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.