Perched 5,700 feet on the Mount Wilson summit among the San Gabriel Mountains near Pasadena, northeast of Los Angeles, is the Mount Wilson Observatory. Home to two historically essential telescopes, which have played a vital role for modern astronomy, the observatory was founded in the early 1900s by George Ellery Hale.
A few years later, in 1917, the observatory outdid itself when the 100-inch Hooker telescope was completed, taking over the title of “the largest telescope in the world” until 1948.
During the years after the Hooker’s introduction, the Observatory became one of the most powerful facilities known to man for studying the sun, giving some of our most brilliant scientists some useful tools that revolutionized astronomy with groundbreaking discoveries.
Visitors can view the historic Hooker telescope from the Visitors’ Gallery inside the dome by purchasing a weekend guided tour pass. There are also three solar telescopes, solar towers, and a snow solar telescope located on the Observatory grounds. These are used to study changes in the sun’s nature and can be viewed with a guide.
Cosmic Cafe Sandwich Shop
Aside from all the great telescopes, there is also a small Astronomical Museum on the observatory grounds that features historical photographs taken at Mount Wilson Observatory and exhibits on current projects. The Cosmic Cafe sandwich shop, located in the Pavilion above the main parking lot.
This is a great place to grab a bit to eat or a souvenir while visiting the Observatory, or as a refreshing destination at the end of the road for those passing through while discovering the wonders of the Angeles National Forest. Cosmic Cafe is open weekends April through November.
One of the best things about visiting the Mount Wilson Observatory, is the drive there, along with the beautiful Angeles Crest Highway that winds its way along some of the most pristine forests in all of southern California. Depending on the weather, travelers can catch an impressive view of the Los Angeles basin below.
If you’re looking to make your visit to Mount Wilson Observatory an entire day trip adventure, there are two areas nearby that are worth visiting.
The first is Charlton Flat, a day-use and picnic destination located northeast of the face of Vetter Mountain, about 40 minutes drive from the Interstate 210. The picnic area has about 185 tables and stoves. Some with piped water.
The area also serves as a trailhead for Vetter Mountain Lookout Trail and the Silver Moccasin Trail with its chaparral slopes, oak-lined canyons, and the fir and pine forests of Mt. Baden-Powell. A place where the Boy Scouts of America have placed a monument to their founder, Lord Robert Baden-Powell.
The other, smaller picnic area nearby, is known simply as Switzer’s. This day use only area has 22 picnic tables and is the trailhead for one of the areas’ easier hikes into one of the loveliest sections of the San Gabriel mountains–Switzer Falls.
The hike crisscrosses back and across the Arroyo Seco Canyon stream surrounded by oaks and alder, with the water cascading over granite into mirror-like pools, and ends high above the 50-foot high falls. During the summer months, the falls are not more than a trickle, but still worth a look.
An Angeles National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park at these facilities and can be purchased at the Cosmic Cafe or at the nearby Redbox Ranger Station
Mount Wilson Observatory is located about 19 miles (approximately 45 minutes driving time) from the Angeles Crest Highway exit from the I-210 freeway in La Canada-Flintridge, and is open to public visitation daily from 10 am to 4 pm, April through November, while the cafe is only open weekends from 10 am to 4 pm.
Getting to Mount Wilson Observatory
To get to the Observatory, head north on Angeles Crest Highway about 14 miles turn right at the Mount Wilson sign and continue for about five miles to the top of the mountain.
Mount Wilson Observatory open to public visitation daily from 10 am to 4 pm, April through November. Walking tours of the observatory are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 pm from the Cosmic Cafe.