Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

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Descending the Castle Canyon Trail from Inspiration Point

Descending the Castle Canyon Trail from Inspiration Point

Sun through the trees on the Castle Canyon Trail

Sun through the trees on the Castle Canyon Trail

Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

  • Location: Altadena (North of Pasadena), on the corner of Lake Avenue and Loma Alta Drive.  From I-210 in Pasadena, take the Lake Avenue exit and head north (left if you are coming from the west, right if from the east) and go 3.6 miles to where Lake Avenue meets Loma Alta Drive.  Park on the corner.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 11.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 6 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Mt. Wilson, Pasadena
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; Meetup description here; Wikipedia article about the history of the Mt. Lowe Railway here
  • Rating: 9
Sam Merrill Trail Head, Echo Mountain, Altadena, CA

0:00 – Sam Merrill trail head at the Cobb Estate (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

It might not be well known today, but in its time, the Mt. Lowe Railway was one of Los Angeles’s most popular and impressive tourist attractions. The railway didn’t survive the Great Depression and was quickly forgotten as Disneyland and Universal Studios became more famous, but intrepid hikers can still experience some of the history of it, enjoying the same panoramic views of the passengers.

View from the Sam Merrill Trail near Echo Mountain, Altadena, CA

1:05 – View from near the junction with the Echo Mountain Trail (times are approximate)

There are several ways to visit the sites of the Mt. Lowe Railway. This post describes the most common route: a 2.5 mile climb on the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain (the Mt. Lowe Railway’s lower terminus and a popular and worthwhile hiking destination in its own right), followed by a loop of about six miles, tracing the route of the railway on the ascent and descending via Castle Canyon – highlighted by the outstanding views at Inspiration Point. The hike is a strenuous workout but navigation and terrain are easy and the mix of history and scenic variety makes it very enjoyable.

Plaque describing the history of the Mt. Lowe Railroad, Echo Mountain Trail, Altadena, CA

1:19 – Interpretive plaque

From Lake Avenue, follow the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain, steadily climbing a series of tight switchbacks with dramatic views of the L.A. basin especially on clear days. Near the top of the ridge the trail levels out and you reach a junction. If you haven’t already been to Echo Mountain, head straight for a short distance where you can enjoy some great views and see equipment from the railroad. (Echo Mountain was the top end of the Great Incline segment of the train and the start of the Mt. Lowe Railway).

Sentinel Rock, Echo Mountain Trail, Mt. Lowe Railway site, Altadena, CA

1:25 – Sentinel Rock

To follow the railway’s course, take a hard left on the Echo Mountain Trail. It continues uphill at a more moderate grade, heading northwest. Soon you pass the first of several interpretive plaques describing the history of the railroad, including vintage photographs. Continuing past “Sentinel Rock” you soon reach a junction known as the Cape of Good Hope.

Millard Canyon from the Sunset Ridge Fire Road above the Cape of Good Hope, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:30 – View of Millard Canyon from the Sunset Ridge Fire Road above the Cape of Good Hope

Turn right onto the Sunset Ridge Fire Road, which soon provides you with excellent views of Millard Canyon. Continue up the fire road, passing a tight horseshoe curve that the railroad had to negotiate and the site of the circular bridge, one of the technical and visual high-lights of the trip. The trail traverses a pleasant north-facing slope, shaded by pines and black oaks, reaching the site of Ye Alpine Tavern (now the Mt. Lowe Trail Camp.) Though it was hoped that the railway would reach what was then called Oak Mountain – now Mt. Lowe – this was the highest it ever got.

Fall colors on the Echo Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:30 – Fall colors shortly before the Ye Alpine Tavern site

The trail makes a hairpin right turn and heads south to a four-way junction. Take the middle of the forks (the right fork is the upper end of the Sam Merrill Trail which also leads back to Echo Mountain; the left fork leads to Mt. Lowe). Soon you reach Inspiration Point, where you can enjoy the best view of the trip: the Santa Ana, Santa Monica and Verdugo Mountains, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, downtown L.A., Catalina Island and if visibility is good, Santa Barbara Island. Viewing tubes help you pinpoint certain locations.

View from a saddle between Echo Mountain, Mt. Lowe and Mt. Wilson, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:35 – View from the four way junction at the saddle

From here, take the single-track Castle Canyon Trail downhill. The trail is steep and loose in some places, although not too difficult. You drop into the pleasant shade of the canyon’s upper reaches, cross a seasonal stream and take in a few more views to the southeast before the trail levels out, returning to the ridge of Echo Mountain. Turn right and retrace your steps down the Sam Merrill Trail.

View of the Los Angeles Basin from Inspiration Point, Angeles National Forest

3:00 – Panoramic view from Inspiration Point

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View from the Castle Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles County, CA

4:00 – Looking southeast from the Castle Canyon Trail, shortly before rejoining the Echo Mountain Trail

Elsmere Canyon

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Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon

Geology in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

The Towsley geological formation, Elsmere Canyon

Elsmere Canyon

  • Location: Santa Clarita.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit.  If you’re coming from the south, turn right; the north, left, and drive to the end of the street and park in the dirt lot.  (If the lot is full, you may need to use the lower lot, where there is a $5 fee.)
  • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round (best after recent rains)
  • USGS topo maps: Oat Mountain, San Fernando
  • More information: here; trip description here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report (loop route) here
  • Rating: 7
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:00 – Elsmere Canyon Open Space trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The small seasonal waterfall in Elsmere Canyon is a pleasant surprise for hikers who may feel as if they know all of the trails in the Santa Clarita Valley.  Even during the summer months when the waterfall is likely to be dry the enjoyable stroll along the Creek Trail is a good way to beat the heat. Elsmere Canyon is large (over 1,200 acres) and the 6-mile loop around the perimeter of the park is a challenging workout, but power lines and exposure to freeway noise detract from the experience. The short hike to and from the waterfall is the most enjoyable one in the park and one of the best easy hikes in the area.

Creek Trail, Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:06 – Bear left on the Creek Trail (times are approximate)

From the Whitney Canyon Trail Head, which also serves as an entry point to Elsmere Canyon, follow the trail signed for Elsmere Canyon as it heads south along the border of the parking lot, up a ridge and downhill to a junction (0.2 miles.) Bear left on the signed Creek Trail which follows a pleasant course along a seasonal stream, crossing it several times. Soon you’re under the shade of oaks and you’ll also notice the tall rock walls, part of the Towsley Formation, rising high on the west side of the canyon.

Single track trail in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:27 – Turnoff for the waterfall

At 0.9 miles, you reach a junction with a wide fire road. Bear right, go a short distance and then head left on a single-track trail leading deeper into the woods. You will have to negotiate a few  creek crossings, some of which may be tricky if water levels are high. Adding to the challenge are several fallen trees, the result of the Foothill Fire of 2004 and other blazes. Overall though the navigation and terrain aren’t too difficult and after 0.4 miles, you find yourself at the base of the waterfall.

The lower tier which is about 10 feet can be climbed fairly easily for those with experience, assuming that the water level isn’t high enough to present a hazard. The upper tier is about 20 feet tall and pours down into a shallow pool. Whether you observe the waterfall from the bottom or the middle, it’s an attractive, peaceful spot, only a few miles from civilization but virtually isolated.

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:45 – Elsmere Canyon waterfall

There are more waterfalls beyond this one that can be reached by climbers who possess the necessary equipment and knowledge, but for hikers who don’t want to risk becoming part of the conversation about what steps managing agencies should take to regulate open spaces, this is the turnaround point. On the way back, if it’s a cool day and you’re looking for a little more of a workout, consider taking the Elsmere Canyon Loop instead of the Creek Trail, adding 0.2 miles and about 200 feet of elevation gain. It lacks the serenity of the Creek Trail but does provide some nice views of the Santa Clarita Valley, including the distant Sierra Pelona range.

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

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View of San Vicente Reservoir, San Diego, CA from the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

San Vicente Reservoir from the Oak Oasis Preserve

Oak trees in the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

Oak woodland, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

      • Location: Lakeside, east of San Diego. From the north end of the freeway portion of Highway 67, take a right on Mapleview, go 0.3 miles and turn left on Ashwood St. Follow Ashwood for a total of 4.3 miles (it becomes Wildcat Canyon Road) and turn left into the signed Oak Oasis County Park lot. The road to the park is narrow so observe the 10 miles per hour speed limit. From Ramona, take San Vicente Road southeast to Barona Road. Turn right and follow Barona Road, which becomes Wildcat Canyon Road, 9 miles to the park. The park will be on the right side of the road.
      • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
      • Distance: 2.7 miles
      • Elevation gain: 300 feet
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  Year round (8am-4:30pm daily)
      • USGS topo map: San Vicente Reservoir
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here
      • Rating: 6

Located just beyond the San Diego suburban fringe, Oak Oasis (known too as Oakoasis) County Park is an attractive 230-acre parcel of open space that offers panoramic views of the San Vicente Reservoir and Iron Mountain, plus interesting geology, meadows, glimpses into the history of the land and yes, oaks.

Trail head, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

The 2003 Cedar Fire was perhaps the most dramatic episode in the area’s history, claiming the old Minshall House. Fortunately the park is showing signs of recovery from the fire. The park is an enjoyable place for simply wandering without a specific route or destination; it’s a stop on the San Diego Trans-County Trail, which comes up from the west and continues east toward El Capitan. There are several possible routes to take and the 2.7-mile loop described here offers a nice sampling of the area’s scenery.

Trail junction, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:07 – Junction with the county trail (times are approximate)

From the trail head at the north side of the parking lot, descend past the information board to the trans-country trail. Turn left and follow it through chaparral to a Y-junction. Bear left and follow the trans-country trail as it climbs briefly to a ridge, providing some nice views, before dipping back into the oak-shaded canyon.

Oak woodland, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:20 – Rejoining the Oak Oasis Loop

Here, bear left and follow the canyon, staying straight at another turnoff. A plaque describes the unfortunate history of the Minshall House, which once stood at that location. Shortly after the plaque, a spur leads to an overlook between two trees.

You leave the woodland and come back into the open, with the San Vicente Reservoir spread out ahead. Bear right as the country trail heads left and begin a moderate climb, rejoining the trail from below. A short spur leads to another overlook where you get an even better view of the reservoir and Iron Mountain dominating to the north.

Informational plaque, Minshall House site, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:23 – Sign at the former Minshall House site

More climbing past some jumbled granite boulders brings you to a small, oak-lined meadow and the half-way point of the loop. The trail then descends into a chaparral-lined canyon, passes through a field and some private houses and re-enters the oak woodland. Bear left at the next junction and make a brief climb to rejoin the trans-country trail, completing the loop. From here, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Meadow in the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakesisde, CA

0:43 – Meadow; half way point

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Oak woodlands, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

1:00 – Back into the woodlands

Bouquet Canyon to Sierra Pelona via Pacific Crest Trail

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View from the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

Looking north from the Pacific Crest Trail across Bouquet Canyon

Woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

Woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona

Bouquet Canyon to Sierra Pelona via Pacific Crest Trail

  • Location: Liebre Mountains north of Los Angeles, east of I-5 and west of Highway 14. From the north, take Highway 14 to Avenue N. Turn right and head west for 4.6 miles. Turn left on Godde Hill Road and follow it 3.1 miles to its end at Elizabeth Lake Road. Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Bouquet Canyon Road. Turn left and go 4.3 miles to a dirt turnout on the left side of the road where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses. From the south, take Highway 14 to Sand Canyon Road. Turn left and head northwest for 2 miles to Sierra Highway. Turn right and go 0.4 miles to Vasquez Canyon Road. Turn left and follow Vasquez Canyon 3.6 miles to its ending at Bouquet Canyon Road. Turn right and follow Bouquet Canyon Road for a total of 13.7 miles, past the reservoir and the junction with Spunky Canyon Road, to a dirt turnout on the right side of the road where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses. Though “Trails of the Angeles” indicates that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required to park here, there is no notice to that effect at the parking area; recent policy changes that allow free parking at unimproved National Forest areas such as this one would seem to indicate that the pass is not required. However if you want to buy a pass just to be sure, or for use at other trail heads that require it, click here.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Santa Clarita and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, distance)
  • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter; also known for high winds
  • USGS topo map: Sleepy Valley
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Video about the hike here; Pacific Crest Trail association home page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head on Bouquet Canyon Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Bouquet Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable section of the Pacific Crest Trail climbs the south slope of Bouquet Canyon to the long ridge of Sierra Pelona, offering panoramic views along the way. The nearly three mile ascent makes a good workout and can be done in an afternoon, although hikers wanting more of a challenge can either continue along the P.C.T. or follow the Martindale Ridge Fire Road to Mt. McDill.

From the turnout, follow a short spur leading to the Pacific Crest Trail. The P.C.T. ascends steadily for the first 0.9 miles, passing a tall oak and climbing the side of the ridge. There’s not much in the way of shade trees, but if you get off to an early start, the sharply rising ridge will block out most of the sun.

Steep ascent on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:25 – Hard left at the intersection (times are approximate)

Just under a mile from the start, you reach a junction. Take a hard left and continue following the Pacific Crest Trail as it makes a short but noticeably steep ascent to a bench. The views include Martindale Canyon and distant Bouquet Reservoir to the west (right) and the Antelope Valley to the east. Far below to the north, the road winds through the canyon.

Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:36 – View on the ridge after the steep climb

Past the bench, the grade continues to be moderate and enjoyable. The trail weaves in and out of several stands of black oaks and through gently sloping meadows. At about 2.5 miles, you pass Bear Spring, a nice place to sit and rest, although it can’t be counted on for water.

Just under three miles from the start, the trail passes by a particularly impressive oak and enters a field where it meets up with the fire road, the turnaround point. Here, you can enjoy a view that on clear days includes peaks on the north slope of the San Gabriels across the Santa Clarita Valley.

Black oaks on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest

1:06 – Black oaks near Bear Spring

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Looking north from the Pacific Crest Trail at the Martindale Ridge Fire Road, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:25 – Looking north from the top of the ridge (turnaround point)

Dawn Mine

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Rocks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

Rocks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

Oaks in Millard Canyon near Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest, CA

Oaks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

Dawn Mine

  • Location: Angeles National Forest above Pasadena. From the 210 Freeway, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn right on W. Loma Alta Drive, go 0.6 miles and turn left on to Cheney Trail. Follow it 1.2 miles to a junction with Mt. Lowe Road (also known as the Sunset Ridge Fire Road). A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (trail condition, navigation, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: Pasadena
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
Sunset Ridge Fire Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Sunset Ridge Fire Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This perennial favorite of L.A. hikers has recently re-opened following the Station Fire. Unfortunately, the devastation that the fire wrought on the canyon has made the hike to Dawn Mine more challenging than it was before. Expect to have to negotiate fallen trees, jumbled boulders and washed out sections of the trail and unless you’re experienced at navigating rough canyons, consider going with someone who’s already done the hike. The good news is that the rugged conditions make the hike feel particularly wild and isolated considering its proximity to civilization. In addition to the historic mine, the hike provides an aerial view of Millard Canyon Falls (still closed from below as of this writing) and an opportunity for a side-trip to Saucer Branch Falls.

Sunset Ridge Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:08 – Turnoff for the Sunset Ridge Trail (times are approximate)

It used to be possible to make the hike into a loop and perhaps it still is, but due to poor trail conditions, the best and “easiest” way to see the mine is heading straight up through the canyon. From the parking area, follow the Sunset Ridge Fire Road for about 0.3 miles to a junction with the Sunset Ridge Trail, a single-track. Follow it around the south rim of Millard Canyon, getting some dramatic views, including the waterfall.

Trail descending to Millard Canyon in the Angeles National Forest, CA

0:20 – The left fork descends to Millard Canyon

At about a mile from the start, you reach a Y-fork. The Sunset Ridge Trail continues upward to the right, eventually rejoining the fire road. To get to Dawn Mine, bear left and follow the trail as it descends past a cabin, soon reaching the bottom of the canyon.

Now the challenge begins. You make your way slowly up the canyon, crossing the stream bed several times. Navigation can be tricky, but there are many trail ducks that help point the way. In some places a semblance of the trail or evidence of hikers before you can help; the route usually sticks pretty close to the banks of the canyon.

Heavy growth in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest

0:35 – Through the bushes at the junction with the Saucer Branch

At about 1.4 miles from the start, a tributary, Saucer Branch, joins Millard Canyon from the left. If you’re up for a side trip, a short but difficult scramble up this fork (keep an eye out for poison oak) brings you to a modest-sized two tier waterfall. The route to Dawn Mine branches off to the right, ducking through some bushes and crossing the two forks of the stream before emerging on the other side.

Jumbled boulders in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:00 – Climbing through the rocks

More wading in and out of the creek and negotiating fallen trees brings you to the most strenuous part of the hike: climbing a wash of boulders. The exact route may vary, but the easiest way up is to stick to the left side of the canyon and to hoist yourself between the rocks. A large root of a fallen tree makes an obstacle but it can be ducked under or climbed carefully over. From here, make your way up a steep and loose slope between more rocks before following a trail that clings to the rocks on the left side of the canyon–and negotiating more fallen trees.

After this, the going gets somewhat easier. At about 2 miles from the start, you’re rewarded for your efforts as the canyon enters an attractive oak woodland. The trail can still be a little tough to follow and there are still boulders to climb, but by now the toughest of the climbing is behind you.

Oak woodlands in Millard Canyon near Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:17 – Oak woodlands after the rock scramble

Shortly after crossing under a rusted metal pipe, look for a path branching off to the left and heading down into the canyon. Some fairly easy rock scrambling brings you to a short spur trail leading uphill to the mine. Look for some metal equipment lodged in the left side of the canyon and soon after that is the entrance.

Path through the woods to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:27 – Path leading toward the mine

Though many people have done it, entering the mine is not advisable; think of it as the Angeles National Forest’s version of Russian Roulette. Instead, consider taking a glimpse inside and then enjoying the pleasant quiet of the canyon before retracing your steps.

In case you were wondering, Dawn Mine was named after Dawn Ehrenfeld, the daughter of a friend of one of the first miners who prospected the area. Although gold was first discovered here in 1895 and would continue to be found in bits and pieces, the results were disappointing and the mine was shut down in the 1950s.

Entrance to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:30 – Dawn Mine entrance

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.


Dagger Flat from Dillon Divide

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Pacoima Canyon, Angeles National Forest, Sunland, CA

View of Pacoima Canyon on the descent

Oaks in Pacoima Canyon on the way to Dagger Flat and Dutch Louie Flat

Sunlight through the oaks in the bottom of Pacoima Canyon

Dagger Flat from Dillon Divide

  • Location: Western San Gabriel Mountains near the San Fernando Valley.   From I-210 in Sunland, take the Foothill Blvd. exit and head northeast (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if you’re coming from the west.)  Take a quick left on Osborne St. and follow it for a total of 7.2 miles (it becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road along the way). Park on the right side of the road at a dirt turnout by a metal gate blocking off a fire road. From the 14 Freeway, take the Sand Canyon Road exit. Turn left on Soledad Canyon Road and take the first left on Sand Canyon Road. Follow it 10.5 miles (it becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road on the way) to Dillon Divide and park on the left side of the road by the metal gate. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Sunland
  • Recommended gear: insect repellentsun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Trip description here; description from a Meetup here
  • Rating: 7
Mendenhall Ridge Road, Angeles National Forest

0:00 – Mendenhall Ridge Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From a not very promising start at a dirt turnout on the side of Little Tujunga Canyon Road, this hike quickly becomes one of the more enjoyable ones in the western corner of the San Gabriel Mountains. It explores scenic, secluded Pacoima Canyon, once a popular gold mining spot.

Beginning the descent into Pacoima Canyon, Angeles National Forest, Sunland, CA

0:08 – Bear left at the junction, begin the descent (times are approximate)

Begin by following the Mendenhall Ridge Road (signed 3N32 on the gate, but listed on Google Maps as 4N35) up a slight incline for 0.3 miles. You get excellent views of Pacoima Canyon and Bear Divide on the left. At a Y-junction, take the left fork, which begins a steady descent. The abandoned fire road effectively becomes a single-track, weaving in and out of shade and groves of oaks and sycamores before arriving at the canyon bottom (1.7 miles.)

Head up canyon, crossing the stream bed a few times. If water levels are high, which is unlikely, navigation may be a little tricky, but you should expect to make pretty easy progress. Virtually all sights and sounds of civilization vanish as you follow the canyon.

Geology on the trail to Pacoima Canyon and Dagger Flat, Angeles National Forest

0:18 – Geology on the trail

At 2.6 miles, you reach Dutch Louie Flat, a former campground shaded by several stout oaks. Dutch Louie was an early 20th century prospector known as the “Hermit of the Pacoima.” He died without ever finding his fortune. There is supposedly a tunnel that he dug to divert creek water, making it easier for him to pan, but I wasn’t able to find it.

Oaks and sycamores in Pacoima Canyon on the way to Dagger Flat, Angeles National Forest

0:45 – Oaks and sycamores in Pacoima Canyon

Continuing along the stream bed, you reach a junction at 2.9 miles in a meadow known as Dagger Flat, named for a prospector who was stabbed here around the turn of the century. Here, a steep trail branches off to the left, climbing about 1,300 feet to Santa Clara Divide Road, while another trail continues straight, farther up into the canyon, where it soon deteriorates. Either of these are options if you want to extend the trip but for a moderate day hike, the junction in Dagger Flat makes a good turnaround point.

Dutch Louie Flat, Pacoima Canyon, Angeles National Forest

1:05 – Dutch Louie Flat

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Dagger Flat, Pacoima Canyon, Angeles National Forest

1:15 – Dagger Flat

Horn Canyon Trail to the Pines Campground (Ojai)

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Sunset on the Horn Canyon Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

Sunset over Ojai Valley from the Horn Canyon Trail

Pines Campground, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

Pines Campground

Horn Canyon Trail to the Pines Campground (Ojai)

    • Location: Thacher School, Los Padres National Forest foothills northeast of Ojai. From Highway 150, take Reeves Road (3.4 miles east of downtown Ojai; 14.4 miles northwest of Santa Paula) 1.1 miles to McAndrew Road. Turn left and follow McAndrew 1.1 miles to the Thacher School. Enter the grounds (the gate should be open during daylight hours) and follow the road, taking three consecutive right turns. After the third, the paved road becomes dirt. Follow it a short distance to a lot where you’ll see a wooden sign for the Horn Canyon Trail.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Ojai Ranger District
    • Distance: 5 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 3 hours
    • Best season:  October – May
    • USGS topo map: Ojai
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here, here (inaccurately lists the distance as 3 miles round trip) and here; area trail map here
    • Rating: 8
Horn Canyon Trail Head, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

0:00 – Horn Canyon Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

For Thanksgiving, we present a hike that will surely help you burn off a scoop or two of mashed potatoes and gravy, also providing some excellent views in the bargain. Horn Canyon is one of the more rugged and scenic areas of the Ojai front country and the variety of sights on this hike make it worth the effort.

Stream crossing on the Horn Canyon Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

0:13 – Stream crossing (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signed trail into the canyon, passing by a few turnoffs and entering an attractive grove of oaks. You cross the stream bed several times, make a few switchbacks and enter another wooded canyon, about 1.1 miles from the start. With the majority of climbing still ahead of you, this peaceful spot is a good place to rest up for the energy about to be exerted.

Woodland on the Horn Canyon Trail, Ojai, CA

0:29 – Woodland retreat before the steep climbing begins

After crossing the stream bed, the trail becomes noticeably steeper, with wooden beams forming “steps.” Soon you exit the shade of the canyon and make a few switchbacks. The good news is that as you climb, the views–both of the canyon below and Lake Casitas (and the ocean and Santa Cruz Island on clear days) are excellent.

At about 1.9 miles and 1,400 feet of elevation gain from the start of the hike, you make a sharp turn and briefly follow the north side of the ridge. It’s here that you’ll get a glimpse of your destination: a bunch of Coulter pines on a bench some 3,100 feet above sea level. After a couple of more switchbacks, the trail finally levels out, following a ridge between Manzanitas and chaparral, finally reaching the trail camp at 2.5 miles.

Climbing through hills on the Horn Canyon Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

0:42 – Climbing higher above Horn Canyon

The Pines Campground is very attractive, providing not only an elevated, shaded retreat but glimpses of the valley below and the ocean in the distance. Several benches carved from tree branches allow hikers to sit and rest and enjoy the serenity before negotiating the steep descent. For the adventurous, the Horn Canyon Trail continues beyond the camp, another steep 2.5 miles to Nordhoff Ridge Road.

Distant view of the Pines Campground, Horn Canyon Trail, Ojai, CA

0:58 – Pines Campground in the distance

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View from the Pines Campground, Los Padres National Forest, Ojai, CA

1:30 – Looking southeast from the Pines Campground