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The Most Scenic Mountain Ranges In Southern California

The Most Scenic Mountain Ranges In Southern California

Do you think the hills are alive with the sound of music? Read on to find out about SoCal’s most scenic mountain ranges.

Roubina Al Abashian


5 min read

October 18, 2021

You’re a short drive away from grand mountain ranges in Southern California. The towering peaks follow you wherever you go—they stand proud as you make your way to work, go on a road trip, or even plan a mini vacation.  But you’ll never truly appreciate their beauty unless you embark on a mountainous adventure and get lost in the highlands. Do you think the hills are alive with the sound of music? Read on to find out about SoCal’s mountain ranges

The Santa Ana Mountains extend for approximately 61 miles southeast of the Los Angeles Basin along the border between Orange and Riverside Counties.

Santa Ana Mountains

Length: 61 miles 
Elevation: 5,689 feet 
Number of named peaks: 41 
Highest peak: Santiago Peak

A short peninsular range in Southern California, the Santa Ana Mountains form a natural barrier between Orange and Riverside Counties. The mountain range stretches from Chino Hills all the way towards the Santa Margarita River, with plenty of narrow canyons and steep inclines.

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As one of the most scenic mountains in the world, the Santa Ana Range features plenty of scenic hiking trails. One of the most popular ones is the short Tenaja Falls hike, which leads to a five-tiered waterfall that drops 150-feet. As for those looking for a challenge, Santiago and Modjeska Peaks offer strenuous hikes with stunning views of SoCal. But, the best part about the mountain range is Chino Hills State Park, where gently rolling hills provide fantastic hiking, biking, and horseback riding adventures. 

The San Bernardino Mountains were formed eleven million years ago by tectonic activity along the San Andreas Fault and are still actively rising.

San Bernardino Mountains

Length: 60 miles 
Elevation: 11,499 feet 
Number of named peaks: 110 
Highest peak: San Gorgonio Mountain

The San Bernardino Mountains, one of the most popular mountain ranges in California, is where you’ll find San Gorgonio, the highest peak in the Golden State south of the Sierra. Spreading over two counties, San Bernardino and Riverside, the mountain range majestically rises above the Mojave Desert and the Coachella Valley. Due to the steep incline above the surrounding terrain, the San Bernardino Mountains have been subjected to a lot of erosion that carved out several beautiful river gorges. Several Indigenous tribes lived in the surrounding areas, including the Cahuilla and Serano people.

Thanks to its high peaks, ski enthusiasts can find some of California’s top ski resorts in the area, specifically at the charming mountain town, Big Bear Lake. As for summertime adventurers, visitors enjoy climbing, hiking, biking, and camping in the San Bernardino Mountains, as well as water-related activities at Lake Arrowhead.

The highest peak in the range is Mount San Antonio, commonly referred to as Mt. Baldy. Mount Wilson is another famous peak.

San Gabriel Mountains

Length: 68.4 miles 
Elevation: 10,069 feet 
Number of named peaks: 124 
Highest peak: Mount San Antonio

Located in northern Los Angeles and western San Bernardino Counties, the San Gabriel Mountains are a part of the Transverse Range. Surrounded by the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests, the range’s highest peak—Mount San Gabriel—is also the highest in Los Angeles County. The San Gabriel Mountains feature rolling peaks, plenty of canyons, and are generally very rugged. Its southern foothills are famous for citrus production. 

Mount San Gabriel, aka Mount Baldy, is popular among winter sports fans—it’s the ideal spot for skiing and snowboarding. During winter, mountaineers head to Baldy Bowl to climb its snow and ice routes. As for the hotter months, backpacking, camping, hiking, canyoneering, and picnicking are common activities visitors love to enjoy. But the one thing that’s available year-round is stellar night skies—Mount Wilson Observatory is one of the best places to stargaze in California.

Geologists consider the northern Channel Islands to be a westward extension of the Santa Monica Mountains into the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Monica Mountains

Length: 46 miles 
Elevation: 3,111 feet 
Number of named peaks: 21 
Highest peak: Sandstone Peak

The Santa Monica Mountains are one of the most visited mountain ranges in SoCal—no wonder they’re considered one of the most scenic mountains in the world. One of the reasons it’s so popular is because the range is located by the Pacific Ocean. Another reason is its proximity to densely populated regions, including Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hollywood Hills, and Studio City. A big portion of the mountains is located in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which houses Griffith Park and Malibu Creek State Park.

The northwestern stretch of the Santa Monica Mountains is where nature becomes even more beautiful. Stunning red-rock canyons and fascinating seascapes captivate every hiker and rock climber. As for history buffs, the range features over 1,000 significant archeology sites left behind by the Tongva and Chumash people.   

The Newhall Pass separates the Santa Susana Mountains from the San Gabriel Mountains to the east.

Santa Susana Mountains

Length: 16 miles 
Elevation: 3,747 feet 
Number of named peaks: 10 
Highest peak: Oat Mountain

Running east-west, the Santa Susana Mountains are covered in chaparral shrubland, grasslands, and oak savanna. The western side of this Southern California mountain range lies in Ventura County, while the eastern side is situated in Los Angeles County. An interesting fact to know about this range is that this is where the first discovery of oil was made in the Golden State.

The Santa Susana Mountains are the forgotten mountains of California. While other mountain ranges have many visitors, these mighty peaks are left in solitude. With that said, hikers looking for peace and quiet make their way to trek the trails of this mountain range and enjoy its beautiful rocky and rolling landscape. 

The Santa Ynez Mountains are a large fault block of Cenozoic age created by the movements of the Santa Ynez Fault.

Santa Ynez Mountains

Length: 28 miles 
Elevation: 4,864 feet 
Number of named peaks: 42 
Highest peak: La Cumbre Peak

Situated mainly in Santa Barbara County, the Santa Ynez Mountain Range comprises both the Transverse and Pacific Coast Ranges. Running parallel to the coastline, the range features several gorgeous peaks. The Santa Ynez Peak is the most prominent one in the range, but Gaviota features the most beautiful coastal views.

The mountain range is part of Los Padres National Forest, an outdoor lover’s paradise. Campers love to pitch their tents, hike the forest’s trails, and pamper themselves in the Big Caliente Hot Springs. A trip to the Santa Ynez Mountains is also incomplete without a visit to the charming Danish town of Solvang

The Tehachapis are delineated from the San Emigdio Mountains by Tejon Pass at the range's western end.

Tehachapi Mountains

Length: 40 miles 
Elevation: 7,981 feet 
Number of named peaks: 12 
Highest peak: Double Mountain

The Tehachapi Mountains form the boundary between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert—the mountain range is known as the unofficial border between SoCal and NorCal. The name “Tehachapi” may have come from the Kawaiisu language, translating into “hard climb.”  A crucial wildlife corridor, the Tehachapi Mountains link other Transverse Ranges and the California Coast Ranges with the Sierra Nevada. 

The Tehachapi Mountain Park, along with the Tehachapi, Tejon, and Old Creek Passes, are some of the most popular attractions within the range. Visitors find some of the best hiking and horseback riding trails in the area and spend the night by the campfire with their friends. 

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