Tag Archives: Pasadena

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.

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Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box


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View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

View of the Angeles Crest Highway from the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Woodland on the Gabrielino Trail

Gabrielino Trail: Switzer Picnic Area to Red Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:20 - Into the pines

1:20 – Into the pines

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

2:00 - Red Box parking area

2:00 – Red Box parking area

Rubio Canyon to Moss Grotto & Ribbon Rock Falls


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Rubio Canyon Falls

Ribbon Rock and Moss Grotto Falls, Rubio Canyon

Dusk in Rubio Canyon

Dusk in Rubio Canyon

Rubio Canyon to Moss Grotto & Ribbon Rock Falls

      • Location: Altadena, on the corner of Pleasantrdge Drive and Rubio Vista Drive.  From I-210, take the Lake Avenue exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east, left if from the west) and go 3 miles.  Turn right on Dolores, go 0.3 miles and merge onto Maiden Lane.  In 0.1 miles, bear right on Rubio Canyon Road.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Rubio Crest Drive.  Go 0.1 miles and turn right on Rubio Vista Drive.  Park on the corner of Rubio Vista and Pleasantridge, and look for the trail leading into the forest, next to the private residence.
      • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
      • Distance: 1.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 450 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 1 hour
      • Best season: November – May
      • USGS topo map:  Mt. Wilson
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
      • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
      • More information:  here; Everytrail report here; waterfall video here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head on Rubio Vista and Pleasantridge (click thumbnails to see full sized pictures)

0:00 – Trail head on Rubio Vista and Pleasantridge (click thumbnails to see full sized pictures)

This short, but varied – and surprisingly challenging – hike has a little bit of everything: mountains, canyons, forest, city views and history, leading up to a modest-sized pair of waterfalls, among the most easily accessible in the L.A. area. Unlike nearby Sturtevant Falls, no parking pass is required to visit Rubio Canyon; just make sure you’re respectful of the neighborhood residents whose homes border the trail head. Be prepared, too, to use your hands as much as your feet, and keep an eye out for some key navigational markers.

0:10 - Approaching the pavilion foundation (times are approximate)

0:10 – Approaching the pavilion foundation (times are approximate)

From the corner of Rubio Vista and Pleasantridge, follow the single track heading into the canyon on the left side of the house. The first 0.4 miles is easy going; there are a few tricky spots where you may have to climb some rocks but nothing too arduous. The trail hugs the west rim of the canyon, taking in nice views of the mountains above and of the L.A. basin to the south.

0:12 - Crossing the ruins (be careful)

0:12 – Crossing the ruins (be careful)

At about 0.4 miles, the canyon narrows and you can see the foundations of the old Rubio Pavilion, a terminus of the historic Mt. Lowe Railroad. Carefully walk through the ruins and pick up the trail, keeping the thick copper pipes on your left until you cross under them. At a fork, head right and downhill, soon reaching the creek bed.

0:14 - Follow the pipes

0:14 – Follow the pipes

Here, you turn left and head uphill, climbing over some rocks and following a semblance of a trail, generally staying on the east (right) side of the canyon. At 0.6 miles, you make a definite climb out of the canyon, soon reaching a split. To the left, you will see your destination: Ribbon Rock Falls (bottom) and Moss Grotto Falls (top). A little bushwhacking will get you to the bottom of Ribbon Rock Falls, where you can sit by a small pool and enjoy the scenery. Even though the falls usually only get going with a lot of rain, it’s still a nice place to escape from suburbia.

0:22 - Crossing the Rubio Canyon stream bed

0:22 – Crossing the Rubio Canyon stream bed

There are several other waterfalls higher up in the canyon, but they are best left to those with mountaineering and rock climbing experience. For most hikers, the waterfall is a good turnaround point.

0:30 - Close up of Ribbon Rock Falls, lower of the two tiers

0:30 – Close up of Ribbon Rock Falls, lower of the two tiers

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.

El Prieto Canyon


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On the Brown Mountain Fire Road

Stream in El Prieto Canyon

El Prieto Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mt. Wilson Loop (via Sturtevant and Winter Creek Trails)


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View from Echo Rock near Mt. Wilson’s summit


San Gabriel Peak from Mt. Wilson

Mt. Wilson Loop (via Sturtevant and Winter Creek Trails)

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest north of Arcadia.  From Interstate 210, head north on Santa Anita Avenue (right if you are coming from the east, left if you are coming from the west).  After passing through a residential area, you reach a vehicle gate.   The road starts climbing up into the mountains, and arrives at the Chantry Flats parking lot after about 3 miles.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 14  miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Suggested time: 8.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Wilson”
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: Trip report here; Everytrail guide here
  • Rating: 9

Even if you’ve never hiked before, if you live in Los Angeles, chances are Mt. Wilson plays a role in your life. Many L.A. radio and television stations broadcast from the 5,710-foot summit; the observatory and telescopes are also a popular tourist destination up here. You can drive to the summit, but what fun would that be?

For hikers, there are many different routes to the summit. Some hikers use the difficult Mt. Wilson trail from Sierra Madre; some continue up the toll road from Henninger Flats in Pasadena. Another popular starting point is Chantry Flats, which is described here. There are two viable routes to the top from Chantry, and this route uses them both to make a loop.

As with the Mt. Zion Loop, head downhill on the paved road as if you were going to Sturtevant Falls. The Winter Creek Trail branches off at the bottom of the hill; stay straight and head up into the canyon. Where the trail to Sturtevant Falls branches off to the right, bear left onto the Top of the Waterfall trail. (The longer trail, accessible with a hard left, is an alternative designed for horses.) The trail climbs up the side of the canyon, occasionally requiring scrambling over rocks and getting pretty close to the edge of the cliff. You get a nice view of Sturtevant Falls from above.

The two trails rejoin at Falling Sign Junction, and you continue to the right, passing the Cascade Picnic Area in 2.8 miles and the Spruce Grove Trail Camp in 3.5 miles; a good place to stop and rest.

Shortly beyond Spruce Grove, the Gabrielino Trail branches off to the right. Stay straight and take a left just before the sign to Sturtevant Camp. Carefully cross the top of a check dam, and stay right at the next junction, where the trail to Mt. Zion branches off.

At this point, Mt. Wilson is only three miles, but over 2,000 feet of elevation, away. The trail climbs steeply through the woods, still almost entirely shaded. “Halfway Rest” (really just a sign at a switchback) marks the halfway point between Sturtevant Camp and the summit. Shortly afterward, the grade becomes a little less steep, and your efforts are rewarded with glimpses of the L.A. basin below. You work you way through some manzanitas and chapparal, and finally you’ll see a metal railing above. This is Echo Rock, a large outcrop on the mountain’s east edge.

At 6.8 miles, you arrive at the Mt. Wilson summit. You can enjoy a great view from Echo Rock by walking along a fenced-in trail. At the end, you can see San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, the Saddleback, Catalina Island and more.

After taking in the view, you can walk across the summit on the road, passing by the white dome of the observatory and the telescopes. From April to October, the Cosmic Cafe is open. There’s also a short nature trail you can visit.

To continue with this loop, however, head east, past the Rim Trail, along the paved road. It leads to a big parking lot, where you can get nice views of San Gabriel Peak and points west.

From the south corner of the lot, take a trail signed for Sierra Madre and head downhill. When it joins the dirt road, take a left and continue your descent. As you go downhill, you’ll get nice views to the east.

After half a mile, look for the Mt. Wilson trail branching off to the left; the dirt road continues all the way down to Henninger Flats and Altadena. In another half mile, you come to a junction where the Mt. Wilson Trail heads left down toward Sierra Madre. There’s a bench where you can sit and enjoy the views before beginning a steep descent.

Head left on the Winter Creek Trail, which drops over 2,000 feet in the next two and a half miles. There are a few fire breaks which criss-cross the trail, but the main route descends in switchbacks. (If you end up on a fire break, odds are you’ll rejoin the trail soon). You pass by a few buildings, and soon you arrive at the junction with the trail ascending from Hoegees (on the Winter Creek Loop). You’re now three miles from Chantry Flats. Head briefly uphill (the last climbing of the trip), and follow the Winter Creek Trail to its end at the service road. Take a left and walk a half mile down the hill, back to the parking lot.

As with other famous hikes in the San Gabriels such as Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baden-Powell, climbing Mt. Wilson is a rite of passage for L.A. hikers. It’s a nice feeling to see the antennas on the peak from the L.A. basin and know that you’ve not only been there, but done it the hard way.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Ben Overturff Trail (Monrovia Canyon Park)


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On the Ben Overturff Trail

Hills above Monrovia Canyon

Ben Overturff Trail (Monrovia Canyon Park)

  • Location: Foothills north of Monrovia.  From I-210, take the Myrtle Avenue exit and drive north for 1.9 miles.  Take a right on Scenic Drive, and stay straight when Canyon Blvd. merges.  Follow Canyon Blvd. to the entrance of the park.  Parking is $5 per car.
  • Agency:  Monrovia Canyon Park
  • Distance: 7.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating:  PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness, distance)
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Best season: October – May (8am-5pm; closed Tuesday and Wednesday)
  • USGS topo maps: “Azusa”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: trip reports and reviews here; here
  • Rating: 7

If you enjoyed Monrovia Canyon Falls and want more of a challenge, consider undertaking this trip to the ruins of the historic Deer Park Lodge. Recent rains have made the area pleasantly cool, and the sound of the water flowing down the canyon is a nice accompaniment to the hike, but be careful of wet leaves and rocks, particularly as you get higher in the canyon, where the trail tends to cling very closely to the hillside.

The beginning of the hike isn’t particularly inspiring, but once you get on the actual Overturff trail, the scenery is great. You begin by following the paved road up from the parking lot, to the falls and nature center. Take a right on a gated private road leading to the Trask Scout Camp. Go inside the fence and follow the road over a bridge. You pass by the large Sawpit Dam, and after about a mile, bear right on a dirt road.

Soon after, you come to a junction. Head left between two stone columns to get to the Ben Overturff trail. The next two miles are challenging but very scenic. You go in and out of the canyon, through a meadow, and after a mile, make a very steep climb up a stretch known as the “Isthmus.” You’ll probably have to stop and catch your breath, but when you do, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views down into the canyon.

After the climb ends, the trail heads back down into the canyon, passing by Twin Springs. You cross the creek and head left, continuing up another steep stretch to the last intersection, with the Deer Park Trail. Stay straight again and soon you arrive at the ruins of Deer Park Lodge. Ben Overturff and his wife used to run the lodge, which was a popular vacation retreat in the early 20th century. According to an interpretive plaque at the site, the going rate for a weekend’s room and board was twenty-five cents.

There’s not much to see up here, only ruins of the Deer Park Lodge buildings, but it is a nice, shady place to sit and relax, and you get some good views both above and below.

On the way back, for some variety, take a left on the Deer Park trail, which soon leads to the fire road. Take a right and head back down for two miles to the intersection with the Overtruff trail, and retrace your steps on the paved road, down the hill and back to the parking lot.

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.

Lower Arroyo Seco: Gabrielino Trail to Paul Little Picnic Area


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Hills above the Arroyo Seco

The Arroyo Seco

Lower Arroyo Seco: Gabrielino Trail to Paul Little Picnic Area

  • Location: North of Altadena, near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  From I-210, take the Windsor Ave. exit (Arroyo Blvd. if you’re coming from the northwest).  Head north on Windsor for a mile, turn right on Ventura and park on the north side of the street (parking is available on Sterling Place, nearby).  The Gabrielino Trail begins at the intersection of Ventura and Windsor, past the metal gate.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 6.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
  • Recomended gear: Hiking Poles (stream crossings)
  • USGS topo map: “Pasadena”
  • More information: trip reports here; here.  Station Fire closure map here.
  • Rating: 7

The Arroyo Seco, and the parallel Gabrielino Trail, run from high up in the San Gabriels down to the Pasadena foothills.  The lower portion of the trail has recently re-opened following the Station Fire, and hikers can reach the Paul Little Picnic Area.  When the rest of the trail opens, hikers will be able to continue to Oakwilde Trail Camp, and perhaps even to the Switzer area.   As it is, the trek to Paul Little is a nice, moderate hike, with enough shade to be tolerable even during the summer months.

The Gabrielino Trail is proof positive that one cannot judge a book by its cover.  It might seem hard to believe that from the city streets where the Gabrielino begins, a quiet, peaceful forest can be reached with a few miles of walking.   The trail starts with a panoramic view of, well, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory parking lot.  It dips down into the canyon, soon leaving signs of civilization and entering a cool canyon shaded by oaks, maples, alders and a few pines–even one or two rogue palm trees.  Stay left at the two junctions you’ll reach and soon you’ll enter the Angeles National Forest.  A few bridges cross the Arroyo Seco stream (still flowing nicely in August).  Soon you reach the Gould Mesa Trail Camp, a nice place for a snack break.

Past Gould, the trail dips down to the creek to bypass a Station Fire-damaged bridge that is being repaired.  This is the first of several tricky stream crossings.   There are a few spots where the trail may be a little ambiguous; look for logs to help out when crossing the streams.

After approximately 3.25 miles from the start (distances vary by source), you arrive at the Paul Little picnic area.  You can see remnants of some fire-burned buildings here.  The trail, currently closed, continues up an embankment to bypass the Brown Canyon Dam, and descends to the Oakwilde Trail Camp.  Since that destination is currently not an option, hikers might consider taking a detour to the dam, which can be reached by following the trail past the picnic area.  While some hikers will be undoubtedly put off by the presence of a man made structure deep in the woods here, the flow of the water over the dam is pretty impressive.

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.

Switzer Falls


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Lower Switzer falls

Bear Canyon above Switzer Falls

Text and photography copyright 2011 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Switzer Falls

  • Location: Angeles National Forest near Mt. Wilson.  From I-210 in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 10 miles to the road for the Switzer Picnic Area (mile marker 34.19).   Turn right and drive a mile downhill to the picnic area.  The trail leaves from the western end of the lot.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map: “Condor Peak”
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles; Insect Repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 7

This popular waterfall hike offers both nice wooded canyon scenery and panoramic views of the San Gabriels from a trail that gets quite close to the precipice.  Is there a fence?  Sometimes.

From the parking area on Angeles Crest Highway Highway, head down the road to the camp.  At the far end of the lower parking lot, look for a footbridge crossing the creek and heading into the canyon.   Unfortunately, there’s a lot of trash at the campground (bear?) and throughout the route, you are likely to see carvings in the alders and oaks that line the creek.   If you are willing to overlook these, the Switzer hike is one of the better trips in the front country of the San Gabriels.

At about half a mile from the campground, the trail appears to head uphill to the left, but this in fact a false trail, and it is here where you make the first of several creek crossings.  Another half mile, and several creek crossings later, you begin a few switchbacks and climb to a junction.  Here, nice views of the canyon below open up, and you can see the upper Switzer Falls.  Unfortunately, it’s impossible to safely reach this cascade.

Soon, you come to a junction where you will head left (downhill).  At the bottom of the hill, head left and make a few more creek crossings and rock scrambles to arrive at the lower waterfall.  The creek flows down about 20 feet of a rock surface into a large pool that can be a nice place to swim on a hot day.  To see a video of the waterfall, click here.

When ready, retrace your steps to the trail.  Most of your work will be on the return trip, but the climbing is broken up between the beginning and end of the hike, and with enough water and sun protection, the hike is certainly fairly easy to do.  While the trail suffers from some of the signs of overuse similar to those at Sturtevant Falls and Hermit Falls, the location is more remote, so while you are likely to have some company on busy summer weekend days, you can still get a little bit of solitude and quiet.

San Gabriel Peak


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View from San Gabriel Peak

On the San Gabriel Peak trail

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.  The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here.   Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

San Gabriel Peak

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest north of La Canada Flintridge.  From I-210, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) north for 13.5 miles to Mt.  Wilson Red Box Road.  Turn right and go 0.4 miles to the Mt. Disappointment service road.  Turn right and park in a dirt lot on the right.  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/Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain, trail condition)
  • Best season: Year-round (Check on conditions)
  • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat, Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: trip reports here and here
  • Rating: 8

Pointy San Gabriel Peak is one of the more recognizable summits in the front range of the Angeles National Forest, usually visible to the west of Mt. Wilson.  At 6,161 feet, it’s the second tallest summit in the front country of the San Gabriels, just three feet shorter than Strawberry Peak to the north.  The recent re-opening of highway 2  has made this peak accessible to So Cal hikers.  San Gabriel Peak  played a roll in the history of what I find to be one of the more amusing place names in California, nearby Mt. Disappointment.  That summit was given its name in 1875 when surveyors climbed to its peak, lugging some heavy survey equipment.  They thought they were climbing to the highest peak in the range, but were “disappointed” when they got to the top and saw taller San Gabriel to the south.

From the dirt turnout on the Mt. Disappointment service road, cross the street and begin a steep ascent.  You make a few switchbacks and the trail enters the cover of oaks, with the grade mellowing out a little bit.  In half a mile, the trail passes by the service road again and continues its ascent; views to the east, including Baldy, open up at this point. Manzanitas, oaks and pines provide shade (although the trail can still feel hot during summer days).

The climb continues, finally joining the Mt. Disappointment service road for a short stretch. Head left, and when the road makes a hairpin turn, stay left to make the steep final climb to San Gabriel Peak. You walk through a grove of trees that was burned in the Station Fire, make your way up some switchbacks and arrive on the summit. Even if the views of L.A. are covered in smog, you can still enjoy vistas of the surrounding Angeles National Forest summits, and even a little bit of the Santa Monica Mountains.

On the way down, when the trail meets the service road, you can make a side-trip to Mt. Disappointment. The summit is covered with antennas and the views aren’t all that different from San Gabriel, but it’s a pretty easy way to bag another peak, and you’ll burn a few extra calories. You can also look at the summit of San Gabriel and feel what those disappointed surveyors felt all those years ago.

Henninger Flats


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View from Henninger Flats

Phlox flowers on the Mt. Wilson Toll Road

Text and photography copyright 2011 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Henninger Flats

  • 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: Henninger Flats Fire Station
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season:  November – June
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information:  here
  • Rating: 7

This is one of the more popular and challenging hikes in the Angeles National Forest front country.  While the grade is steep and the terrain largely exposed, the views are great and navigation is simple.  The fire road goes close enough to the edge of the cliff to provide excitement without acrophobia.  With an early enough start, and extra water, this hike is doable during the summer.

From the gate at Pinecrest, head downhill into Eaton Canyon (this is also the access point for the popular waterfall.)  Across the way, you will see an intimidating looking path leading uphill.  Not to worry; this isn’t your route.  You head down to a bridge, where a path heads up Eaton Canyon.  Head across the bridge, and arrive at a split.

Remember when I told you that you didn’t have to go uphill?  I was messing with you.  Get ready to climb.  The Mt. Wilson Toll Road ascends steadily, winding up alongside the hill.  The good news is that the higher you climb, the better the views are, including downtown L.A. and the San Gabriel peaks above.  Even the toll road itself is interesting when viewed from the air, with its various twists and turns.

You pass by a junction with a single-track trail that descends back toward Eaton Canyon, and your route continues to switchback up toward Henninger Flats, which soon becomes visible.  Several benches allow you to rest and take in the scenic rewards.  Finally, at 2.7 miles, you arrive at the Henninger Flats campground.

Under the pine trees, you can rest at one of the picnic tables and enjoy the view, or check out some of the historic buildings here at the site.  Hardcore hikers can continue all the way up to Mt. Wilson, but most will probably happy with the accomplishment of having made it this far.

Orchard Camp (Mt. Wilson Trail)


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View of Sierra Madre from the Mt. Wilson Trail

Waterfall at Decker Spring on the Mt. Wilson Trail

Text and photography copyright 2011 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Orchard Camp

  • Location: Across from Mt. Wilson Trail Park in Sierra Madre.  From I-210, take the Baldwin Ave. exit, head north for 1.5 miles (through downtown) and turn right on Mira Monte.  Park on the street across from Mt. Wilson Trail Park.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Steepness, distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season:  November-May
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Wilson”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles
  • More information:  here
  • Rating: 8

This is one of the more challenging and enjoyable hikes accessible from the north edge of the San Gabriel Valley.  The historic Mt. Wilson trail climbs steeply, quickly moving hikers away from suburbia and into the peacefulness of Little Santa Anita Canyon.   The camp was a mountain resort until 1940, and some stone foundations of the buildings are still visible.

From Mira Monte, head uphill on Mt. Wilson Trail Drive and turn left onto the trail.  After a quarter mile of steep climbing, head left on a fire road and continue the ascent.  The trail continues to go uphill at a steady grade, and soon you are rewarded with great views of the mountains above and the San Gabriel Valley below.  Following recent rains, the creek in Little Santa Anita Canyon is flowing, and several waterfalls can be seen from above.

The trail hugs the side of the canyon, and although it never feels too precarious, some hikers may find hiking poles to be helpful.  After making a few switchbacks, climbing some stairs and negotiating a short but steep and loose stretch, the trial arrives at a split at 1.5 miles from Sierra Madre.   Downhill (right) brings you to First Water, a pleasant stop where the trail meets the creek.  The main route continues to the left.  At this point, you have already done the majority of the climbing.  The trail levels out for a little while, makes a few more ascents and enters a pleasant wooded area.

At three miles, you make a slight descent and reach the creek again, just below Decker Spring.  This is a particularly attractive place to take a break, although you are only half a mile from the end.  To the left of the trail, notice a small waterfall cascading over a giant fallen tree.  After crossing the creek, you make one final ascent and then it’s more or less level hiking into Orchard Camp.  The only tricky part is crossing under another huge tree that’s fallen and blocks the trail.

Orchard Camp is located right next to the stream, and makes a peaceful, pleasant setting to enjoy before heading back down to civilization.  Die-hard hikers should know that, yes, the trail does continue all the way to Mt. Wilson.  If you’re going to make the trip, you can add 7 miles round trip and 2,700 feet of elevation gain to your tab.

Echo Mountain


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Hollywood Hills from Echo Mountain

View of the higher San Gabriel peaks from Echo Mountain

Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Echo Mountain

  • Location: Altadena (North of Pasadena), on the corner of Lake Avenue and Loma Alta Drive.  From I-210 in Pasadena, take the Lake Avenue exit and head north (left if you are coming from the west, right if from the east) and go 3.6 miles to where Lake Avenue meets Loma Alta Drive.  Park on the corner.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: September – June
  • USGS topo map:  Pasadena
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Trip reports here and here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8

There aren’t that many hikes that give you great views of L.A., Orange County, the Hollywood Hills and sometimes the ocean and San Jacinto range–and allow a chance to visit some So Cal history–but the trip to Echo Mountain via the Sam Merrill trail does.  Before Disneyland and Universal Studios,  the Mt. Lowe Railroad was one of the L.A. area’s top tourist attractions, and you can still see traces of it at the top of Echo Mountain.  Few places that are so conveniently located give the panoramic views that Echo Mountain does.  It’s a very popular trail, and no matter when you hike it, expect some company.

From the corner of Loma Alta Drive and Lake Avenue, follow the trail east.  A driveway branches off to the left but you head straight and descend slightly before picking up the Sam Merrill Trail.  This trail begins switchbacking steadily up the hill, taking in wider and wider views as it climbs.  If you have a fear of heights, this might not be the best hike for you; some of the switchbacks are pretty abrupt and the trail gets quite close to the edge of the canyon.

At about 1.3 miles the trail swings over to the east side of the ridge, allowing a nice view down into the canyon. You continue under some power lines, ascending the switchbacks. After a little over two miles of ascent, you get a nice bit of shade from some chaparral as you traverse the west side of the ridge.

At 2.5 miles, the Sam Merrill trail branches off. Stay straight and make your way to the Echo Mountain summit.  Here you can see old railroad gear, read information on plaques describing the history of the area, and of course take in the great views.

If you have time and energy, you can continue farther, retracing the route of the Mt. Lowe railroad.  However, most hikers will probably find the trip to Echo Mountain itself to be quite the workout.  However far you go, it’s definitely an enjoyable way to burn some calories.

Cherry Canyon Loop


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View of the San Gabriels from below Cerro Negro

View of the San Gabriels from below Cerro Negro

Shade in Cherry Canyon near the end of the loop

Shade in Cherry Canyon near the end of the loop

Cherry Canyon Loop

  • Location: In La Canada, behind Descanso Gardens, at 4157 Hampstead.  From the 2 freeway, take the Verdugo exit (go as if you are heading on to I-210 east).  Go 0.3 miles on Verdugo, take a right on Descanso and go 0.9 miles to Chevy Chase.  Take a right on Chevy Chase and a quick right on Hampstead.  Look for the entrance to the park on the right in 0.4 miles.  Park on the street, or in the dirt lot inside.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy/City of La Canada
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Pasadena”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Yelp page here; video about Cherry Canyon here; article about Cherry Canyon hiking here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6

Located near the more famous Descanso Gardens, Cherry Canyon Park features a nice variety of single-track trails, fire roads and rough fire breaks.   Whether you’re looking for a short stroll after work or a more challenging hike, you can visit the park many times without hiking the same route twice. The loop described here visits the highest peak in the park, Cerro Negro, and another unnamed summit. It is a little convoluted, but doesn’t need to be followed exactly. The signage in Cherry Canyon is pretty good, and as close to civilization as it is, it’s hard to really get lost.

From the entrance, bear right and head toward the Cherry Canyon Motorway. Almost immediately, take a hard right on a steep, narrow trail that curves around and follows the ridge, with nice views of the San Gabriels. You’ll stay straight as other trails branch off, reaching a junction with the Conservancy Trail at 0.6 miles. Head right, soon reaching a clearing with power lines. Take a hard right and begin a steep climb up a rough fire break, soon arriving at the Descanso Motorway (0.8 miles.) Your steep climb continues – the short stretch above the motorway is particularly tricky – but soon you are on a summit, where you get great views of the Verdugo Mountains, downtown L.A., and if the air is clear, Catalina Island.

After enjoying the view, head downhill, soon rejoining the fire road (if you see a sign reading “Glendale Police Firing Range”, you’ve come too far.) Head downhill and turn right at the next junction (1.1 miles.) Continuing along, you reach an intersection known as Five Points, where you can sit on a bench before beginning another steep climb.

Follow the fire break in front of you (or continue along the motorway; the two routes end up meeting again soon.) At the top of the ridge, follow the fire road toward the antennas on top of Cerro Negro. The antennas detract from the view, but you can still see Old Saddleback and San Jacinto if visibility is good.

Back on the motorway, continue east toward Sugar Loaf Drive. Just before you reach the end of the street, take a hard left on a single-track which drops back down into the canyon, hugging the side of the ridge. At 2 miles, turn left on the Cerro Negro trail, briefly head uphill and turn right at the next junction. You reach an overlook with a picnic table, take a hard right and come to another picnic table, this one tucked away in the shade (2.3 miles.)

At the next intersection with the Cerro Negro trail, turn left and continue your trip along the northeast face of the hill. A brief ascent brings you to the Owl Trail, which heads downhill steeply to the right. The trail is loose, and a little slippery in places, so be careful.

At 2.8 miles, you reach the pleasant, well-deserved shade of Cherry Canyon.  You head right and follow the trail down into the oak and sycamore lined canyon, finally arriving back at the starting point.

Remember, you don’t have to follow the route to the letter for it to be an enjoyable experience.

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mt. Zion Loop in Big Santa Anita Canyon


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Spruce Grove Trail Camp

View from Mt. Zion

Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mt. Zion Loop in Big Santa Anita Canyon

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest north of Arcadia.  From Interstate 210, head north on Santa Anita Avenue (right if you are coming from the east, left if you are coming from the west).  After passing through a residential area, you reach a vehicle gate.   The road starts climbing up into the mountains, and arrives at the Chantry Flats parking lot after about 3 miles.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 9.4  miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, trail condition, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Wilson”
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here; trip reports here.
  • Rating: 8

If you enjoyed the Winter Creek Loop and want a little more of a challenge, don’t miss this longer hike in Big Santa Anita Canyon.  It shares the first 0.6 and last 2 1/2 miles with the Winter Creek Loop, but also visits some lesser-traveled areas in the canyon and reaches the summit of Mt. Zion.  You can even take a short side-trip to Sturtevant Falls if you want.

From the Chantry Flats parking lot, head down the paved road.  At the junction at the bottom of the hill where trails branch off to Hermit Falls and Winter Creek, stay straight as if you were headed to Sturtevant Falls.  Soon you come to a split where the right trail heads to the waterfall, and the left fork is a horse-trail.  The middle trail is your route, which may be a little treacherous for some, involving some pretty close calls with the cliffs on the right.  (The horse trail will lead to the same spot, so you can take that route as an alternative).   If you are very careful, you can get an aerial view of Sturtevant Falls.

The trail continues its climb, following Big Santa Anita Canyon.  You meet the horse trail at Falling Sign Junction, and head right, soon arriving at the Cascade Picnic Area.   Less than half a mile later you come to the Spruce Grove Campground (3.5 miles from the start), a nice spot for lunch in the shade of some gigantic Douglas Fir trees.

Shortly after Spruce Grove, the Gabrielino Trail splits to the right and heads up to Newcomb Pass while your route heads left.  Take another quick left onto the Sturtevant Trail and a third left onto the Mt. Zion Trail.

The Mt. Zion trail ascends steadily without being too steep, and nice views of the canyon open up as you climb.  After a mile and a quarter, the trail starts to dip and a short spur heads left toward the summit (elevation 3,575 feet).   From the summit, on a clear day, you can get nice views of the canyon below.

After the summit, the trail switchbacks steeply down to Hoegees Camp, losing 1,000 feet in a mile and a half.  When you join the Winter Creek trail, head right and then take a left at the next junction, on the Upper Winter Creek trail.  From here, you follow the trail 2 1/2 miles back to the parking lot (take a left when you get to the fire road a quarter mile from the end).

If you want to make your trip even more challenging, you can continue to add more mileage by heading up to Newcomb Pass on the Gabrielino Trail or Mt. Wilson on the Sturtevant Trail.   Most hikers, however, will probably find this loop to be more than adequate a workout.

Monrovia Canyon Falls


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Monrovia Canyon Falls

Stream in Monrovia Canyon

Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Monrovia Canyon Falls

  • Location: Foothills north of Monrovia.  From I-210, take the Myrtle Avenue exit and drive north for 1.9 miles.  Take a right on Scenic Drive, and stay straight when Canyon Blvd. merges.  Follow Canyon Blvd. to the entrance of the park.  There is a $5 entrance fee.  Drive half a mile more and park at the nature center.
  • Agency:  Monrovia Canyon Park
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating:  PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: Year-round (best after recent rains; closed on Tuesdays)
  • USGS topo maps: “Azusa”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 7

Many of the people with whom I’ve shared my hiking obsession have commented that they didn’t know how many waterfalls were in the Los Angeles area.  We might not have Yosemite Falls or Angel Falls or Multnomah Falls here in So-Cal, but we do have some that are definitely worth a visit–especially after the recent rains.  Of these, Monrovia Canyon Falls is one of the most accessible.  It was my first waterfall hike, and second overall (after the San Juan Loop).  It does tend to get crowded on the weekends, but it’s short enough that it should be pretty easy to squeeze in even on a work day.

From the nature center, follow the trail into the canyon, where you’re shaded by oaks and alders.  The trail merges with another trail leading from the lower parking lot (if you want a longer hike, consider starting from the other trail head), and heads up into the canyon.  Young or inexperienced hikers may find some of the navigation a little tricky, especially if the trail is washed out (there are some spots were it clings to the side of the canyon), but if you’re careful there shouldn’t be a problem.

After less than a mile from the nature center, you arrive at the 40-foot waterfall, at the back of a small grotto.  The water goes down two different levels, set at a slight angle from each other.  The area is perfect for a short snack break.

If you enjoy the hike to the falls and want more of a challenge, consider the longer Ben Overturff trail, also in the park.  Note that the Overturff trail is closed on Wednesdays as well as Tuesdays.

Hermit Falls


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As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook!

Upper level, Hermit Falls

Upper level, Hermit Falls

On the way to Hermit Falls

Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Hermit Falls

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest north of Arcadia.  From Interstate 210, head north on Santa Anita Avenue (right if you are coming from the east, left if you are coming from the west).  After passing through a residential area, you reach a vehicle gate.   The road starts climbing up into the mountains, and arrives at the Chantry Flats parking lot after about 3 miles.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Wilson”
  • More information: trip reports here and here
  • Rating: 7

You want to enjoy Labor Day with a nice hike close to L.A. with mountain vistas, a year-round creek and a waterfall, but you don’t want to have to deal with the crowds of Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Where do you go?

Why, Big Santa Anita Canyon, of course.  (Notice that I didn’t say “Sturtevant Falls” or “Winter Creek Loop”.)

Hermit Falls is something of a secret within Big Santa Anita Canyon; perhaps the waterfall’s name comes from its isolated location and its comparatively low number of visitors.  Whatever the reason, it provides a nice journey into nature, with a lot of scenic variety, very close to L.A.  There is some vandalism near the waterfall, but other than that, and a few check dams along the way, there are few signs of civilization, visual or sonic.

From the Chantry Flats parking lot, descend as you would to Sturtevant Falls, but after a quarter of a mile, look for the signed First Water Trail, a single-track, branching off on the right.  This trail switchbacks down into the canyon, mostly shaded by oaks and a few pines, but occasionally exposed.  This is an east-facing slope that can get pretty hot during the summer (remember, like Sturtevant Falls, this is a ‘reverse’ hike).

At the bottom of the hill, cross the creek carefully.  The first time I was here, as I was crossing on the rocks, I heard someone say, “Let’s watch this guy, he looks like he knows what he’s doing.”  Almost as if on cue, I fell into the water.  When you cross–hopefully avoiding such an outcome–head right along the trail that parallels the water.  (If you head left, as I mistakenly did the first time I hiked here, you will arrive at the junction at the bottom of the paved road from Chantry Flats).  There are a few boulders to climb but the trail direction is obvious.  After a quarter mile or so, you cross the creek again, begin a short ascent and then a descent, and then the waterfall comes into view.   The oaks and willows that shade you are similar to those on the Gabrielino Trail to Sturtevant Falls, but the foot traffic is likely to be less.

Hermit Falls has two tiers of about 15 feet each, with a small swimming hole between the them and a larger one at the bottom of the lower level.  There is another tier below, but it is difficult to access.  Some hikers may get a little nervous climbing up on the big slabs of granite that border the waterfall; how close a look you want to get depends on your confidence, your agility and perhaps how well you can suppress your survival instinct.  Even if you just stay on the trail, the scenery is still enjoyable.

Note that this trail begins at the popular Chantry Flats parking lot, which is notoriously crowded–especially on a holiday weekend.  Even with an early start, the lot is likely to be full, requiring parking on the roadside a little farther down the hill.

Winter Creek Loop


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As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook!

Crossing Winter Creek

Grocery delivery, Santa Anita Canyon style

Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Winter Creek Loop

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest north of Arcadia.  From Interstate 210, head north on Santa Anita Avenue (right if you are coming from the east, left if you are coming from the west).  After passing through a residential area, you reach a vehicle gate.   The road starts climbing up into the mountains, and arrives at the Chantry Flats parking lot after about 3 miles.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Wilson”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles
  • More information: here; trip reports here.
  • Rating: 8

No matter what time of year it is, the Winter Creek Loop is a great hike.  Whether you are looking for a springtime walk along a swiftly flowing stream, shade from the summer heat or great autumn foliage, you’ll find it on this trail.  It offers a lot of the scenic attractiveness of nearby Sturtevant Falls, but it is not as heavily used, and like the other trails in the Chantry Flats area, it will make you forget that you are only half an hour from downtown L.A.

From the parking lot, take the paved road down into Santa Anita Canyon, as if you were headed to Sturtevant Falls.  However, after crossing the footbridge at the bottom of the hill (0.6 miles), take a hard left and head up the Winter Creek trail, following the stream.  You immediately enter a woodland of oaks and adlers, made all the more pleasant by the sound of the flowing water (be careful on the creek crossings), and soon you negotiate a few switchbacks up a hillside to arrive at Hoegees Camp, the approximate half-way point of this hike.

From Hoegees, follow the trail out of the camp and take a left at the next junction, and soon after a second left, to access the Upper Winter Creek Trail.  This trail climbs out of the canyon, giving nice views of the nearby peaks above and the parking lot below.  After topping out, it begins its descent to hook up with the fire road that completes the last half mile of the loop.  This is a hike that rewards repeated visitation, not too strenuous for beginners but still an enjoyable challenge for veterans.

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