once home to the infamous author Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), this hidden gem with hill-side log cabins scattered in-between the trees comprises a cozy getaway into a whole new natural world.
Located 77 miles northeast of Los Angeles, only the major Highway 2 connects the mega-hub dwellers to the quaint small town retreat with 4,500-some residents. The getaway into the fresh air, wilderness, and magnificent mountain vistas that Wrightwood offers make for a unique experience from the "go-to" spots of the quiet beachside communities and dusty desert destinations. The Mountain High Ski Resort makes it a popular holiday destination for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and skill levels. At the same time, the variety of stays, including vacation rentals, Wrightwood Cabins, bed and breakfasts, and several hotels, can accommodate all tastes and budgets.
With the indigenous people of Shoshonean origin in the area, the Gabrielinos occupied the foothills of the LA basin; the Fernandinos roamed the west canyons, and the Serrano were settled along the mountain tops and ridges to the east. The latter were hearty people used to maintaining a self-sufficient and distinct lifestyle at the higher altitudes, calling themselves “Yuharetum,” meaning “people of the pines.” The several hundred years of gathering and trading resulted in developed trails across the ranges and through the ridges. “Serrano,” meaning “mountaineer,” was the Spanish name given to them by the inquisitors that came to occupy the San Bernardino Mountains, the valley, and the adjoining desert lands. Taking the natives to the Mission Asistencia in San Bernardino (1819), where they would attend regular classes in mission schools as well as more challenging European standard of education courses, including Spanish and communication skills, as a return favor, the Serrano shared their knowledge of survival in an unsettled land.
Modern History Of Wrightwood
The valley was initially developed for cattle ranching in the 19th century by Nathan and Truman Swarthout. Later owned by Sumner Wright, the area was sold to business and home developers, with the main ranch breaking into residential and commercial lots for a community that started to take form in the 1920s. It was not long before the north-facing slopes of the San Gabriels above the Swarthout Valley were noticed by skiers, taking advantage of the area known as Big Pines part Los Angeles County Park until 1937. The development of highways coming out of the major routes in the Cajon Pass made Wrightwood easily accessible without driving across the ranges. Conversely from other small-town getaways, over the last 60-some years, the town has evolved from being a vacation destination into a growing community of residents. The Serrano High School was established within the previous half-a-century, serving Wrightwood and the neighboring communities of Phelan and Pinon Hills.
Geography And Climate Of Wrightwood
The small mountain community is a census-designated place in San Bernardino County, covering an area of 15 sq. km, with only 0.06% water. It is set at 1,809 m above sea level in Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains in the surroundings of the Angeles National Forest and just south of the High Desert. The Blue Ridge in Swarthout Valley, formed by the movement of the San Andreas Fault, overlooks and protects the town from the south.
The mountainous climate means cold winters and warm summers for the town, with an average of 25 inches of rain, 57 inches of snow, and 283 sunny days per year. The seasons of transformations, spring, and fall, light up the town with color, making for a breathtaking spectacle and scenic walks through the lush forests.
Grassy Hollow Visitor’s Center
Set just off Highway 2, some two-and-a-half miles west of Wrightwood, the Grassy Hollow Visitor’s Center welcomes one to learn about the area through interactive exhibits, taxidermy, full moon interpretive hikes, and seasonal educational programs. There is also a binocular station on the deck for scenic bird watching and a souvenir shop to share the experience from the visit back home.
Camping & Hiking
There are several campgrounds just outside the town well-equipped for tents and RVs, such as the Table Mountain Campground near the North Mountain High Ski Resort, inclusive of many hiking trails, picnic areas, and visitor centers. Hiking offers an active one-on-one spent with the wilderness on the many trails in the vicinity of Wrightwood. The Pacific Crest Trail is famous for its span from Canada to Mexico along the Blue Ridge for a scenic view of the town. The Pine Mountain is a 9-mile hike on the difficult side and without crowds, beginning at the Acorn Trail to climb through the shaded forest to the highly-set North Backbone Trail offering views worth the effort. The Table Mountain is some 6-mile moderate hike leading one through shady groves to spectacular views of flowering meadows in the summer but can also be show-shoed in winter. Inspiration Point and Grassy Hollow is an easy 4-mile hike with 600-foot elevation gain, partly hiked along a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Many trails are also great for mountain biking, while others lead to Jackson Lake.
Pacific Crest Ziplines
Only 5 minutes out of Wrightwood, the Pacific Crest Zipline is enjoyed thoroughly as the most famous of its kind in all of Southern California. Connected across trees, it has a too-real feel of flying through the air unattended while being completely safe throughout the authentic jungle feel of going from one platform to another. The Canopy tour is top-rated among the extreme-seekers, offering lengths of more than 1,500 feet at heights of up to 300 feet above the forest floor. The Mountain View tour provides an opportunity to leap off a tree platform in a controlled free-fall.
Mountain High Resort
Nestled along State Route 2 west of Wrightwood, Mountain High is one of the top-rated and most-visited Ski resorts in the state that does not require mountain driving to reach. Comprised of three different regions, the Mountain High East, West, and North, it caters to all experience levels. While the West Resort is the most popular, the East resort has a long run and more open terrain, and both are perfect for those wishing to brush up their skills. The North Resort is ideal for beginners or those desiring a completely relaxed ski or snowboard experience within the splendid snow-packed mountain vistas. In summer, the Resort is open for Sky High Disk Golfing.
Only a 5 to 7-minute drive out of town, the 7-acre lake sits at 6,000 feet of elevation near a canyon to the east of the town. Visiting Jackson Lake takes the tranquillity to a whole new level with fishing and picnicking during the summer, inclusive of parking spots, picnic tables, and barbecue grills right by the water. Like the Blue Ridge, the San Andreas Fault formed the lake and is dependent today on the snowmelt from the mountains. One can also kayak and canoe in the lake, while the lakeside campground with non-electric sites for recreational vehicles and tent camping offers the experience to last for days.
Evergreen Cafe and Racoon Salon
A favorite place among locals, the Racoon Salon and attached cafe offer a cozy café vibe with a restaurant-style menu, music, and drinks within the mountainous setting. One can also enjoy a game of pool or play with the Jukebox. The breakfast and lunch menu is known for the big servings of hoagie sandwiches, chicken fried steak, biscuits, the Monte Cristo, a giant omelet, and delicious pie options for dessert. With an eclectic exterior, homey inside, reasonable prices, and delicious food, the place is trendy among couples and for friends' nights.
Open every Friday from roughly 3:30 P.M. to 7:00 P.M, the Wrightwood Certified Farmers Market is located along 1275 State Highway 2, as one of the most visited places in town. Anyone will find something of interest, including locally-grown, organic, sustainable, and delicious fruits, and vegetables, as well as quintessential crafts and accessories. If not in the mood for shopping, there's live music, performances, health and cooking lectures, and massages. The Vintage Antiques & Oddities store offers shelves and piles of countless valuable or simply fascinating items at low prices for antique shopping. The “Pickers Yard” at the front of the shop contains larger objects to claim, a la garage sale-style.
Christmas comes early to Wrightwood, with snow sometimes seen in October for a picture-perfect postcard view of the charming little mountain town. In-between skiing, Wrightwood brims with Christmas shoppers headed to the eclectic array of local shops in the downtown area. Filled with trinkets, ornaments, festive decors, and unique holiday gifts, one will indeed find something special before settling in one of the restaurants and cafés with a gorgeous backdrop. Wrightwood's annual events include Mountaineer Days, the Mountain Classic Car Show, Music Festivals, and Garage Sale Weekends. A Live Town Camera is set above the Cinnamon's Bakery near the center and a live feed from the Mountain High Ski Resort Web Cameras to see this next bucket-list destination from home or work.
Wrightwood is famous for its vibrantly changing seasons, un-crowded feel, and always something unique to offer everybody year-round within the most breathtaking views. Several people consider Wrightwood one of the best places to live in Southern California; it is no surprise that many tourists become long-timers or come back times again to be seen at the local restaurants, bars, bakeries, and coffee houses.