Warner Springs to Eagle Rock via Pacific Crest Trail

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Eagle Rock, northeast San Diego County

Appropriately named Eagle Rock

Panorama from the Pacific Crest Trail, northeast San Diego County

Lone tree on the Pacific Crest Trail on the way back from Eagle Rock

Warner Springs to Eagle Rock via Pacific Crest Trail

  • Location: Across from Cal Fire Station 52, 31049 Highway 79, Warner Springs. The location is 38.7 miles east of Interstate 15, 6.8 miles north of Highway 76 and 13.8 miles north of Highway 78. Park in the narrow dirt turnout across from the fire station by the Pacific Crest Trail decal.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 6.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: Warner Springs
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 8
Pacific Crest Trail head on highway 79, San Diego County

0:00 – Trail head on Highway 79 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Everything enjoyable about inland San Diego County hiking can be found on this stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. The destination is Eagle Rock, 3.3 miles from Warner Springs, but even just a short stroll is worthwhile. Scenic highlights include geology, open fields, shaded canyons and a who’s who of San Diego mountains.

Fence on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County

0:10 – Gate before the junction with the CR&H Trail (Times are approximate)

From the turnout across from the fire station, carefully cross Highway 79 and enter the metal gate, signed as a Pacific Crest Trail access point. It drops down to a stream bed and heads east, passing the fire station and school before reaching another gate and a junction with the California Riding & Hiking Trail. The CR&H Trail heads left; the P.C.T. heads straight, entering an attractive canyon filled with oaks, sycamores and willows.

Oak woodlands, Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County

0:27 – Woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail

You follow the P.C.T. generally east for a very pleasant mile plus, weaving in and out of woodlands, before emerging at a meadow. Here, you can see Hot Springs Mountain, the tallest point in San Diego County, dominating the landscape to the north. You begin climbing, reaching the top of a ridge at about 2 miles from the start. On the way up, keep an eye out for the Palomar Mountain Observatory perched high on the hills to the west, resembling a golf ball.

Meadow and mountains on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County, CA

0:37 – Meadow with distant mountains

On the opposite side of the ridge, the landscape becomes more desert-like, with manzanita trees and even a few cholla and prickly pear cacti. You gradually descend into a valley, taking in views of the Vulcan Mountains on the way and then make another climb to a saddle, where you can see Eagle Rock in the distance. The P.C.T. makes another descent before climbing gradually to a spur leading to the giant granite formation.

View from the top of a ridge on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County

0:47- View from the top of the ridge

From the back side, Eagle Rock’s resemblance to its namesake is quite striking. In addition, the views in all directions are outstanding, making this a perfect spot to sit and enjoy some solitude before heading back.

Manzanita on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County, CA

0:51 – Manzanita on the Pacific Crest Trail

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

View from Eagle Rock, San Diego County, CA

1:20 – View from Eagle Rock

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Knapp’s Castle

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View from Knapp's Castle, Santa Barbara, Los Padres National Forest

Looking northwest from Knapp’s Castle

View of the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara, CA from Knapp's Castle

Looking northeast from Knapp’s Castle

Knapp’s Castle

    • Location: Los Padres National Forest north of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, head north on Highway 154 for 7.8 miles.  Make a hard right on East Camino Cielo and follow it 3 miles (0.9 miles past Painted Cave Road). Park in dirt turnouts on either side of the road.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 0.8 mile
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year round
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here
    • Rating: 7
View of the Santa Ynez Valley, Los Padres National Forest, Knapp's Castle trail head

0:00 – View from the trail head on East Camino Cielo (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Excellent views and historic ruins for very little effort (unless you use the more challenging Snyder Trail) make this understandably one of the most popular hikes in the Santa Barbara area. The hike is on private land but as of this writing, the public is allowed access by the grace of the owners.

The original owner was George Knapp, who completed his mansion in 1920. Unfortunately, like its counterpart in the Santa Monica Mountains the Tropical Terrace, the mansion fell victim to fire; the Paradise Canyon Fire of 1940 to be precise.

On the trail to Knapp's Castle, Los Padres National Forest

0:08 – Junction with the Snyder Trail; stay right (times are approximate)

The hike to reach the mansion could hardly be simpler. From East Camino Cielo, follow the dirt road downhill, taking in outstanding views of the Santa Ynez Valley the entire way. At about 0.3 miles, stay right as the Snyder Trail heads left and downhill toward Paradise Road, almost 2,000 feet below. Pass a fence and follow the trail to the ruins of the house.

Here you can enjoy a 270-degree panorama. Stone arches that were once windows frame the landscape; the old chimney still stands in the midst of a small oak grove. After taking it all in, retrace your steps or, if you’ve left a car a the bottom of the Snyder Trail, you can continue downhill for a point-to-point hike.

Ruins of Knapp's Castle, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:11 – Chimney among the ruins of Knapp’s Castle

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.


Stonewall Creek/Soapstone Grade Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Panoramic view of fields, mountains and sky, Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Panorama from the Soapstone Grade Fire Road

Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Stonewall Creek/Soapstone Grade Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north for 2.7 miles, turn left and continue another 7.3 miles on Highway 79 to the West Mesa Parking Area, on the right side of the road.  From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 13 miles.  The parking area will be on the left side of the road.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Best season: September – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; description from a mountain biking website here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

0:00 – Trail head, West Mesa Parking Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This loop explores several mesa, valleys and canyons east of Stonewall Peak, whose distinctive shape can be seen for much of the hike. The views aren’t as varied or as panoramic as from the summits, but it’s still an enjoyable hike that explores some of the park’s remote terrain. Most of the ascent happens on west-facing slopes, so on warm days, if you get an early start, you can climb in the shade (assuming you hike clockwise, as described here).

Crossing the bed of Stonewall Creek

0:35 – Crossing the bed of Stonewall Creek (times are approximate)

Begin by following the trail signed for the Cold Stream Trail. After crossing the creek bed, turn left on the Cold Stream Trail and follow it a short distance to the Cold Spring Trail.  Bear right and follow it for a pleasant, if not particularly memorable, 1.2 miles. After reaching a ridge, it drops down to cross the Stonewall Creek bed, which is usually dry. This brings you to the Stonewall Creek Fire Road.

Panoramic view from the Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:10 – Looking north at the junction with the Soapstone Grade Fire Road

Bear left and start climbing gradually, soon reaching a meadow, across which Stonewall Peak stands impressively. You enter a pleasant grove of oaks and after passing the turnoff for the Whitaker Trail, you reach the Soapstone Grade Fire Road (2.8 miles from the start).

Descending the Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:35 – Starting the descent toward the Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Now, with most of your climbing done, you can enjoy a great view of the valley to the north; on clear days you can see up to the Palomars and perhaps even the Santa Rosa Mountains. Turn right and follow the road as it contours along the south edge of the valley. Adding to the appeal of this stretch is the likelihood of a cool breeze along the ridge. After about a mile, the California Riding & Hiking Trail splits off and you begin a steep descent, reaching the Upper Green Valley Fire Road (4.5 miles from the start.)

Descending the Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:50 – Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Turn right and begin a more gradual descent along the Sweetwater River. Most of the oaks and pines are still recovering from the fires of 2003 and 2007, but a few still provide some shade. After about two miles, a particularly tall oak with a few flat granite boulders beneath it makes for a perfect picnic spot.

Large oak on the Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

2:40 – Large oak on the Upper Green Valley Fire Road

Continuing along, you’ll bear right at the next intersection and follow the Upper Green Valley Fire Road to its junction with the lower end of the Stonewall Creek Fire Road. Continue south, passing a short spur leading to a view point beneath a pine where an interpretive plaque describes some of the park’s avian wildlife.

Hill Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

2:58 – Start of the Hill Trail

At 7.3 miles from the start, turn right on the Hill Trail, a single-track which climbs to a ridge and then drops back down to the Cold Stream drainage. Turn right on the Cold Stream Trail and follow it for a pleasant 0.7 miles back to your starting point.

View of Stonewall Peak from the junction of the Hill Trail and Cold Stream Trails, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

3:10 – Stonewall Peak as seen from the bottom of the Hill Trail

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.

Olinda Oil Museum Trail

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Olinda Oil Museum Trail, Brea, CA

In the canyon on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

Historic oil well, Olinda Oil Museum

Historic oil well and museum field house

Olinda Oil Museum Trail

    • Location: Olinda Oil Museum, 4025 Santa Fe Rd, Brea. From the 57 Freeway, take the Lambert Road exit and head east for a total of 2.4 miles (Lambert becomes Carbon Canyon/Highway 142). Turn left on Santa Fe and go 0.3 miles to the park entrance, which is on the right. Parking is free but museum donations are encouraged.
    • Agency: City of Brea/California State Parks
    • Distance: 1.9 miles
    • Elevation gain: 350 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour for hike; 30 minutes for museum
    • Best season: All year (Trail is open daily 9am-4pm; museum is open from 10am-2pm Wednesday and noon to 4pm Sunday)
    • USGS topo map: Yorba Linda
    • More information: Trip description here; Yelp page here
    • Rating: 4
Olinda Oil Museum Trail beginning

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

Long before Disneyland or reality television made Orange County famous, oil was discovered. The Olinda Oil Museum pays homage to the history of oil in north Orange County, featuring vintage equipment, historical photographs and a short hiking trail that climbs into the hills above. The 12-acre parcel was deeded to the city in 2003 by real estate developers as part of a deal that allowed them to build new housing tracts in the area.

Service road on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:07 – Crossing the second service road; note the trail marker on the right (times are approximate)

The houses and the noise from traffic on nearby Carbon Canyon Road prevent this from being much of a wilderness experience, but the trail still offers a convenient workout with some nice views of north O.C. The historical interest adds appeal. In some ways, this could be considered Orange County’s answer to Griffith Park’s Travel Town, although it would be more accurately called Oil Town.

Interpretive plaque on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:12 – Plaque describing the geology of the area

From the parking area, follow the trail which soon changes from concrete to dirt and makes its way up the hillside, crossing two service roads. The numbered trail markers don’t have any interpretive significance; they are simply there to clearly sign the route. You pass by a few active oil drills and interpretive plaques as you switchback up the hill.

View from the top of the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:15 – View from the top of the trail

At about half a mile–and almost 300 feet of elevation gain – you reach the top of the trail, marked by a lone willow tree. Here you can get a panoramic 180-degree view of the Santa Ana Mountains and Chino Hills to the east and south, and of Orange County’s suburban sprawl to the left. The trail then descends, dropping into a shallow canyon before emerging at a fire road, a mile from the start.

Descending into the canyon, Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:18 – Descending into the canyon

Follow the fire road downhill to another paved service road, which leads out of the canyon, through a grove of eucalyptus trees. The trail emerges at Santa Fe Road, where you turn right and follow it back uphill toward the museum, completing the loop.

Fire road, Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:30 – Joining the fire road, about a mile from the start

If you visit on a Wednesday or Sunday, make sure you allow enough time to visit the museum, the main building of which is a field house from 1912. Other attractions include vintage oil pumps and gears, steam engines, drills, gears, tools and a working klaxon horn which museum volunteers will enthusiastically demonstrate.  (It’s loud.)

Paved road leading out of the canyon on the Olinda Oil Museum Trail

0:36 – Paved road leading out of the canyon

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.

Sweetwater River Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Pines and oaks on the Sweetwater River Trail

Pines and oaks on the Sweetwater River Trail

Sunlight through oaks on the Merigan Fire Road

Sunlight through oaks on the Merigan Fire Road

Sweetwater River Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north on Highway 79 for 1.3 miles to Riverside Drive.  Bear left on Riverside Drive and follow it a total of 1.5 miles (along the way it becomes Viejas Blvd.) to the signed Merigan Day Use Area for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, on the left side of the road.  From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 20 miles, past the main entrances to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and turn right on Viejas Blvd.  The trail head is on the right side of the road in 1.1 miles.  Parking is $8 per day (checks or exact change accepted).
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 7.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Everytrail report here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Merigan Fire Road trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Merigan Fire Road trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This balloon-shaped hike explores the lower country in the southern end of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  You’re still between 3,400 and 4,100 feet above sea level and while much of the route is exposed, with an early start, it can easily be done even on warm days.  This hike doesn’t have quite the scenic variety of panoramic views that can be found in the park’s higher terrain, but it does offer a nice sense of isolation less than an hour’s drive from San Diego and about two hours from Orange County.

0:34 - Oaks on the Merigan Fire Road shortly before the junction (times are approximate)

0:34 – Oaks on the Merigan Fire Road shortly before the junction (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the Merigan Fire Road north through a field and into the shallow canyon of the Sweetwater River (which may be just a trickle or completely dry depending on the time of year and amount of rainfall).  At 0.7 miles, pass a junction with the Dead Horse Trail and continue north, eventually entering a pleasant oak woodland.

0:44- On the Saddleback Trail

0:44- On the Saddleback Trail

At about two miles from the start, you reach a four-way junction in a pleasant meadow, where a tall pine stands above the oaks and chaparral shrubs.  The Merigan Fire Road bends right.  The Sweetwater Trail, straight ahead of you, is your return route.  Turn left and follow the Saddleback Trail, a single-track, down to the river.  (The loop can be done in either direction but by hiking clockwise, you have a more pleasant ascent).  The Saddleback Trail is overgrown in spots but never too difficult to follow.  It climbs steadily through the riparian habitat of the river, through some oak-dotted fields and finally gains the top of a ridge, where it meets the California Riding & Hiking Trail (3.6 miles.)  Here, you get the best views of the hike, notably imposing Cuyamaca Peak to the north and Oakzanita Peak to the east.

1:17 - Cuyamaca Peak from the top of the Saddleback Trail

1:17 – Cuyamaca Peak from the top of the Saddleback Trail

Turn right and follow the CR&H Trail.  In addition to the views of the summits, if the air is clear, you may be able to get a glimpse of the ocean in the distance.   At 4 miles from the start, you reach a junction with the South Boundary Fire Road.  Bear right and begin a steep descent back into canyon.  At 4.4 miles from the start, turn right to continue following the South Boundary Fire Road down the canyon, under the shade of oaks.  After crossing the headwaters of the Sweetwater River, turn right on the Sweetwater Trail (4.7 miles).

1:27 - Junction with the Boundary Fire Road (bear right)

1:27 – Junction with the Boundary Fire Road (bear right)

The Sweetwater Trail head south, paralleling the river bed, for just over a mile. At 5.7 miles from the start, you return to the four-way junction, completing the loop.  Retrace your steps on the Merigan Fire Road back to the parking lot.

1:38 - Heading south back into the woods on the Boundary Fire Road

1:38 – Heading south back into the woods on the Boundary Fire Road

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.

1:46 - Start of the Sweetwater Trail, last leg of the loop

1:46 – Start of the Sweetwater Trail, last leg of the loop

Saddle Peak (East Approach)

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Sunset from Saddle Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

Sunset from Saddle Peak

View of the Santa Monica Bay from Saddle Peak, Malibu CA

Ocean view from Saddle Peak

Saddle Peak (East Approach)

    • Location: Santa Monica Mountains between Topanga and Malibu. From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway 9.5 miles to Las Flores Canyon.  Go right and take Las Flores Canyon 3.4 miles to Rancho Pacifico.  Go right on Rancho Pacifico for 0.6 miles and go right on Schueren for 1.8 miles.  Park at the Lois Ewen Overlook (Topanga Lookout Trailhead on Google Maps) at the intersection of Schueren, Stunt and Saddle Peak Roads. From the San Fernando Valley, take Highway 101 to Valley Circle/Mulholland. Turn left and follow Mulholland 0.3 miles. Turn right and follow Mulholland another 0.3 miles to Valmar. Turn right and follow Valmar, which becomes Old Topanga Canyon Road, 1.2 miles to Mulholland Highway. Turn right and follow Mulholland Highway 3.8 miles to Stunt Road. Turn left and follow Stunt Road 4 miles to the overlook at the junction with Schueren and Saddle Peak Roads.
    • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
    • Distance: 1.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 400 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Best season: All year
    • USGS topo maps: “Malibu Beach”
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
    • More information: Backbone Trail information here; trip description here
    • Rating: 5

This approach to Saddle Peak doesn’t offer the scenic variety or same level of challenge as the route from the north, but it’s still an enjoyable hike. Sunsets are particularly enjoyable: the distance from the summit back to the car is short enough that you can watch the sun dip into the ocean and still have a little bit of light when you make your descent. Like the approach from the north, this hike utilizes the Backbone Trail.

Lois Ewen Overlook, Backbone Trail, Malibu, CA

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

The vistas from the trail head, the Lois Ewen Overlook, are almost as good as those from the summit; you get a nearly aerial view of the Santa Monica Bay and the San Fernando Valley. After enjoying the panorama, follow Stunt Road briefly downhill and pick up a signed trail on the south side, opposite mile marker 3.99. The Backbone Trail climbs quickly, following the south side of a ridge with good ocean views before meeting a service road at 0.4 miles.

Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

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

Follow the road uphill around the back of a water tank. After a few yards of semi-pavement, the trail becomes dirt again and enters an oak woodland. Keep an eye out for some interesting sandstone geology on the left, as well as some views of the Valley through the trees on the right.

Crossing the service road on the Backbone Trail

0:10 – Service road

At three quarters of a mile, you reach a junction. The Backbone Trail continues straight ahead but to reach Saddle Peak, turn left and follow a spur to a dirt road. Turn left again and climb a short distance to the summit.

Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains near Saddle Peak

0:20 – Junction on the Backbone Trail (left turn)

Saddle Peak is actually two different summits but this is the only one with public access (the other summit houses various radio and communications towers). You get a nearly 360-degree view including the ocean to the south, Castro Peak and Boney Mountain to the west, the Simi Hills, Santa Susana Mountains and Hollywood Hills to the north and the San Gabriels to the east. On a recent day with particularly good visibility, I was able to see Old Saddleback, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.

Dirt road on Saddle Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:22 – Dirt road toward the summit

After enjoying the view, descend by the same route. If you’ve arranged a shuttle at the lower trail head, you can descend north on the Backbone Trail; if you’re willing to walk 1.2 miles on Stunt Road, you can take the Backbone Trail north to the lower trailhead and then take the street back to the overlook for a loop of about 3.5 miles.

 

View from Saddle Peak, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu CA

0:25 – Looking north from Saddle Peak

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.

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