Devil’s Punchbowl Loop

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Geology in the Devil's Punchbowl

Geology in the Devil’s Punchbowl

Looking northeast from the Devil's Punchbowl

Looking northeast from the Devil’s Punchbowl

Devil’s Punchbowl Loop

  • Location: High desert near Valyermo and Pearblossom.  From Highway 14, take the Pearblossom Highway exit.  Merge onto Sierra Highway, go 0.8 miles and continue onto Pearblossom Highway.  Go 1.4 miles and turn right on Barrel Springs Road.  Go 3.5 miles and turn right on Cheseboro Road.  Go 0.6 miles and turn left on Mt. Emma Road.  Go 3.5 miles and turn right on Fort Tejon Road.  Go 4.8 miles and turn right on Longview Road.  Go 2.3 miles and turn left on Tumbleweed Road.  Follow the road for 3 miles to the park.
  • Agency: Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area (Los Angeles County Parks & Recreation)
  • Distance: 1.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: Year round (potentially hot during the summer or icy during the winter; check the weather before going)
  • USGS topo map: Valyermo
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Homepage here; article about the park here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

It may seem hard to believe that one can see mountains, high desert, pines, mountain mahogany, a seasonal stream and some of California’s most unusual geology all on a one-mile hike, but the loop through the Devil’s Punchbowl provides all of the above.  This is definitely one of the best short hikes in the L.A. area.

The geological formations of the Punchbowl are similar to those found at Vasquez Rocks, but even more unusual and surreal. Formed not only by the San Andreas Fault but by water flowing down from the nearby mountains, the Punchbowl is a landscape that is hard to believe can be found relatively close to Los Angeles.

0:02 - View of the Punchbowl (times are approximate)

0:02 – View of the Punchbowl (times are approximate)

The short Punchbowl Loop showcases the area’s geology and plant life, also providing vistas of the desert and mountains above. From the parking area, follow the signs to the trail. The shorter Pinon Pathway heads off to the left; this 0.3 mile trail is an option if you want to extend your hike. The Punchbowl Trail heads right, almost immediately providing striking views of the rock formations.

0:07 - Low bridge

0:09 – Low bridge

You switchback down into the canyon, passing underneath a fallen pine. There are a few spots where the terrain can be a little tricky and where the trail is unclear (although the park signage is good so it’s hard to get too lost.)

0:20 - Fallen tree on the climb out of the Punchbowl

0:21 – Fallen tree on the climb out of the Punchbowl

After reaching the bottom of the Punchbowl, you begin your ascent back toward the trailhead. At about 0.7 miles, you reach an overlook where you get an aerial view of a seasonal stream, flowing beneath some giant rock slabs. A lone sycamore stands tall above the stream.

0:30 - Overlook near the junction with the Burkhardt Trail

0:30 – Overlook near the junction with the Burkhardt Trail

Continuing on, you reach another overlook at 0.9 miles where you can sit on a stone bench and enjoy the view. The trail then meets the Burkhardt Trail (portal to destinations such as the Devil’s Chair and Cooper Canyon Falls, some thousand feet higher up in the mountains). Turn right and head downhill toward the parking lot.

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.


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South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

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View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

View from near the top of the South Fork Trail

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest back country on Highway 2.  From the 210 freeway in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 40 miles to Islip Saddle, just beyond the two short tunnels.  Park in the lot on the left (north) side of the highway.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest, Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 10.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance, steepness)
  • Best season: Year round, but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter (check conditions before going)
  • USGS topo maps: Crystal Lake, Valyermo
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sun block
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Los Angeles County
  • More information: Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The South Fork Trail is the shortest and arguably the most scenic route between the Angeles Crest Highway and the high desert on the north slope of the San Gabriels, linking Islip Saddle with the South Fork Campground near Valyermo and Pearblossom.  The hike can be done in either direction, or with a rather lengthy drive between the ends, as a point-to-point uphill or downhill.  There are a few advantages of doing it as a “reverse” (down then up) hike as described here.  The upper end, Islip Saddle, is closer to most of the L.A. area; going downhill first allows hikers sensitive to altitude to more easily acclimate and while the grade is consistently moderate, there are a few tricky spots where the trail is covered by rock slides; while these areas don’t require any special technical skill they’re easier to negotiate in the downhill direction on fresher legs. Almost the entire route hugs the west side of the canyon, so during a late-afternoon/early evening ascent, your sun exposure will be minimal.

0:29 - Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)

0:29 – Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)

From Islip Saddle, pick up the South Fork Trail heading downhill (not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail which heads uphill toward Mt. Williamson).  You descend through open areas and pockets of mixed woodland: Douglas fir, pines, black oaks and more.  At about 1.1 miles, you cross a tributary of Big Rock Creek’s south fork, fed from Reed Spring higher up on the hill.  The trail continues its descent, providing striking views of the steep canyon carved by Big Rock Creek and the mountains opposite.
1:47 - Hanging on to the side of the canyon

1:47 – Hanging on to the side of the canyon

As you drop farther along, you’ll start to notice more of the high desert vegetation: pinyon pines, mountain mahogany and manzanita.  The trail descends a few steep switchbacks, finally meeting Big Rock Creek (4.9 miles.)  This can be a good turnaround point, but if you want to hike the entire trail or have set up a shuttle at the South Fork Campground, cross the creek (water levels may be high in the spring) and follow the trail another half mile to the High Desert Recreational Trail, which continues toward the Devil’s Punchbowl.  You can turn right on the dirt road and head a short distance to a picnic area, where you can sit and charge your batteries for the long ascent back to Islip Saddle.

2:04 - Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp

2:04 – Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp

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.

2:15 - Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail

2:15 – Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail

Acorn Trail (Wrightwood)

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View of the high desert from the Acorn Trail

View of the high desert from the Acorn Trail

Through the pines on the Acorn Trail

Through the pines on the Acorn Trail

Acorn Trail (Wrightwood)

  • Location: Wrightwood, at the corner of Acorn Drive and Quail Road.  From I-15, take the Highway 138 exit and head west for 8.6 miles.  Turn left on the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) and go 5.4 miles into the town of Wrightwood.  Turn left on Spruce St. and go 0.3 miles to Oriole Rd.  Turn right and go 0.1 miles to Acorn Drive.  Turn left and follow Acorn Drive 0.3 miles and park on the right side of the road in a small dirt turnout between Finch Road and Quail Road.  Though there is no indication that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required for parking, if you have one, you might want to display it.  If ou want to purchase one ($5 per day or $30 for the year) click here.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest (Santa Clara/Mojave Rivers Ranger District)
  • Distance: 5.2 miles (from the corner of Acorn and Quail)
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet (from the corner of Acorn and Quail)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, altitude)
  • Best season: April – November
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. San Antonio”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Here; discussion board about the trail here; video of the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike, Acorn Drive

0:00 – Start of the hike, Acorn Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Acorn Trail links a private residential community in Wrightwood with the Pacific Crest Trail.  The scenery–including stately pines, tall mountain slopes and views of the high desert–is similar to that of the nearby Blue Ridge Trail, although this one is longer, steeper and overall more difficult.  The actual trail is less than two miles, but due to its location at the end of a private road, hikers must tack on an extra 0.8 miles in each direction if they want to do it “by the book.”  Stories abound of hikers being harassed by landowners; while there is no guarantee that this won’t happen, as with other hikes in or around private land, such as Black Star Canyon, if you are respectful of their space odds are they will leave you alone.

0:15 - Beginning of the dirt road at the end of Acorn Drive (times are approximate)

0:15 – Beginning of the dirt road at the end of Acorn Drive (times are approximate)

From the corner of Quail, begin hiking steadily up Acorn Road, reaching its terminus in half a mile and almost 400 feet of elevation gain.  Pass by a gate and follow a dirt road past a water tank for an additional 0.3 miles to the signed start of the trail.  The trail, now a single-track, curves along the side of a ridge, soon providing a good aerial view of Wrightwood, with the high desert beyond.  A tree stump, about a mile (650 vertical feet) from the start makes a perfect spot to catch your breath and enjoy the panorama.

0:24 - Beginning of the Acorn Trail

0:24 – Beginning of the Acorn Trail

The trail continues switchbacking its way up the mountain, sometimes quite steeply.  You get a dramatic view of steep Acorn Canyon, where a few rogue oaks cling to the hillside in the midst of the taller pines.

0:30 - View from the tree stump about a mile in

0:30 – View from the tree stump about a mile in

Near the top, the grade levels out somewhat.  You pass under an “arch” made by a fallen tree caught between two that are still standing, and then you reach an intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail and a dirt road.  On the opposite side of the dirt road, you get an excellent view of Pine Mountain, the second tallest peak in the San Gabriels – but one that is not often visible due to being blocked out by its taller neighbor to the south, Mt. Baldy.  From this vantage point, however, Pine actually blocks out Baldy; you can also see a little bit of Dawson Peak, the third highest summit in the San Gabriels, in back of Pine.

1:00 - View through some fallen trees

1:00 – View through some fallen trees

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.

1:20 - View of Pine Mountain from the Pacific Crest Trail (turnaround point)

1:20 – View of Pine Mountain from the Pacific Crest Trail (turnaround point)

Oak Spring Trail to Yerba Buena Ridge

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OSYBR San Gabriels

The San Gabriel Mountains from Yerba Buena Ridge

OSYBR Western panorama

Looking west from Yerba Buena Ridge

Oak Spring Trail to Yerba Buena Ridge

  • 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 3.8 miles (it becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road along the way).  Turn right on Gold Creek Road and go 0.8 miles to a dirt turnout on the left side of the street, a few dozen yards past the signed Oak Spring Trailhead.  Trailhead coordinates are N 34 19.133, W 118 20.000.  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: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Sunland
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent; sun block; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Trip reports here and here; Flickr photo gallery here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This scenic and rigorous hike explores the secluded western corner of the San Gabriel Mountains.  In the wake of its post-Station Fire re-opening, it is popular with hikers and trail runners.  Just a short distance from the northeast edge of the San Fernando Valley, the Oak Spring Trail offers a welcome escape into nature during the fall, winter and spring months.

0:33 - View of the San Fernando Valley from the ridge (times are approximate)

0:33 – View of the San Fernando Valley from the ridge (times are approximate)

From the parking area, cross Gold Creek Road to the signed trailhead and begin your ascent. You start off shaded by oaks but soon enter exposed terrain as the trail switchbacks its way up a ridge. At least you are on a north facing slope so with an early start (recommended) the sun won’t be too intense.

0:35 - Heading down into the meadow

0:35 – Heading down into the meadow

As you climb higher you get a good aerial view down into Little Tujunga Canyon, with the Mendenhall Ridge dominating the landscape toward the north. The trail moves to an eastern slope, meaning more sun exposure, making the steep ascent more draining. However, the grade levels out at about a mile and soon after you reach a saddle with a great view of the Valley to the west.

The trail passes by a solitary tree, crosses a fire break and then drops into a meadow, passing through thick bushes of ceanothus flowers (be careful of bees). You then enter the welcome shade of the Oak Spring Trail Camp (1.3 miles). This makes a good resting spot.

Continuing south, the trail crosses a stream (be careful of poison oak) and enters the exposed hillside again, soon climbing up a steep, sometimes rough, break. At the top you follow the trail through a ridge with more ceanothus–and more bees–enjoying wide-ranging views. Finally you reach a four-way junction with a fire road. Follow it briefly downhill to where the single-track branches off south toward Fascination Spring a mile away (an additional destination if you have time and energy). Here you get excellent views of the Verdugo Mountains; if the air is clear you can see Old Saddleback in Orange County and Catalina Island.  To the west, you can see the Santa Susana range and with good visibility the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:39 - Oak Spring Trail Camp

0:39 – Oak Spring Trail Camp

The hike up to the fire road is a substantial workout, but if you want to extend your trip you can do so either by dropping down to Fascination Spring or following the fire road in either direction.

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.
1:09 - View of the Verdugo Mountains from the fire road; turnaround point

1:09 – View of the Verdugo Mountains from the fire road; turnaround point


Table Mountain Nature Trail

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Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Table Mountain Nature Trail

  • Location:  Table Mountain Campground, Angeles National Forest near Big Pines.  From I-15, take Highway 138 west for 8.6 miles.  Turn left on Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) and drive 8.7 miles to the town of Big Pine.  Just before the turnoff for Palmdale, past the ranger station, turn right on Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  Park in the large lot, taking care to note signed restrictions (if in doubt, park by the picnic area, a few hundred yards past the turnoff for the campground.)  If you’re coming from the Antelope Valley, take Highway 138 east to 131st St/Longview Road.  Turn left and go 2.2 miles to Fort Tejon Road.  Go 2.5 miles and turn right on Valyermo Road.  Drive 14 miles to Big Pines (Valyermo Road becomes Big Pines Road along the way).  At the junction with the Angeles Crest Highway, turn left and make an immediate hard left on to Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest/Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: April-October
  • USGS topo map:  Mescal Creek
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Start of the hike by the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike by the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the nearby Big Pines and Lightning Ridge Trails, the Table Mountain Nature Trail offers a nice sampling of the Angeles National Forest high country.  The trail starts and ends at the Table Mountain Campground and leads through an attractive woodland of pines and oaks. The intermittent views of Mt. Baden-Powell and the high desert aren’t quite as panoramic as those of the Lightning Ridge Trail but this is still a nice spot to visit, a good place to stretch one’s legs while driving the Angeles Crest Highway. If you’re not used to hiking at high altitude, this hike is a good trip to acclimate yourself.

0:02 - Start of the Nature Trail (times are approximate)

0:02 – Start of the Nature Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head toward the white metal gate at the top of the Table Mountain Campground. Even if the campground is closed (which it us until May each year) you can still access the trail, which heads off to the left. You make a few switchbacks, descending through the trees. Numbered metal plaques guide the way; they refer to a brochure that is available at the nearby Grassy Hollow Visitors Center.

0:04 - Cluster of black oaks

0:04 – Cluster of black oaks

At about 0.3 miles (between markers 5 and 6) you make a hard right; ignore the faint trail that continues downhill. You get some nice views of Baden-Powell and other peaks to the west as you make your way along the southwest facing slope.

At 0.6 miles you reach a clearing with a picnic table. Just beyond the table is the road that leads through the campground. Turn right and follow the road 0.4 miles uphill back to your starting point. On the way, see if you can get a glimpse of the flat expanse of the high desert in between the trees.

0:10 - Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

0:10 – Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

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.

0:18 - The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

0:18 – The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

Grizzly Flats Trail

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Strawberry Peak and Big Tujunga Canyon from the top of the Grizzly Flats Trail

Strawberry Peak and Big Tujunga Canyon from the top of the Grizzly Flats Trail

Woodlands below Grizzly Flats

Woodlands below Grizzly Flats

Grizzly Flats Trail

    • Location:  Angeles National Forest north of La Canada.  From I-210, take the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) exit and head north for 5.6 miles.  At mile marker 30.02, carefully turn into a small turnout on the left side of the highway (coordinates N 34 15.433, W 118 11.800).  If you come to a large turnout on the right side of the road, you’ve gone too far.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.  Alternately the trail can be reached at its north end, the Stonyvale Picnic Area.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 7.6 miles (including Dark Canyon)
    • Elevation gain: 1,900 feet (including Dark Canyon)
    • Suggested time: 4 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, terrain, distance)
    • Best season:  November –  May
    • USGS topo maps: Condor Peak
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here;  Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Dark Canyon Trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Dark Canyon Trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

For a hike that begins only six miles from the 210 Freeway, the hike to Grizzly Flats is pleasantly secluded and offers a wide variety of scenery.  Highlights include panoramic views of the Angeles Crest Highway, Strawberry Peak, Condor Peak, Big Tujunga Canyon and Josephine Peak, as well as oak woodlands, streams and more.  That said there are a couple of caveats: the trail below Grizzly Flats is steep and often loose, requiring extra caution; the bugs can be annoying; there are several steam crossings that can be treacherous if the water is high and there’s poison oak on the banks of said stream. If you opt to do this hike from Angeles Crest Highway as described here, most of the elevation gain will happen on the return, making it effectively a reverse hike and with much of the terrain being exposed, an early start is optimum.

0:17 - View from the top of the Dark Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

0:17 – View from the top of the Dark Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

There are actually several possible ways to do this hike. This post describes it from the easily accessible Angeles Crest Highway starting point, but it can also be done in its entirety in the other direction, starting from the Stonyvale Picnic Area in Big Tujunga Canyon. It also can be done as a point-to-point in either direction and for hikers who want a shorter trip, Grizzly Flats – the approximate halfway point – is a good destination, requiring about the same amount of total elevation gain from either starting point.

0:47 - Grizzly Flats

0:47 – Grizzly Flats

Assuming you start from Angeles Crest Highway, look for the obscure Dark Canyon Trail heading uphill from the south end of the parking area. It climbs steeply, quickly gaining a panoramic view of the Angeles Crest Highway. The trail starts leveling out, entering an open field and soon after reaching a four-way junction (0.6 miles) where you get an excellent view of Big Tujunga Canyon and Strawberry Peak.

1:12 - View of Big Tujunga from the ridge

1:12 – View of Big Tujunga from the ridge

Head straight on the Grizzly Flats Trail, which begins a 1.2 mile descent on a pleasantly cool north-facing slope. Much of this area is still recovering from Station Fire damage, but the views are nevertheless impressive.

1:20 - Turn right at the streambed at the bottom of the steep descent

1:20 – Turn right at the streambed at the bottom of the steep descent

At about 1.8 miles you reach Grizzly Flat, where you will not see any grizzly bears (the last one in the area was shot in 1916) but you can take a break beneath the shade of the pines and oaks before continuing.

The trail becomes more rugged, making a twisting descent in and out of two small tributaries of Big Tujunga Canyon. You leave the wooded area and follow a sharp ridge (hiking poles will be helpful here) that drops steeply, reaching the bottom of the canyon at about 2.8 miles.

1:23 - Stream crossing

1:23 – Stream crossing

Here, head right and follow the streambed, picking up the trail on the opposite side. At about 3 miles, you reach the first of five stream crossings, at the confluence of Big Tujunga Creek and Silver Creek. If the water level is high and you are nervous about crossing the stream, this makes a good turnaround point.

If you decide to continue, the trail resumes on the other side of the creek. You make a total of four more creek crossings, the third of which is probably the most difficult. In most cases, you can walk across the logs or rocks, but hiking poles will likely be helpful, especially if the water level is high.

1:45 - Stonyvale Picnic Area, the turnaround point

1:45 – Stonyvale Picnic Area, the turnaround point

Almost immediately after the fifth stream crossing, you reach the Stonyvale Picnic Area, the turnaround point for the hike. Several picnic tables make for a nice place to rest before making the challenging ascent back to the Angeles Crest Highway.

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.

Altadena Crest Loop

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View of L.A. from the Altadena Crest Trail

View of L.A. from the Altadena Crest Trail

Hugging the hill side on the Altadena Crest Trail

Hugging the hill side on the Altadena Crest Trail

Altadena Crest Loop

  • Location: 2260 Pinecrest Drive, Altadena.  From the 210 Freeway, take the Altadena Drive exit and go north for 2.7 miles.  Turn right on Crescent and make another quick right onto Pinecrest Drive.  From the Inland Empire, take the 210 Freeway to Rosemead  Blvd.  Go north on Rosemead for 0.7 miles and turn right on Sierra Madre Villa Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and stay straight to go onto New York Drive.  Go 1.3 miles and turn right on Altadena Drive.  In 1.2 miles, turn right on Crescent.  Note: Weekend parking is not allowed on Pine Crest by the trail head, and week day parking is limited to 2 hours.   To avoid these restrictions, follow Pinecrest up to the intersection of Bowring, where you can park.
  • Agency: Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information:  Arroyos & Foothills page here; Everytrail report here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trail head on Pinecrest (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The Altadena Crest Trail is a pleasant surprise for hikers who think that they’ve seen it all when it comes to the San Gabriel Valley and foothills.  As suburban trails go, it’s on the challenging side and despite its proximity to the residential neighborhoods of Altadena, it often feels quite rugged.  On clear days the views include the entire L.A. basin, in particular the downtown skyline, the Verdugo Mountains, the San Rafael Hills and the Hollywood Hills.

0:05 - Turnoff for the Altadena Crest Trail (times are approximate)

0:05 – Turnoff for the Altadena Crest Trail (times are approximate)

As of this writing the Altadena Crest Trail is non-contiguous. Several different routes in various configurations are possible. The trip described here is a loop featuring the southeastern 2.3 miles of the trail and 1.2 miles on city streets. Assuming you start on Pinecrest, you begin by walking through a metal gate and descending a paved road toward the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. Just before the bridge, turn left on the signed Altadena Crest Trail and begin ascending switchbacks on the single-track. The trail climbs quickly, gaining 300 feet in less than half a mile. Views to the south, east and west open up as you hug the side of the hill.

0:28 - Fire fighters' memorial

0:36 – Fire fighters’ memorial

At about 0.8 miles, the trail brushes up against a fire break at a spot where you get excellent views of L.A.; a nice place to catch your breath before taking a hard right and continuing up the hill.  At 1.1 miles, you reach one of the two high points on the trail (just under 1,800 feet). You descend into a canyon, past a memorial honoring two firefighters and reach a T-junction. Turn right (the left fork leads to private property) and enter a very narrow canyon where no signs of civilization can be seen (save for some power lines high overhead).

0:31 - Into the narrow canyon

0:41 – Into the narrow canyon

The trail switchbacks out of the canyon, once again reaching 1,800 feet at 1.9 miles from the start. Turn right on a paved road, passing by a private residence at the end of Zane Grey Terrace. The trail becomes dirt again and makes a few switchbacks down into another canyon, this one pleasantly wooded. Stay straight as a makeshift trail branches off to the right, reaching a spur off of Zane Grey Terrace at 2.3 miles.

1:00 - Switchbacks heading down into the canyon past the private home at the end of Zane Grey

1:00 – Switchbacks heading down into the canyon past the private home at the end of Zane Grey

The remainder of the hike is on city streets. Turn right on Zane Grey and follow it 0.1 miles to East Loma Alta. Turn left and begin the last leg of the loop, heading east on Loma Alta. At 3.2 miles, Loma Alta merges with Pinecrest. Follow Pinecrest back your car.

1:08 - Wooded canyon just before the trail emerges onto Zane Grey Terrace

1:08 – Wooded canyon just before the trail emerges onto Zane Grey Terrace

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Holcomb Canyon Loop (Devil’s Punchbowl)

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Geology in the Devil's Punchbowl

Geology in the Devil’s Punchbowl

Geology and foliage, Holcomb Canyon

Geology and foliage, Holcomb Canyon

Holcomb Canyon Loop (Devil’s Punchbowl)

  • Location: High desert near Pearblossom.  From Pearblossom, take highway 138 east to Longview Road.  Go right and after 2.5 miles, go left on Fort Tejon.  Drive 2.1 miles to Valyermo Road and turn right (south).  Go 2.9 miles and make a right on Big Rock Creek Road.  Drive 0.7 miles (0.2 miles past the Angeles National Forest sign) and park in either of two dirt turnouts on opposite sides of the road.  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/Santa Clara & Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, navigation, trail condition)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Valyermo”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information:  Photos of Holcomb Canyon and other area trails here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - View of Big Rock Creek from the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View of Big Rock Creek from the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is truly a hiker’s hike: in addition to the unique geology of the Devil’s Punchbowl, it features canyon scrambling, mountain views and a wide variety of plant life, including manzanitas, yuccas, cacti, pines, sycamores and oaks.  Fall colors here can be exceptional.   As far as off-trail hikes go, this one isn’t too difficult, but there are some definite challenges of terrain and navigation for which all hikers should be prepared.  If you have never done an off-trail hike, go with someone who has.

0:08 - Descent to Big Rock Creek (times are approximate)

0:08 – Descent to Big Rock Creek (times are approximate)

The loop begins easily enough, by walking 0.3 miles south on Big Rock Creek Road. After reaching another parking area, look for several use trails leading down to Big Rock Creek, which you cross on one of multiple makeshift jetties of rocks. On the other side, turn left and continue heading south along a semblance of a trail, through the woods, and reach the rocky wash of Holcomb Canyon.

0:20 - Heading up Holcomb Canyon

0:20 – Heading up Holcomb Canyon

Bear right and begin heading south, following the rocky stream bed. At 1.1 miles from the start, stay right as a tributary canyon comes in from the left. (Generally speaking, Holcomb is rocky, while the numerous smaller tributaries aren’t.) You pass by a giant tower of volcanic rock, part of the Punchbowl Formation. The canyon pinches in tightly, requiring some scrambling, before opening up.

0:45 - Giant sandstone outcrop; pass beneath it deeper into Holcomb Canyon

0:45 – Giant sandstone outcrop; pass beneath it deeper into Holcomb Canyon

You continue south, reaching a sharp right turn at 1.4 miles where the canyon enters a pleasantly wooded area. At 1.8 miles, you reach a junction with a tributary. Here you can continue up the main canyon or take the tributary to the Punchbowl Trail. Turn right and head west, passing through a grove of oaks and a canyon wash before climbing 250 feet to a saddle (2.1 miles.)

1:05 - Hooking up with the South Fork Trail (turn right/west)

1:05 – Hooking up with the South Fork Trail (turn right/west)

At the saddle, you get a great view of the Punchbowl and the high desert beyond. This spot represents a sort of point of no return; the most challenging terrain of the hike is on the descent into the unnamed canyon that neighbors Holcomb. If you’re not up for an adventure, consider turning around at this point.

For those with off-trail and canyoning experience who want to complete the hike as a loop, look for a faint, overgrown trail heading steeply downhill.  Hiking poles may be helpful, although some hikers may find them cumbersome in the close quarters of the ravine.  Follow the slope into the canyon, where your progress will be blocked by a large boulder. Slip to the left of the boulder, passing by a large oak. A smaller tributary canyon comes in at this point. Continue heading northwest, down the main canyon.

1:15 - Beginning the steep descent from the saddle, past the bushes

1:15 – Beginning the steep descent from the saddle, past the bushes

For the next half mile or so the going is fairly easy; other than the occasional fallen tree or pile of rocks to negotiate, it’s basically like a single-track trail. However, at 2.8 miles, you’ll reach the most challenging obstacle of the entire hike as you arrive at the edge of a 20-foot precipice. Hikers without much in the way of technical climbing skills or gear (such as the author) will need to crab-walk along the right (east) side of the canyon, along a rock that slopes downward.  (If you are using hiking poles and find that they’re in the way, throw them down to the bottom.)   You’ll reach a gap in the rocks where you can grab a hold on the other side and lower yourself back down to the floor of the canyon.

1:25 - Slip around the left side of the rock into the confluence of the two canyons

1:25 – Slip around the left side of the rock into the confluence of the  canyons

Leaving the cliff behind you continue north for 0.6 miles before arriving at a smaller cliff. Here, you can work your way around the right side more easily than before, dropping back into the canyon and continuing your descent.

1:40 - View of the cliff from below: Climb along the rock ledge, grab the large rock in the foreground and hope for the best

1:40 – View of the cliff from below: Climb along the rock ledge, grab the large rock in the foreground and hope for the best

At 3.9 miles, you join Punchbowl Canyon. Bear right and follow the canyon for 0.2 miles, where you will see a rock with graffiti. (There’s sadly a lot of trash and graffiti in the lower areas of this hike, but in some cases, such as this one, it can help with navigation.) A trail has been pounded out by hikers; follow it out of the canyon to Big Rock Creek. Your last task is to re-cross the creek (as before, look for the rock jetties). This brings you back to Big Rock Creek Road and your car.

2:15 - Smaller cliff; scoot along the ledge seen on the right and descend back into the canyon

2:15 – Smaller cliff; scoot along the ledge seen on the right and descend back into the canyon

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

2:50 - Easiest location to climb out of Punchbowl Canyon, heading back to Big Rock Creek and the road

2:50 – Easiest location to climb out of Punchbowl Canyon, heading back to Big Rock Creek and the road

Lower Monroe/Poopout Hill Loop (Big Dalton Canyon)

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View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Poopout Hill Trail

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Poopout Hill Trail

Oaks on the Lower Monroe Truck Trail

Oaks on the Lower Monroe Truck Trail

Lower Monroe/Poopout Hill Loop (Big Dalton Canyon)

  • Location: Angeles National Forest foothills north of Glendora.  From L.A. and points west, take I-210 to Grand Avenue.  Head north on Grand Avenue for 2.2 miles and turn right on Sierra Madre.  Go 2 miles and turn left on Glendora Mountain Road.  In 0.6 miles, park on the left side of the road in a dirt turnout just past the intersection with Big Dalton Canyon.  From San Bernardino/Riverside, take I-210 to Lone Hill.  Turn right on Lone Hill, go a mile and turn left on Foothill.  Go 0.5 miles and turn right on Valley Center.  Go 0.8 miles and turn left on Sierra Madre.  Make a quick right on Glendora Mountain Road and go 0.6 miles to the parking area.
  • Agency: City of Glendora/Angeles National Forest
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time:  2 hours
  • Best season: Year-round
  • USGS topo map:  Glendora
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles
  • More information: Park map here; description of the Lower Monroe Truck Trail here; Every Trail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike, Glendora Mountain Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike, Glendora Mountain Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable hike combines city streets, single-track trail, fire road and ultimately a very steep descent, providing nice variety and seclusion just a short drive from the busy San Gabriel Valley. It can be done as described here, as a point-to-point with a short shuttle or perhaps as a longer hike, continuing along the Monroe Truck Trail to Summit 2760 and beyond.

0:21 - Beginning of the Lower Monroe Truck Trail (times are approximate)

0:21 – Beginning of the Lower Monroe Truck Trail (times are approximate)

You start with a pleasant, if not terribly interesting, 3/4 of a mile on Glendora Mountain Road. While the shoulder is narrow, car traffic is likely to be light (although you’ll probably see quite a few cyclists.) As the road makes a hairpin turn to the left, cross it and look for the signed Lower Monroe Truck Trail. Truck Trail is somewhat of a misnomer as the route is a single-track. The hike instantly becomes more scenic as you work your way through the wooded canyon.At 1.4 miles, a short spur leads to an abandoned water tank with some graffiti that I will forgive because it doesn’t interfere with the beauty of the hike, and because it displays a certain wit (but because NHLA is a family blog, I cannot report what the graffiti says.)

0:45 - Beginning the ascent from the canyon

0:48 – Beginning the ascent from the canyon

Shortly afterward, you make a sharp right turn and begin your ascent from the canyon. You get nice views of the San Gabriel Valley as you make your way along the west-facing slope. At 3.1 miles, you reach a saddle where the Monroe Truck Trail continues uphill and the signed Mystic Canyon Trail heads downhill. Mystic Canyon is a slightly longer alternative route, descending a mile to Big Dalton Canyon Road, where a half-mile walk will bring you back to the parking area. This route, however, descends on the uber-steep Poopout Hill Trail. Take a few minutes to enjoy the view and make sure your legs are rested before beginning this stretch.

1:30 - Beginning the steep descent of Poopout Hill

1:30 – Beginning the steep descent of Poopout Hill

The Poopout Hill Trail is an unsigned firebreak that branches off to the right, just before the Mystic Canyon sign. You make a short but steep descent, a brief climb and another steep descent before the trail levels out for a little while. The last 0.3 miles, however, drop nearly 500 feet – requiring hiking hiking poles, or perhaps the use of the “fifth limb.” Not helping is the fact that the trail is loose and washed out in spots.After navigating down the grade, you are deposited back at the corner of Glendora Mountain Road and Big Dalton Canyon. Cross the street to return to the parking area.

1:50 - Completing the loop at the bottom of Poopout Hill, Glendora Mountain Road

1:50 – Completing the loop at the bottom of Poopout Hill, Glendora Mountain Road

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.


Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box

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View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box

    • Location: Angeles National Forest near Mt. Wilson.  From I-210 in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 10 miles to the road for the Switzer Picnic Area (mile marker 34.19).  Drive downhill to the picnic area.  The hike begins at the eastern end of the lot, by an information board and a vault toilet.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
    • Distance: 8.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,500 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 4 hours
    • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo maps: Condor Peak, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Everytrail report (descent only) here; description of the trail as a mountain bike route here; description of the whole trail (scroll down for this section) here
    • Rating: 7

Linking two major stops on the Gabrielino Trail, the Switzer Picnic Area and Red Box, this hike can be done as a moderate day trip, as part of a backpacking trip or with a short car shuttle, as a point to point. The beginning of the hike suffers somewhat from freeway noise as it travels through an area heavily burned in the Station Fire, but the payoff comes higher up as you travel through shaded woodlands while taking in great aerial views of the upper Arroyo Seco and the surrounding hills. The area gets hot in the summer but there’s a decent amount of shade, and the steep walls of the canyon help block out the sun, so the hike can be done in the summer months with appropriate preparation. Keep an eye out for poison oak, no matter what season, however.

0:00 - Trail beginning at the east end of the Switzer Picnic Area

0:00 – Trail beginning at the east end of the Switzer Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

From the eastern end of the parking lot, follow the trail past the picnic area, crossing the stream on a concrete walkway. You pick up the trail on the south side of the canyon, passing a yellow sign warning of the dangers of hiking through a burn area.

0:03 - Picking up the trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

0:03 – Picking up the trail past the picnic area (times are approximate)

After a little more than a mile, during which the trail parallels the freeway, progress is blocked by a big fallen tree. Bypass it by following a rough path to the left into the creek bed, following the creek bed for a few yards and almost immediately heading out and back to the trail.

0:30 - Turn left before the fallen tree and into the creek bed

0:30 – Turn left before the fallen tree and into the creek bed

The trail continues its ascent on the south side of the canyon, with the views getting better and better as you ascend. At about 1.7 miles you enter a big S-curve, briefly heading northwest before continuing south and then east.

1:10 - Looking east toward Red Box from the switchbacks

1:10 – Looking east toward Red Box from the switchbacks

At 2.4 miles, a giant pine tree welcomes you to the upper reaches of the trail, and you enjoy some shade as you cross a tributary canyon of the Arroyo Seco. You continue on to another S-curve with more wide-ranging views before the last stretch of the trail brings you to the Red Box area. This makes a good turnaround point (4.1 miles), but if you’ve got more gas in the tank, you can continue downhill on the Gabrielino Trail toward Valley Forge, or up Mt. Wilson Road a short distance to the San Gabriel Peak Trail.

1:20 - Into the pines

1:20 – Into the pines

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

2:00 - Red Box parking area

2:00 – Red Box parking area

Vetter Mountain

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This post is dedicated in memory of the 19 firefighters who died fighting the Yarnell Hill wildfire, June 2013.  To donate to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, click here.

Vetter Baldy view

Looking east toward Mt. Baldy from Vetter Mountain

Pines and clouds on the slope of Vetter Mountain

Pines and clouds on the slope of Vetter Mountain

Vetter Mountain

    • Location: Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) northeast for 23.3 miles.  Turn left into the signed Charlton Flats  Picnic Area.  Quickly turn right and head toward the picnic area.  The signed Vetter Mountain trail begins on the left side of the road, half a mile down (before a metal gate.)  No parking is allowed immediately next to the trail, but you can park a few dozen yards before it.  The entire picnic area may be closed during the winter, requiring hikers to park on the highway itself; check the links below for updated information.  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: 4  miles
    • Elevation gain: 700 feet
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG
    • Best season:  Year-round (depending on conditions)
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking polesinsect repellent
    • More information: here and here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head with sign warning about poodle dog bush (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

0:00 – Trail head with sign warning about poodle dog bush (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

Vetter Mountain is perhaps best known for its historic lookout tower which, sadly, was lost in the 2009 Station Fire.  Still, the peak’s unique vantage point which made it ideal for a tower location provides some great views from the summit.  On clear days, you can see not only the neighboring peaks of the Angeles – Baldy, Wilson, Strawberry and Markham to name a few – but San Jacinto, Catalina Island, Old Saddleback and the Palomars of San Diego.

0:03 - Turn left on the Silver Moccasin Trail (times are approximate)

0:03 – Turn left on the Silver Moccasin Trail (times are approximate)

There are several possible routes to the top. The Vetter Mountain Trail itself, as of this writing, is very overgrown and is difficult to navigate; the trail also presents the problem of poodle dog bush, a plant that grows in burned areas and can potentially create poison oak-like symptoms if one were to come in contact with it. Therefore, the advisable route to the top is via the Silver Moccasin Trail, a paved service road and a fire road.

0:25 - Hard right to continue along the trail

0:21 – Hard right to continue along the trail

From the parking area, follow the signed Vetter Mountain Trail across a stream bed, doing what you can to avoid the large quantities of the poodle dog bush, and hike 0.1 miles to a junction. Take a hairpin left turn on the Silver Moccasin Trail and begin a gentle climb through woodlands still showing signs of the Station Fire. At another junction, take a hard right and soon you will arrive at a service road. The trail continues on the other side of the road and soon meets up with it again at a saddle, where there are some nice views of Mt. Wilson.

0:24 - Crossing the service road

0:24 – Crossing the service road

Turn right, passing by a sign indicating 1.2 miles to the lookout site. You pass an outhouse and picnic table. Continuing, you reach a Y-junction where you head uphill on the left fork, which becomes a dirt road. As you approach the summit, you will notice a portable shade structure that has been set up.

0:30 - View of Mt. Wilson from the service road

0:30 – View of Mt. Wilson from the service road

A staircase leads you to the top, where you can sit on the stone foundation of the lookout tower and enjoy the view. While the Vetter lookout was certainly a sad loss for the Angeles National Forest, hikers can take some consolation in being able to once again have access to the summit and its panoramic vistas. The hike serves too as a potent reminder of the danger of wildfire.

0:58 - Shade shelter near the summit

0:58 – Shade shelter near the summit

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

1:00 - Looking west toward Strawberry Peak from the summit

1:00 – Looking west toward Strawberry Peak from the summit

Mt. Lowe from Eaton Saddle

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Looking north from just below Mt. Lowe's summit

Looking north from just below Mt. Lowe’s summit

Looking west from the Mt. Lowe Trail

Looking west from the Mt. Lowe Trail

Mt. Lowe from Eaton Saddle

    • Location: Eaton Saddle, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) northeast for 14 miles.  Take a right on the Mt. Wilson Red Box Road and go 2.3 miles to Eaton Saddle.  Park on the right side of the road in a small turnout.   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: 3.2  miles
    • Elevation gain: 500 feet
    • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG
    • Best season:  Year-round (depending on conditions)
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking polesinsect repellent
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
    • More information: Trip report here and here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Sign at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Sign at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This perennial favorite among L.A. hikers offers wide views and interesting history.  In the winter, snow is not likely to be too much of an obstacle (though you should still check conditions before going) and in the summer, it can be a nice place to escape the heat, although since the trail is exposed, plan accordingly.

0:08 - View of Mt. Markham and the remains of the Cliff Trail, just before the tunnel (times are approximate)

0:08 – View of Mt. Markham and the remains of the Cliff Trail, just before the tunnel (times are approximate)

From the parking area, pass by the metal gate (look for an interpretive plaque describing the history of the Mt. Lowe Railroad) and follow the dirt road. Right in front of you is the cone-like shape of Mt. Markham.

0:12 - Turn left on the Mt. Lowe Trail at the junction

0:12 – Turn left on the Mt. Lowe Trail at the junction

At 0.3 miles, you reach Mueller Tunnel, built to bypass the infamous Cliff Trail, which allowed literally no room for error (and severe consequences if an error did happen.) Remnants of the trail can still be seen.

0:25 - Approaching the saddle between Markham and Lowe

0:25 – Approaching the saddle between Markham and Lowe

On the opposite side of the tunnel, you reach a four-way junction. Head left on the single-track Mt. Lowe Trail, climbing through an area burned in the Station Fire. You get nice views of the canyon as you ascend, following the ridge along Mt. Markham’s north slope. At about a mile, you reach a saddle between Markham and Lowe, where you can see the latter’s summit looming ahead. Hikers with a fear of heights might want to take their time on this stretch; although it’s not as scary as the Cliff Trail, the route does cut pretty close to the edge here.

0:35 - Hard right at the junction

0:35 – Hard right at the junction

At 1.3 miles, take a sharp right at a junction and continue your climb. The views continue to be good; you can see Mt. Disappointment with its antenna installations on top. If you’re a long-time hiker, you probably know the story of how Mt. Disappointment got its name, but if you don’t and are interested, you can read about it here.

0:42 - Spur to the summit (turn left)

0:42 – Spur to the summit (turn left)

At 1.5 miles, take a left on a short spur leading to the summit. Even if the air quality is bad (which it usually is during the summer), the view is still impressive: Mt. Baldy, San Jacinto, Saddleback and more. A bench provides a nice resting spot for enjoying the view before heading back down.

0:45 - Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel and Markham from the Mt. Lowe summit

0:45 – Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel and Markham from the Mt. Lowe summit

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Mt. Islip (North Approach)

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Trees near the summit of Mt. Islip

Trees near the summit of Mt. Islip

View of the high desert from below Little Jimmy Trail Camp

View of the high desert from the P.C.T. below Little Jimmy Trail Camp

Mt. Islip (North Approach)

        • Location:  Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) northeast for 41 miles.  Just past marker 65.5, park at a dirt turnout on the side of the road (about a mile and a half past Islip Saddle).  From Highway 138, take Highway 2 west for 23.2 miles and the parking area will be on the left side of the road, shortly before Islip Saddle.  A United States 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
        • Distance:  6 miles
        • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
        • Suggested time: 3 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Altitude,  elevation gain)
        • Best season: May – November
        • USGS topo map: Crystal Lake
        • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
        • More information: Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 8

You already know how to get to Mt. Islip from Crystal Lake, so in this post we’ll look at the northern route. The approach from Highway 2 is shorter and easier than from the south, but it is still a challenging workout; hikers sensitive to altitude will want to keep in mind that the trail head is at about 7,000 feet.  While the views aren’t quite as dramatic, there is still some nice scenery that makes it well worth the trip.

0:00 - Trail head on Angeles Crest Highway (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

From the highway, look for a dirt road heading uphill. Pass the yellow gate and begin walking up the fire road, making a steady ascent through the pines to reach a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (0.6 miles.)

0:15 - Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (times are approximate)

0:15 – Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (times are approximate)

Turn left on the P.C.T. (the right fork heads back down to Islip Saddle, an alternative starting point for the hike.) You head through a pleasant forest of sugar pines with a few glimpses of the road below and the high desert to the north. At 1.7 miles, you reach the Little Jimmy Trail Camp.

0:42 - Following the trail through Little Jimmy Camp

0:42 – Following the trail through Little Jimmy Camp

After the first group of picnic tables, look for a path heading sharply to the right; the P.C.T. continues south toward Windy Gap. Head through the campsite, past the outhouses, and look for the signed trail heading uphill. Follow it past some more picnic tables, reaching a Y-junction (2 miles.)

0:45 - Following the trail out of Little Jimmy Trail Camp

0:45 – Following the trail out of Little Jimmy Trail Camp

Here, bear right and continue uphill. At this point, you are sharing the route with the southern approach, and as you climb, you get great views of Hawkins Ridge to the east and Crystal Lake to the south. As you follow the ridge, you’ll see the cone of Islip’s summit.

1:00 - Bear right at the junction

1:00 – Bear right at the junction

Finally you reach the spur leading to the peak. Bear right and make the last few switchbacks to the summit, where you will pass an abandoned stone cabin before reaching the very top. On Islip’s summit, enjoy a 360-degree view of the San Gabriels, the L.A. basin and the high desert.

1:18 - Spur to the summit

1:18 – Spur to the summit

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

1:25 - Looking southwest from Mt. Islip

1:25 – Looking southwest from Mt. Islip


Coldwater Canyon Truck Trail (Angeles National Forest)

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Looking down into the canyon

Looking down into the canyon

Shade near the bottom of the Coldwater Canyon Truck Trail

Shade near the bottom of the Coldwater Canyon Truck Trail

Coldwater Canyon Truck Trail (Angeles National Forest)

  • Location: Angeles National Forest south of Mt. Baldy.  From the 210 Freeway, take the Baseline Road exit and go west for 0.7 miles.  Take a right (north) onto Mills, go 1.1 miles and bear right onto Mt. Baldy Road.  Go 8 miles and take a hard left on Glendora Ridge Road (right before Mt. Baldy Village) and drive a mile to Cow Canyon Saddle and park in the big lot on the right side of the road, where space is usually ample.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel River Ranger District
  • Distance: 11.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 5.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: “Mt. Baldy”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head at Cow Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

This hike follows a fire road from Cow Saddle, in between Lookout Mountain and Sunset Peak, down into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. Although the trail’s ending–at a gate blocking off entrance to private land–may seem a little anti-climatic for such a long hike, the sights along the way, which include dramatic mountain and canyon views, make the effort worthwhile. One doesn’t have to do the entire hike for it to be enjoyable, although the full trip makes for a great workout. Be advised that there is virtually no shade along the route.

0:06 - Bear left and continue down into the canyon (times are approximate)

0:06 – Bear left and continue down into the canyon (times are approximate)

From Cow Saddle, follow the trail leading out of the parking area. At the base of Lookout Mountain (0.3 miles), turn right and pass by a metal gate. The descent is gradual (with a few uphill stretches), following the southwest side of Lookout Mountain, with a nice view of Sunset Peak across the canyon.

0:07 - Passing the metal gate

0:07 – Passing the metal gate

At 2.8 miles, you reach a saddle where the trail veers away from the ridge. A gap in the canyon wall provides a nice view to the west. The descent becomes a little steeper, twisting around the ridges. At about 4.7 miles, you get a nice view of Cattle Canyon coming in from the north. Another half mile brings you to the base of the canyon, where the trail continues to the left (the right fork heads up into the canyon, leading to a tungsten mine.)

1:05 - Looking west from the saddle

1:05 – Looking west from the saddle

After crossing the wash, you find the welcome shade of some alders and oaks, with a seasonal stream running near by. This makes a nice place to take a break (and also a good turnaround point), but if you decide to sit under the trees, watch out for poison oak. Soon after, the trail reaches a metal gate (5.9 miles) blocks off further progress.

1:50 - View of Cattle Canyon before the descent to the junction

1:50 – View of Cattle Canyon before the descent to the junction

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

2:15 - View of the mountains from behind the gate at the end of the trail

2:15 – View of the mountains from behind the gate at the end of the trail

Valley Forge Trail Camp from Red Box via Gabrielino Trail

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Stream crossing just before the Valley Forge Campground

Stream crossing just before the Valley Forge Campground

Old and new growth on the Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Valley Forge Trail Camp

Old and new growth on the Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Valley Forge Trail Camp

Valley Forge Trail Camp from Red Box via Gabrielino Trail

    • Location: Red Box Picnic Area, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway northeast for 14 miles and park at the Red Box Picnic Area, at the junction with the road to Mt. Wilson.  From the high desert, take the Angeles Forest Highway south to Big Tujunga Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 9 miles to the Angeles Crest Highway.  Turn right and go 4.3 miles to Red Box, which will be on the left.  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: 4.8  miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain)
    • Best season:  Year-round (depending on conditions)
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: insect repellent
    • More information: Red Box trail head information here; Valley Forge Campground information here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Beginning of the hike, at Red Box Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike, at Red Box Picnic Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is an enjoyable reverse hike in the front country of the Angeles National Forest, leaving from the popular Red Box picnic area and descending to the Valley Forge Trail Camp, via the Gabrielino Trail.  While it lacks the dramatic scenery and variety of the nearby Devil’s Canyon and Shortcut Saddle hikes, it offers a good workout in a secluded part of the Angeles National Forest.  The Station Fire damage is obvious, but new growth can also be seen.  A seasonal stream and a nice variety of plant life, including pines, sycamoers, black oaks and manzanitas, adds to the appeal.

0:21 - Crossing the service road; trail picks up on the other side (times are approximate)

0:21 – Crossing the service road; trail picks up on the other side (times are approximate)

From the signed Red Box trailhead information board, descend the stone staircase to the Gabrielino Trail and head left. You follow the highway for 0.2 miles, with some nice views of Mt. Baldy to the east, before descending into the canyon on some switchbacks. Beneath the shade of some black oaks, the descent continues, roughly following the stream bed of the San Gabriel River’s west fork’s upper reaches.

0:31 -First stream crossing

0:31 -First stream crossing

At 0.7 miles, you reach a dirt road where you pick up the trail on the opposite side. Soon after you pass Camp Hi-Hill, an outdoor education facility. The trail makes a hairpin turn to the left and a sign reads “Valley Forge Trail Camp.” That doesn’t mean you’ve arrived; the bottom of the sign, indicating a distance of 1.5 miles, is missing. After passing the broken sign, continue toward the stream, making the first of several crossings.

0:49 - Continuing past the cabin on the Gabrielino Trail

0:49 – Continuing past the cabin on the Gabrielino Trail

At 1.7 miles, you come to a private cabin in a clearing. Continue following the trail, making another stream crossing and passing two more cabins. At 2.2 miles, you reach a split. The Valley Forge Trail heads uphill, leading to Mt. Wilson Road, three miles away. To reach the trail camp, however, bear left and make a few switchbacks down to the creek. On the opposite side is the trail camp, where you can sit on a picnic bench and enjoy the sound of the stream and the shade of the trees.

1:07 - Bear left and descend to the trail camp

1:07 – Bear left and descend to the trail camp

You can return via the same route, or to make a loop, you can use the service road just beyond the camp.  If you want to extend the hike, you can make it into a loop by taking the Valley Forge Trail up to Mt. Wilson Road and descending back to Red Box; you can also continue following the Gabrielino Trail to the West Fork Trail Camp and take the Silver Moccasin Trail up to the Angeles Crest Highway, an option if you’ve arranged for a shuttle.

1:12 - Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

1:12 – Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Trail Canyon Falls

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Trail Canyon Falls

Trail Canyon Falls

Stream crossing in Trail Canyon

Stream crossing in Trail Canyon

Trail Canyon Falls

  • Location: Angeles National Forest north of the San Fernando Valley.  From I-210, take the Sunland Blvd. exit.  Head east (turn left if you’re coming from the north; right if from the south) on Sunland Blvd., which becomes Foothill Blvd.  At 0.7 miles, turn left on Oro Vista Avenue.  At 0.9 miles, bear right onto Big Tujunga Canyon Road.  Go 4.4 miles and turn left onto Forest Service Road 3N29 (if you reach Wildwood or Vogel Flats, you’ve come too far).  Go 0.2 miles and turn right at the fork.  Go 0.2 miles and park at the trail head.  The dirt road is in good shape and shouldn’t present a problem, although it is narrow, so be careful.  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: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: December – May
  • USGS topo map: Sunland
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Trip reports here and here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Recently re-opened following its post-Station Fire closure, Trail Canyon Falls is a nice alternative to crowded Switzer Falls and even more crowded Sturtevant Falls.  Although it only really comes to life following spring rains (it’s barely a trickle as of this writing), the hike is an enjoyable excursion, providing a convenient escape just over five miles from I-210 in Sunland.  Scenic highlights include nice views of Mt. Lukens, the trickling stream and more.

0:00 - Trail Canyon Falls trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

Be advised that there are eight stream crossings each way between the trailhead and the waterfall, and they can be tricky if the water level is high. Also keep an eye out for poison oak.

0:03 - Turn left at the junction (times are approximate)

0:03 – Turn left at the junction (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signs to the trail and begin hiking north on a dirt road. There’s an immediate stream crossing that can be a good indicator of how high the water levels will be later on. Continuing north, following the signs for the trail at the next two intersections (left at the first junction, right at the second.)  The trail bends to the left, heads out of the canyon and then back down.

0:09 - Ascending into the canyon

0:09 – Ascending into the canyon

At 0.6 miles, where the road makes a hairpin turn to the left, look for a single-track trail heading farther up into the canyon. Immediately, you make your second stream crossing, using a makeshift bridge of logs (hiking poles will come in handy here).

0:19 - Leave the fire road and follow the single-track trail up the canyon, toward the stream

0:19 – Leave the fire road and follow the single-track trail up the canyon, toward the stream

The trail follows the creek, making several more crossings, passing by oaks and alders, many showing damage from the fire. The walls are high on both sides of the canyon, creating a nice sense of isolation.

0:27 - Crossing the stream

0:27 – Crossing the stream

After the eighth and final stream crossing (1.1 miles), the trail begins heading sharply uphill on canyon’s west wall. At 1.3 miles, Trail Canyon Falls comes into view. The trail leads to the top of the waterfall, from which you get a nice view of the canyon below, including Mt. Lukens to the south.

0:34 - The eighth and final stream crossing

0:34 – The eighth and final stream crossing

If you are up for a challenge, you can continue on to Tom Lucas Trail Camp, two miles and 1,200 feet higher. It’s also possible to reach the base of the falls by going back to the last stream crossing, although this is best left to those with bushwhacking experience.

In case you were wondering, Trail Canyon gets its name not from the trail that runs through it, but from the trail of gold dust that was said to be visible back in the canyon’s mining days.

0:45 - Looking down into the canyon toward Mt. Lukens from the top of Trail Canyon Falls

0:45 – Looking down into the canyon toward Mt. Lukens from the top of Trail Canyon Falls

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Mt. Bliss via Van Tassel Motorway

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Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Bliss

Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Bliss

Southeast view from Mt. Bliss (including Old Saddleback)

Southeast view from Mt. Bliss (including Old Saddleback)

Mt. Bliss via Van Tassel Motorway

        • Location: Angeles National Forest foothills north of Azusa and Duarte.  From the south, take I-605 to its northern terminus, just past I-210.  At the intersection, turn right on Huntington Drive.  Go 0.6 miles to Encanto Parkway and turn left.  Go 1.4 miles, just past the Van Tassel Motorway, and park in the Fish Canyon Falls parking lot on the left side of the road. From Pasadena, take I-210 to the Mt. Olive exit.  At the bottom of the off ramp, turn right on Huntington Drive and follow the directions above.  From the east, take I-210 to the Irwindale Ave exit.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to Foothill Blvd.  Turn left and go 0.8 miles (Foothill becomes Huntington) and turn right on Encanto Parkway.
        • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District/City of Duarte
        • Distance: 9.6 miles (from Fish Canyon Falls parking lot)
        • Elevation gain: 3,100 feet (from Fish Canyon Falls parking lot)
        • Difficulty Rating: R (Steepness, elevation gain, distance)
        • Suggested time: 5 hours
        • Best season: November – May
        • USGS topo map: Azusa
        • Recommended gear: insect repellent; sunblock; sun hat
        • More information:  Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 8
0:00 - Beginning of the hike on Encanto Parkway (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike on Encanto Parkway (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This challenging hike in the Angeles National Forest foothills can be quite enjoyable on cool, clear days. Make sure you bring good protection from the sun (the route is almost entirely exposed) and plenty of water.  Bugs can be annoying during the spring as well. The good news is that navigation and terrain are easy; the only stretch that’s at all rough is the short push to the summit. Located conveniently to the San Gabriel Valley, Mt. Bliss is a great training hike.

0:13 - Beginning the climb on the motorway past the equestrian center (times are approximate)

0:13 – Beginning the climb on the motorway past the equestrian center (times are approximate)

From the Fish Canyon Falls parking area, head right out of the lot and right onto the Van Tassel Motorway. (You might be able to park inside the equestrian center, but parking at the Fish Canyon Falls trail head is more convenient, and allows you to warm up a little before beginning the ascent. Doing so adds a total of one mile and about 200 feet of elevation gain.) It should also be noted that the alternate route from Mel Canyon Drive in Azusa has become overgrown and is fenced off.

0:47 - view of L.A. (times are approximate)

0:47 – view of L.A. (times are approximate)

At 0.5 miles, you reach a gate at the far end of the equestrian center.  As of this writing, there is construction going on throughout the route, so be careful of trucks and other vehicles, although I found the drivers to be friendly.

1:25 - Shade!

1:25 – Shade!

You begin a long, twisting climb out of the canyon, taking in nice views of the L.A. Basin on the way up. At 1.9 miles from the start, you cross under some tall power lines and come to an intersection. Stay left at a junction soon after and continue your ascent.

2:11 - Turn right and continue uphill

2:11 – Turn right and continue uphill

At about 2.5 miles, you enter a nice stretch with some shade, and coming out of it, you can see Mt. Wilson to the west. Your climb continues, finally reaching a junction at 4.5 miles. Turn right, and just before the road dips down, take a hairpin turn to the left and begin climbing a ridge. Crossing under more power lines, you follow a rough but easy to follow use trail to the summit.

2:17 - Hard left on the summit ridge

2:17 – Hard left on the summit ridge

On Mt. Bliss, the clear day views include San Gorgonio, San Jacinto and Santa Rosa to the east, the Palomars of San Diego to the southeast, Catalina Island, downtown L.A., and Boney Mountain in the western Santa Monicas. Even if there is smog and haze, the view of Baldy and the San Gabriels is impressive.

2:25 - You made it!

2:25 – You made it!

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Mt. Lukens via Crescenta View and Rim of the Valley Trails

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Looking north from the Mt. Lukens summit

Looking north from the Mt. Lukens summit

View of the Verdugo Mountains from the Crescent View Trail

View of the Verdugo Mountains from the Crescent View Trail

Mt. Lukens via Crescenta View and Rim of the Valley Trails

    • Location: 3429 Markridge Road, Glendale.   From the 210 freeway, take the Pennsylvania Ave. exit and head north for 1.1 miles.  Turn left on Brookhill St., go 0.3 miles and turn right on New York Ave. Go 0.7 miles and turn left on Markridge, and the park is on the right.
    • Agency: City of Glendale Parks & Recreation (Deukmejian Wilderness Park), Angles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance 10 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,900 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: R (Steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Suggested time: 5.5 hours
    • Best season: November – May (lot open 7am – sunset daily)
    • USGS topo map: Sunland, Burbank, Condor Peak
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
    • More information:  Trip report here; Summit Post page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 9

Mt. Lukens is notable as being the highest point in the city limits of Los Angeles, and also the westernmost major summit of the San Gabriels. There are several routes to the top. This trip makes a loop from Deukmejian Wilderness Park in Glendale, ascending via the Crescenta View Trail and descending via the Rim of the Valley Trail. The views on both legs of the hike are great; if visibility is good, expect to see Old Saddleback, Catalina Island, Santa Barbara Island, the entire Santa Monica range and more. The antennas on top of Lukens prevent it from being one of So Cal’s all-time great hikes, but it’s still an essential peak. The route from Deukmejian is easily accessible to L.A. and the Valley, and requires no Adventure Pass, as the Stone Canyon approach does.

Information board at the start of the trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

Information board at the start of the trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

From north end of the parking area, turn right at the information board and make your way up into Dunsmore Canyon. You pass by a tree that survived the Station Fire, and the antennas on top of Lukens will be visible in the distance. The Le Mesnager Loop, your return route, branches off to the left at 0.3 miles, and at 0.5, head right (downhill) on a rough-looking single-track, the Crescenta View Trail. This trail crosses the canyon and begins a steep, rugged ascent, climbing about 2,000 feet over the next 2.5 miles. The Station Fire and numerous landslides have made the route difficult to follow in some parts. The good news is that it the steep climb gives some great views pretty quickly, including the Verdugos, the Hollywood Hills and downtown L.A.

0:52 - Steep ascent on the Crescenta View Trail (times are approximate)

0:32 – Steep ascent on the Crescenta View Trail (times are approximate)

A neatly arranged circle of stones, about 2 miles from the start, provides a nice place to take a break, with great views to the south. Beyond this point, the trail begins a steep ascent up a ridge, finally arriving at a fire road signed both as the Pickens Spur and Forest Road 2n76C. Here, you finally get a little bit of a break, as you only have an additional 600 feet to climb over the next 1.8 miles to reach the summit, which is prominently visible on the left.

1:11 - Stone circle and viewing area

1:11 – Stone circle and viewing area

At 3.5 miles from the start, you reach Mt. Lukens Road, where you are rewarded with a great view of the Big Tujunga area of the Angeles National Forest. Strawberry Peak, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Wilson are all easily seen; depending on visibility, you may be able to see farther to some of the high summits of the back country.

Head left on Mt. Lukens Road and walk the last easy mile to the summit, enjoying great views of the Valley and L.A. At the summit, you can walk to the end of a dirt road and get some more great views to the west.

1:42 - Getting easier on the Pickens Spur

1:42 – Getting easier on the Pickens Spur

You can return by the same route, but to make a loop, continue on Mt. Lukens Road, heading downhill and northwest. After a quarter mile, turn right at the junction and begin a long, winding descent along the mountain’s southwest flank. At 7.6 miles (3 below the summit), the road continues to the right toward Haines Canyon, but to get back to Deukmejian Park, turn left on the steep Rim of the Valley Trail.

1:52 - Head left on the fire road

1:52 – Head left on the fire road

You make some steep switchbacks, taking in great views along the way. There are a few places where the trail clings precariously to the side of the ridge, which may test the nerves of some hikers (particularly those with any kind of fear of heights.) At 8.8 miles, you get a pleasant surprise (well, I guess it’s not a surprise anymore) as the trail dips into wooded Cook Canyon. A seasonal stream runs through the bottom of the canyon, and the shade is a nice contrast from the exposed terrain thus far.

2:20 - You made it!

2:20 – You made it!

After crossing the stream, you make a final, brief ascent, joining the Le Mesnager Loop trail. Now, you’re more or less home free as you turn right and follow the trail back down into Dunsmore Canyon, enjoying a few last dramatic views of the mountains above. At 9.8 miles, you reach the Dunsmore Canyon Trail. Turn right and head back downhill to the parking lot, and give yourself a pat on the back for conquering the tallest peak in Los Angeles.

2:50 - Heading back to L.A.

2:50 – Heading back to L.A.

Text and photography copyright 2013 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

3:45 - Head left on the Rim of the World Trail

3:45 – Head left on the Rim of the Valley Trail

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

4:30 - Stream crossing in Cook Canyon

4:30 – Stream crossing in Cook Canyon

to date trail condition information.

Mt. Islip from Crystal Lake

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Looking west from Mt. Islip (note the Angeles Crest Highway)

Approaching the summit on the Islip Ridge Trail

Mt. Islip from Crystal Lake

      • Location:  Crystal Lake Recreation Area, in the Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in Azusa, take the Highway 39 (Azusa Ave.) exit.  Go north on Highway 39, which becomes San Gabriel Canyon Road, for a total of 24 miles.  Turn right on Crystal Lake Road and drive two miles to the visitor center.  Turn right and park in the day use parking lot, just past the parking lot for the cafe, by the restrooms.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency:  Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel River Ranger District
      • Distance: 8.4 miles
      • Elevation gain: 2,450 feet
      • Suggested time: 4 hours
      • Difficulty rating: R (elevation gain, altitude, distance)
      • Best season: May – November
      • USGS topo map: Crystal Lake
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
      • More information: Trip report here; Everytrail report here (both describe the loop in the opposite direction as here)
      • Rating: 9

Mt. Islip (elevation 8,250) can be approached either from the north via the Angeles Crest Highway or, as described here, from the Crystal Lake Campground. In addition to being a challenging hike, the approach from the south – using the Windy Gap, Big Cienega and Islip Ridge Trails – is very scenic. Great views of San Gabriel Canyon, the western Angeles National Forest and the high desert are some of the highlights. While the views aren’t quite as dramatic as on nearby Mt. Williamson, Mt. Islip has to be considered one of the essential hikes of the San Gabriels. The mountain’s name is pronounced “eye-slip”, which hopefully you will not do on the trails that cling to the side of the ridge, dropping off sharply.

As of this writing, the road is closed at the visitor’s center, meaning that hikers must park there and walk 0.4 miles each way to the beginning of the Windy Ridge Trail. If the gate past the visitor center is open, you can cut that distance off your hike.

Follow the main road from the visitor center, passing by several loops of camp sites, and look for the Windy Ridge trail, heading off to the left. You follow it 0.4 miles through a pleasant forest of oaks and pines, and cross the road again. Continuing your ascent, you reach another intersection, with the Mt. Hawkins Truck Trail. Shortly after this junction, you’ll come to a split.

Head left on the Big Cienega Trail. (This trail is more moderately graded, and has more shade, than the Windy Ridge Trail, making it a preferable choice for the ascent.) You head west, enjoying nice views of the canyon below. While the area is still showing signs of damage from the Curve Fire, there are a few trees to provide shade, particularly near the crossing of the upper end of Cedar Creek.

After 1.8 miles on the trail (3 miles from the beginning of the Windy Gap Trail), you meet the Islip Ridge Trail. Head right (northeast), getting a look at the round summit in front of you. If you look closely, you can see the Windy Gap trail cut into the slope opposite. You also can see the Angeles Crest Highway and the roadbed of old Highway 39 off to the west. Farther off, you can see Mt. Wilson.

After about a mile on the Islip Ridge Trail, head left on a spur signed for the summit. A couple of switchbacks brings you to the top of Mt. Islip, where the ruins of a stone cabin stands. You can also see the foundation of a lookout tower that stood here until 1937.

The view from the top includes a bit of Mt. Baldy to the east, Old Saddleback southeast, the San Gabriel Valley to the south, the front country of the Angeles National Forest to the west and the high desert to the north. If you look closely, you can see tiny Crystal Lake in the pines to the south, as well as the Morris Reservoir.

After enjoying the panorama, retrace your steps back to the Islip Ridge Trail. Continue heading east (left), through a pleasant grove of pines on the north side of the ridge. In less than a mile, head right at a junction, which soon brings you to Windy Gap.

At this four-way junction, head right on the Windy Gap Trail (the Pacific Crest Trail leads straight ahead and to the left). The Windy Gap Trail heads expeditiously downhill, taking in some nice views of Islip along the way. At 1.3 miles below Windy Gap, you meet the Big Cienega Trail, completing the loop. Retrace your steps on the last mile-plus of the Windy Gap Trail, returning to the visitor center.

Text and photography copyright 2012 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.

El Prieto Canyon

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On the Brown Mountain Fire Road

Stream in El Prieto Canyon

El Prieto Canyon

    • Location: Altadena.  From I-210, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for two miles.  Turn left on Canyon Crest Road, go a total of 1.2 miles and turn left on Cloverhill.  Take the first right on to El Prieto Road and park near the end of the street.  From the west, take I-210 to the Arroyo Blvd/Windsor Ave. exit and turn left.  Cross the freeway and go right on Woodbury.  Go 0.5 miles and turn left on Lincoln and go 1.4 miles to Canyon Crest, then follow Canyon Crest to Cloverhill and El Prieto.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 3.3 miles
    • Elevation gain: 550 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
    • Best season: Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • Recommended gear: sun hat
    • USGS topo map:  Pasadena
    • More information: here (slightly different route described); Every Trail report here
    • Rating: 7

This short, but surprisingly varied and scenic hike, visits a secluded canyon that feels quite isolated, despite its proximity to the residential neighborhoods of Altadena. You also get nice views of Brown Mountain (named for Owen and Jason Brown, sons of Civil War abolitionist John Brown) and several other front-range peaks of the Angeles National Forest, and given clear weather, you can also see the Hollywood Hills and Verdugo Mountains.

From the end of El Prieto Road, head past a gate on the pavement. You climb quickly, soon reaching a single-track trail that branches off to the left. Follow it uphill and join another paved road at 0.8 miles. Bear left and continue to the Brown Mountain Truck Trail. You get a nice view down into the canyon, the bottom of which you’ll be exploring later on this route.

At 1.2 miles, look for the Fern Truck Trail branching off to the left. Follow it to the back of a tributary canyon, where you will cross a seasonal stream. At 1.5 miles, head left and downhill on the El Prieto Canyon Trail.

You make a few switchbacks and soon arrive at the bottom of the canyon, beneath the shade of some oaks. The Station Fire damage in this area is obvious, but there’s still a decent amount of shade. Here, you are virtually isolated from any kind of civilization; even the check dams seem to blend in nicely. Stay left as two trails branch off to the right, cross the bottom of the canyon and make a brief ascent.

Take a sharp right turn at a junction (the route ahead rejoins the Brown Mountain Truck Trail), and descend back to the canyon’s bottom. You come to another split; both trails soon meet again at a clearing, where there is a picnic table (2.2 miles). This is a nice place to take a break.

Continuing south down the canyon, you travel through a landscape of oaks, a trickling stream and steep walls, typical of the Arroyo Seco region. At three miles from the start, head uphill (left) at another junction. You pass through a meadow, slip through a fence and end up on El Prieto Road. Complete the loop by heading left and walking back uphill to your starting point.

Note: as you enter the driveway, you may notice a “private property” sign.  According to a 2006 court decision, non-motorized traffic is allowed on the land.

Text and photography copyright 2012 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.