Discover the rich history and unmistakable beauty of the Southern California mountains, a region that boasts more than 300 days of sunshine annually and a wide variety of activities perfect for everyone. Whether your passion is skiing powder-soft slopes, fishing in broad lakes stocked with trout and bass, navigating challenging mountain roads and trails, or watching all forms of wildlife, you’ll find plenty of what you love in these ranges — and so much more. So come, see why this is one of the most fascinating destinations in all of California.
The most notable Southern California mountain ranges are the San Bernardino, San Gabriel and Tehachapi. These ranges feature warm, dry weather throughout the year, especially on the eastern and interior sides, while the sides facing the ocean typically record cooler and damper winters.
After their discovery by the Spanish in the late 1700s, the San Bernardino Mountains served as the Southern California hotspot for gold rushes in 1860s and a major resource for timber and water during the late 19th century. Today, this range is a desirable locale for recreation and relaxation, housing both Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead. One of the best ways to explore these mountains is the Rim of the World Scenic Byway, a 110-mile route that traverses the rim from Cajon Pass to San Gorgonio Pass. During the winter, this roadway gifts motorists with stunning views of the snow-covered forests and mountain ridges that rise from otherwise snowless valleys. In the summer, the cool climate and lush woodlands of the higher elevations bring relief from the area's desert temperatures.
The San Bernardino Mountains have one of the most diverse species of flora of any Southern California range. At the lower elevations, the eastern slopes house Joshua trees, pinyon pines and junipers, while the western slopes are dominated by chaparral. Higher up are magnificent forests of Coulter, Jeffrey, sugar and ponderosa pines; white fir; incense cedar; black oak; California dogwood; and big-leaf maples. Wildlife includes bighorn sheep, mules, deer, mountain lions and black bears.
Traveling north, the Cajon Pass connects the San Bernardinos to the San Gabriel Mountains. This range stretches from northern Los Angeles County to western San Bernardino County, bound by the Antelope Valley and the Mojave Desert to the north and Los Angeles to the south. The San Gabriels and the surrounding Angeles National Forest encompass nearly 700,000 acres of scenic wilderness. The foothills are grassy and rather barren, but the land becomes rockier and forested with oak, pine and cedar at the higher elevations. The mountains also harbor streams and reservoirs good for fishing, as well as small lakes, waterfalls, old mines and steep gorges suitable for canyoneering. During the winter, snowboarding and skiing are popular in the San Gabriels; in the summer, residents and visitors alike enjoy hiking, backpacking, picnicking and camping.
Finally, the Tehachapi Mountains, referred to as “The Tehachapis,” divide the San Joaquin Valley from the Mojave Desert and Los Angeles Basin. The Tehachapis are often considered the topographic feature that separates Northern California from Southern California, with the geographic boundary being Kern County. The north-facing slopes of the Tehachapis are blanketed primarily with evergreens, while the south-facing slopes feature chaparral and woodlands. As such, the canyons receive year-round water flow from springs and the slopes themselves, helping the Tehachapi Mountain Valley’s vineyards thrive. While recreational activities are popular in the Tehachapis, notably camping, hiking and horseback riding, one of the largest attractions in the area is the Tehachapi Mountain Festival, generally held on the third weekend in August every year since 1963. This family-friendly festival includes an arts and crafts show, food, entertainment, a carnival, parade, car show and a rodeo, and it draws an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 attendees annually.
So come, explore the Southern California mountains — you’re sure to find something new and exciting in this land of history and wonder!