Upper Altadena Crest Trail

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View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, Pasadena, CA

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail

Ocean view from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

Dusk over the ocean from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail

Upper Altadena Crest Trail

  • Location: Staging area on the north side of Loma Alta Drive at the intersection with Dabney St. From I-210, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn right on Loma Alta Drive and go 0.2 miles to the staging area on the north side of the road, across from Loma Alta Park.
  • Agency: Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy/County of Los Angeles
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – June (sunrise to sunset)
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Everytrail report here; LA County Trails page here
  • Rating: 6
Altadena Crest Trail Head, Pasadena, CA

0:00 – Trail head at the Loma Alta Staging Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This northwestern segment of the Altadena Trail connects Loma Alta Drive with Mt. Lowe Road, climbing about 800 vertical feet with a few ups and downs, adding up to a fairly vigorous workout. The trail’s convenient location and panoramic views make it a worthwhile excursion for anyone in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys; it’s not far from downtown L.A. either.

From the staging area, follow the signed trail leading alongside the debris basin. The first few hundred yards might not seem promising but you quickly climb away from civilization, reaching the top of a ridge a quarter mile from the start. From here, you descend to a T-junction. Take a hard right and head into a shallow canyon. Stay straight, ignoring the cut switchback on the left and make your way up to another ridge, taking in some nice views of the San Gabriel Mountains dead ahead.

Fall colors on the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

0:09 – Heading right at the T-junction (times are approximate)

After another brief descent, you begin a steady climb to a Y-junction (0.9 miles from the start). Bear left and continue climbing a quarter mile to reach the paved Chaney Trail. The trail continues on the opposite side of the road and a wooden step makes a nice resting spot before the steep ascent ahead.

View of the mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Foothills, CA

0:24 – Bear left at the Y-junction

The trail continues its climb, quite steeply at times and over increasingly loose and washed out terrain. The good news is that for your efforts you are rewarded with views that are wider and wider, as well as an interesting aerial perspective on Cheney Trail. Finally the grade levels out you meet up with a paved road leading a few yards to a junction at a saddle with great views to the south, including the Santa Ana Mountains, Catalina Island and downtown L.A., and Millard Canyon to the north.

This is the turnaround point (1.6 miles from the start), but you can easily extend the hike along the Sunset Ridge Trail or the Mt. Lowe Fire Road if you see fit. As an alternate to the loose, steep trail, you can also descend via Cheney Trail by heading left on the Mt. Lowe Fire Road and following it a short distance.

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Altadena Crest Trail, California

0:29 – View from the Cheney Trail intersection

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:49 – Southeast view from the top

Top 14 hikes of ’14!

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View of San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak from Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

San Jacinto and San Gorgonio from Ryan Mountain

View of Millard Canyon from the Cape of Good Hope, Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

View of Millard Canyon from the Cape of Good Hope, Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

Trees at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Wilderness

Trees at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Wilderness

View of the coastline of Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Looking east from mid Santa Cruz Island en route to Del Norte Trail Camp

Greetings readers and hikers, I hope this has been a happy, fun and successful year for you all! As is tradition on this site, for the last post of the year we present a list of the highlights from the last 365 days. It was a banner year for NHLA – we passed one million total page views, set a single-day record for traffic, started a relationship with Sports Chalet, continued to network with other sites and publishers promoting hiking, such as the “Longest Straw” crew. More than one hundred hikes – from Santa Barbara to the high desert to Joshua Tree to the Anza-Borrego Desert – were written up and here are the best of them. Enjoy!

#14) Devil’s Punchbowl

Definitely one of the best short hikes in all of Southern California, the Devil’s Punchbowl showcases unusual geology, panoramic views of the high desert and the towering north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains.

#13) Rattlesnake Canyon

Steep but scenic, this is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular hiking trails. Your efforts for 1,700 feet of climbing are rewarded with outstanding ocean and mountain views.

#12) Butler Peak

Home to the highest lookout tower in the San Bernardino National Forest, the hike to Butler Peak leads through lofty pine forests with views all around.

#11) Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve

It’s hard not to like the little mountain town of Julian. Case in point: this large pocket of open space, where you can lose yourself in the wide open fields and rolling hills.

#10) Romero Canyon

Excellent ocean vistas, mountain views and shaded oak woodlands are among the highlights of this popular Santa Barbara hike.

#9) West Mesa Loop

Alpine meadows, oak and pine forests, excellent mountain views and the historic Airplane Monument make this hike one of the best in all of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

#8) Horsethief Creek

In the dry transition zone between the Coachella Valley and the Santa Rosa Mountains, Horsethief Creek is a pleasant surprise, offering a truly remote hiking experience and a variety of geological and botanical scenery.

#7) Del Norte Trail Camp

Want to escape the crowds on Santa Cruz Island? The middle portion of this largest of the Channel Islands is lightly traveled and Del Norte Trail Camp is a perfect day hike destination (or, as its name suggests, a camping destination).

#6) Agua Tibia Wilderness

This remote and rugged area of north San Diego County challenges hikers but also rewards them with excellent views of the Palomar Mountains, the Santa Rosas, Garner Valley and more.

#5) Mt. Wilson/Devore Camp Loop

Mt. Wilson as a reverse hike? Why not? This 11-mile loop descends via the Kenyon Devore Trail and returns via the Gabrielino and Rim Trails, providing passage through Mt. Wilson’s remote north slope.

#4) Ryan Mountain

With 360-degree summit views including San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountain, there’s a reason why Ryan Mountain is Joshua Tree’s most popular summit

#3) Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

History and phenomenal views come together in this hike, which explores the route of the Mt. Lowe Railroad. The Sam Merrill and Echo Mountain Trails provide vistas of the L.A. Basin while the Castle Canyon Trail explores some of the area’s geological features. In between is Inspiration Point, where almost all of So Cal is visible.

#2) High Point

The highest point in the Palomar Mountains offers predictably exciting scenery. Supposedly a fire 200 miles away in Santa Barbara was once spotted from this lookout and when you experience the views from the summit, it’s not hard to believe.

#1) Mt. Hawkins Loop

The best NHLA hike of 2014 is this outstanding 13-mile loop in the Angeles National Forest. Visiting both South Hawkins and Mt. Hawkins, this epic route provides amazing views of the L.A. Basin, the high desert, San Gabriel Canyon and more.

Well, it’s been a great year and thank all of you readers for making this site your go-to resource for information about hikes. Let’s all get out there and have a great 2015!

Elsmere Canyon

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Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon

Geology in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

The Towsley geological formation, Elsmere Canyon

Elsmere Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:27 – Turnoff for the waterfall

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

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

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:45 – Elsmere Canyon waterfall

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

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

Dawn Mine

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

Rocks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

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

Oaks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

Dawn Mine

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

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

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

Sunset Ridge Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

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

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

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

0:20 – The left fork descends to Millard Canyon

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

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

Heavy growth in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest

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

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

Jumbled boulders in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:00 – Climbing through the rocks

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

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

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

1:17 – Oak woodlands after the rock scramble

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

Path through the woods to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:27 – Path leading toward the mine

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

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

Entrance to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:30 – Dawn Mine entrance

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


Bear Divide Trail

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View from Bear Divide, western Angeles National Forest

Looking northwest from the top of Bear Divide

View from Santa Clara Divide Road, Angeles National Forest

View of the high desert from Santa Clara Divide Road

Bear Divide Trail

  • Location: Western Angeles National Forest between the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley and Little Tujunga Canyon. From I-210 in Pacoima, take the Osborne St. exit. Cross the freeway on Foothill Blvd. and turn left on Osborne St. Follow it for 11.4 miles. (Osborne becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road) to the Bear Divide Picnic Area. Turn left on Santa Clara Truck Trail and follow it 0.2 miles and park in a dirt turnout on the right side of the road. From the 14 Freeway, exit at Placerita Canyon Road and follow it east for 5 miles to its end at Sand Canyon Road. Turn right on Sand Canyon, which becomes Little Tujunga Canyon, and follow it 3 miles to the Bear Divide Picnic Area. Turn right on Santa Clarita Truck Trail and follow it 0.2 miles to the turnout on the right. The unsigned trail starts right next to the road. Though no signage indicates that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is needed to park here, most of the trail heads in the area do require it so if you have one, consider bringing it to be safe. Click here to purchase one.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: San Fernando
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
  • More information: Trip description here; video about the hike here
  • Rating: 7
Start of the Bear Divide Trail, Angeles National Forest

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

Considering its proximity to the Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Fernando Valleys–and its excellent views of them–it’s surprising this trail isn’t better known. Adding to the appeal are the tall pines and black oaks on the north facing slope, providing welcome shade from the Antelope Valley heat.

Bear Divide Trail leading through chaparral, Angeles National Forest

0:03 – Right turn on the Bear Divide Trail (times are approximate)

Bear Divide is a ridge that stretches westward from Little Tujunga Canyon, rising above the San Fernando Valley to the south and the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys to the north. The unsigned Bear Divide Trail starts off inauspiciously with a steep climb up a loose and rocky incline. At just over a tenth of a mile (and 150 vertical feet of climbing) it bends to the right where it enters the shade of chaparral. A steep trail continues straight; intrepid hikers can use this as an alternative ascent or descent, making the hike into a loop.

Oak growing out of the rocks on the Bear Divide Trail, Angeles National Forest

0:19 – “Ninja oak!”

The trail follows the north side of the ridge, providing excellent views of the Santa Clarita Valley. The steep ascent continues before finally leveling off at about 0.4 miles from the start. Soon after you enter an attractive grove of black oaks and Coulter pines. Keep an eye out for one rogue black oak in particular, growing nearly sideways from the rocky ridge.

Footbridge on the Bear Divide Trail, Angeles National Forest

0:28 – Footbridge

Shortly before a mile, you cross a footbridge and soon after you begin a steep set of switchbacks. Fortunately you’re still in the shade, making the 400-plus feet of elevation gain in less than a mile more tolerable. The majestic pines make it seem as if you’re higher up than your actual altitude of about 3,400 feet.

Looking north from Santa Clarita Truck Trail, Angeles National Forest

0:51 – Looking north from Santa Clara Truck Trail

At 1.5 miles, you rejoin Santa Clara Truck Trail. Bear right and follow it past the fire station. At a junction where Santa Clarita heads downhill and continues west, follow the left fork to a high point (about 4,000 feet above sea level) on the ridge with several communications antennas. Just before a fence blocks the road, a trail leads a short distance to a big, flat summit where you can enjoy a panoramic view. If visibility is good, expect to see Catalina Island, the Hollywood Hills, the Santa Monica Mountains, the Topatopa Mountains, the Liebre Mountains and more.

View of the San Fernando Valley from Santa Clara Truck Trail

1:01 – The San Fernando Valley from just past the fire station

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

Looking southwest from the top of Bear Divide, Angeles National Forest

1:10 – Southwest view from the “summit” of Bear Divide


Valley Forge Trail Camp from Eaton Saddle

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View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Valley Forge Trail

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Valley Forge Trail

Black oaks on the Valley Forge Trail

Black oaks on the Valley Forge Trail

Valley Forge Trail Camp 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: 5.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
    • Suggested time: 3 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, distance, trail condition)
    • Best season: September – June
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat, Mt. Wilson
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking polesinsect repellent; long pants and long sleeved shirts
    • More information: Trail description on Angeles National Forest home page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head at Eaton Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

You already know how to get to the Valley Forge Trail Camp from Red Box, so in this post we’ll look at the more challenging route from Eaton Saddle.  Unfortunately the Valley Forge Trail still shows the effects of the Station Fire – notably in the presence of poodle dog bush and several stretches that suffer from severe erosion.  If you are willing to be vigilant about avoiding the poodle dog bush, which sometimes all but covers the trail (long sleeves are highly recommended), this is an enjoyable hike, providing excellent views of the eastern San Gabriel Mountains, often from beneath the pleasant shade of black oaks and pines.

0:02 - Poodle dog bush near the top of the trail (times are approximate)

0:02 – Poodle dog bush near the top of the trail (times are approximate)

Like the approach from Red Box, this is a reverse hike.  Though the ascent back up to Eaton from the trail camp can be taxing, in the late afternoon, the sun will likely be blocked out by San Gabriel Peak.  Begin by following the signed Valley Forge Trail downhill, soon making a switchback and entering the first of many patches of poodle dog bush.  After a second switchback, you enter a grove of black oaks.

0:22 - Low bridge: fallen tree on the trail

0:22 – Low bridge: fallen tree on the trail

You continue your steady descent, taking caution to avoid the poodle dog bush and along the washed-out sections of the trail.  At about 3/4 of a mile, duck under a fallen tree and at about 1.25 miles, keep an eye out for a surveillance camera mounted on a tree, one of several placed in the San Gabriel Mountains to capture wildlife footage.

0:37 - Smile, you're on camera.

0:37 – Smile, you’re on camera.

After making a few more switchbacks, you reach a junction at 1.9 miles, beneath a large pine tree.  A false trail heads left; the Valley Forge Trail heads right and continues making switchbacks as it descends the slope.  Near the bottom, keep an eye out for more poodle bush as well as some poison oak.

0:57 - Bear right beneath the large pine and continue the descent

0:57 – Bear right beneath the large pine and continue the descent

At 2.6 miles, you reach the Gabrielino Trail.  Turn left and descend a short distance where you’ll make a hard right on a spur leading to the Valley Forge Trail Camp.  Here, you can sit at a picnic table beneath tall oaks and sycamores and enjoy some peace and quiet before making your return.  If you have left a car shuttle at Red Box, you can return via the Gabrielino Trail, a more moderate ascent.

1:18 - The Gabrielino Trail (turn left)

1:18 – The Gabrielino Trail (turn left)

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.

1:24 - Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

1:24 – Welcome to Valley Forge Trail Camp

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.