Features: Views — Wildflowers
Some sections of very narrow trail. No room to squeeze past anyone coming up. Much of the service road and trail has loose tiny rocks, what I call "ball bearings;" especially troublesome on the way down from the summit. Going up the last stretch to the summit (about 650 feet), you'll encounter pockets of large rock outcroppings to "climb through." Sometimes this requires balancing yourself with a hand. Other parts of the trail have nice, smooth dirt. There are occasional tree roots to negotiate. Although the trail is really well-maintained, you may get scratched by close brush here and there if you're not paying attention.
On the way up, when you get past the highest ski lift tower, you can watch for two side trails. One goes to the top of Mt. Harwood and the other goes down the Register Ridge route that ends on the Ski Hut Trail. (A great hike up for training.)
At the saddle between Mt. Harwood and the final stretch to the summit, there are often extreme winds. Be careful.
You'll see varied terrain: from narrow trail with sheer drops on both sides, to cliff-hugging sections with no room for error, to benign open space with beautiful landscape, to brutally steep, rocky sections. Along the trail before Mt. Harwood, you have great views of the east side of the mountains. When the trail opens up below Mt. Harwood, you can see Baldy Bowl and the West Ridge
---part of the Ski Hut trail.
On the summit of Mt. Baldy, you have a 360-degree view, with Baden Powell to the north-east, the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the far distance to the north, San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio to the south. You can often see the ocean and Catalina Island, and even make out the Isthmus on a clear day.
There are rock rings up there and plenty of room to kick back and have a snack.
The Backbone Trail actually continues on to the town of Wrightwood, but I don't think it's a maintained trail. Most folks turn back at Baldy summit. A really pleasant finish to your day could be a ski lift ride down. It provides a beautiful view that you don't get from the service road on your way up. It takes about 20 minutes and glides smoothly down the mountain. If you parked near the locked gate at San Antonio Falls
Rd., it's less than 1/2 mile to walk back to your car. (The lift saves about 2 miles.) Tickets, one way or round trip, can be purchased in advance or inside the Notch restaurant. Totally worth it.
The section of the Backbone that parallels the service road from the Ski Lifts Notch is semi-shaded with pine(?) trees. Plenty of manzanita and other ground cover. Past the highest chair lift tower, the trees start thinning out. The landscape below Mt. Harwood is like a movie set, especially on foggy days--my favorite area. Just past Mt. Harwood, you reach tree line and the landscape becomes a barren wasteland where nothing grows.