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6 Exhilarating Mountain Drives You Can Take in a Day Around L.A.

A black road curves through the mountains. A bright yellow solid line cuts down the middle of the road. Around the asphalt are green foliage and trees.
Highway 39 in Angeles National Forest, where there are many turnouts that provide breathtaking views of the mountains and the canyons below. | Sandi Hemmerlein
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In Los Angeles, you can't always just get-in-your-car-and-go when the mood strikes. It can take a little planning to maximize your adventure — and minimize your risk.

Nevertheless, there are many wonders to be experienced by car — on both short and long drives, and especially throughout our mountain landscapes.

Because when the mountains are calling, it doesn't always have to be for you to "bag" a peak. And you may not even have to stay overnight.

You can take a spontaneous excursion from surf to snow, cactus to cedar, flatlands to forest, and back again — all within just one day. Just get an early start, and be aware of what time the sun will be setting, so you won't have to make your way on those winding roads in the dark (unless you really want to).

No matter if your starting point is an inland valley or an oceanside beach community, here are six mountain drives you can take on a day trip from L.A.

For all of the below, chains may be required because of snow conditions. Be prepared for road closures during or after inclement weather because of rockslides, mudslides, other debris, washouts, and more. Weather conditions could change quickly. Observe posted speed limits and bring satellite GPS and/or printed maps, as cell phone service is spotty at best or entirely non-existent.

1. SR-18/Rim of the World Highway, San Bernardino to Big Bear (San Bernardino National Forest)

A scenic landscape photograph of the San Bernardino Mountains.
A scenic landscape photograph of the San Bernardino Mountains.
1/3 SR-18/Rim of the World Highway is a 101-mile loop that offers panoramic views of the San Bernardino National Forest | Sandi Hemmerlein
A beige patch on the side of a mountain resembling an arrowhead pointing downwards. The landscape of the mountains and surrounding environment is dry.
A beige patch on the side of a mountain resembling an arrowhead pointing downwards. The landscape of the mountains and surrounding environment is dry.
2/3 A 7.5-acre arrowhead shape on the side of the mountain range visible off the 210 freeway is the inspiration for Lake Arrowhead’s name and is a designated California Historical Landmark. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A bronze statue of a Native American points to the left. The Native American has shoulder length hair and has two feathers coming out from behind their head, attached to a headband.
A bronze statue of a Native American points to the left. The Native American has shoulder length hair and has two feathers coming out from behind their head, attached to a headband.
3/3 Located at the Arrowhead Springs Hotel along Arrowhead Springs Road is a 1920s-era “Indian” statue that points to the Arrowhead landmark. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Before Rim of the World Highway opened as a 101-mile loop in 1915, there were very few opportunities for tourists to visit. Loggers who operated sawmills in the forest had to transport supplies and lumber via an incline railway. Otherwise, the San Bernardino Mountains were only accessible via old horse-drawn stagecoach routes or, later, an automobile stage that consisted of makeshift truck-shuttles, called the "Mountain Auto Line."

Fortunately, a local pioneer named Dr. John N. Baylis saw the opportunity to establish mountain resorts in the pristine forest lands and led the charge to establish Highway 18 — an engineering feat that would cut through the unforgiving landscape and deposit tourists right at the front doors of these resorts. And still today, it's the main way to access the mountain resort town of Lake Arrowhead, as well as the surrounding "Rim of the World" communities like Crestline, Twin Peaks, Rimforest and Running Springs.

Start your adventure in San Bernardino, where you can pick up Waterman Avenue (which becomes Highway 18) and head north from the 210 freeway. Make your first stop the "Arrowhead Viewing Spot" historical marker, just north of the Waterman Percolation Basins, which directs your attention to the arrowhead shape in the side of the mountain range above — and the inspiration for Lake Arrowhead's name. This 7.5-acre feature, designated California Historical Landmark #977, may or may not be entirely natural, but it's definitely been enhanced over time to keep it visible.

Next, just past Waterman Canyon, take a short detour down Old Waterman Canyon Road to Arrowhead Springs Road. You won't be able to take this road all the way down to the Arrowhead Springs Hotel, which is currently closed for renovations, but you can stop to admire the 1920s-era "Indian" statue that marks its entrance and points to the Arrowhead landmark. Then, follow the twists and turns of Rim of the World Highway, past Inspiration Point and Panorama Point, perhaps stopping at Hortencia's at the Cliffhanger for some refreshments and to take in the stunning view (as its name suggests).

There are plenty of other detours you can make along this scenic byway as well — including snow play areas between Santa's Village and Heap's Peak and between Green Valley Lake and Snow Valley. You could even choose to take Highway 18 all the way to Big Bear and make a loop by following Highway 38 south into the foothills. Or, you could find a comfortable turnaround point and retrace your route to head back down from the mountains — this time making a quick detour on the Mormon Road loop (which is only accessible via the southbound lanes) to read about the Mormon Lumber Road on a historical marker erected by the National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers.

2. SR-39/San Gabriel Canyon Road, Azusa to Crystal Lake (Angeles National Forest)

A scenic, landscape view of Robb's Gulch — a green valley surrounded by mountains. The bottom of the gulch is covered in bright green foliage and a stream cuts through the middle. Above is a clear blue sky.
A scenic, landscape view of Robb's Gulch — a green valley surrounded by mountains. The bottom of the gulch is covered in bright green foliage and a stream cuts through the middle. Above is a clear blue sky.
1/4 A view of Robb's Gulch, visible from Highway 39. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A scenic landscape photo of Angeles National Forest. Off in the background is a concrete dam.
A scenic landscape photo of Angeles National Forest. Off in the background is a concrete dam.
2/4 Morris Dam, whose 1935 construction created the Morris Reservoir out of the San Gabriel River waters, can be seen off of Highway 39. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A metal, brown road sign reads: "Passes available: Crystal Lake Cafe, 12 miles ahead. Below, it also reads, "Parked vehicles must display a forest adventure pass."
A metal, brown road sign reads: "Passes available: Crystal Lake Cafe, 12 miles ahead. Below, it also reads, "Parked vehicles must display a forest adventure pass."
3/4 Forest Adventure Passes are required for visitors to park anywhere in Angeles National Forest. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Tall pine trees tower over a small, rustic building. The sun is shining through the branches of the pine trees.