Note: since June of 2014 when the new access trail opened, this route to Fish Canyon Falls has been decommissioned. The original parking lot is chained off; the trail is fenced off and by all appearances the north end of the trail in the canyon is overgrown and unmaintained. Fish Canyon Falls is now reached by a moderate 5-mile hike described here. Nevertheless, I have decided to keep the description of the difficult version of the hike on this site for historical interest and for reference if it ever again becomes accessible.
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.
Fish Canyon Falls via Van Tassel Ridge
Fish Canyon Falls is an excellent hike if you love waterfalls…and perhaps are a little bit of a glutton for punishment. I’ll admit that morbid curiosity played as much of a role in my deciding to do this hike as my desire to see the waterfall. While it is certainly no hike for a hot day, with an early start, it can be done, and the with this year’s heavy rains, the waterfall’s flow is likely to be particularly strong.
The nearly 9-mile trail goes up a steep ridge and down an even steeper one before reaching its destination. The original trail, which is still accessible on some days (click here for a schedule) was a 4-mile round trip that gained about 700 feet of elevation. Part of the trail’s allure is its interesting history. When the Vulcan Materials company expanded their quarry operations, access to the trail was blocked. In 1998 (or 1988 according to some sources), a new trail was built by the City of Duarte to bypass the quarry. Unfortunately, this route is much more difficult. Some reports describe the trail as being unpassable, poorly maintained and dangerous. I found it to be none of the above.
That’s not to say that it is easy. Not by a longshot.
The trail leaves the parking lot, passes by an information board and register, follows flat along the road for a little while, and takes a hairpin turn and begins its ascent. The first mile or so–unshaded–is steep and loose in a few spots, although certainly passable. There are a few short and very steep stretches followed by welcome flat areas. After a little over a mile, you head into a wooded area, and soon after that you arrive at a chain-link fence bordering the quarry. Join up with the fire road and make one last steep ascent to the right before the trail starts to head down hill. Adjust your poles and begin a steep descent into Fish Canyon. Keep in mind that you will have to do this stretch uphill on the way back, which I found to be the most difficult part of the whole hike. If you are tired by this point, you should probably think about turning around.
The trail here is loose in spots, so be careful. There is also supposed to be a lot of poison oak on this stretch although I didn’t see any. After just over a mile–during which you descend 1,100 feet–you arrive at the bottom and join the original trail. The remaining 1.5 miles to the waterfall is tame, although there a few steep ascents and descents and switchbacks. You are on the left side of the creek for the majority of this stretch, although near the end you’ll cross the creek (there used to be a footbridge here but not anymore, so be careful if the water’s high) and stay on the right for the last half mile or so. The scenery is very nice, typical of the low country of the Angeles National Forest, such as the trails to Monrovia Canyon and Santa Anita Canyon. The waterfall comes into view at first from the side and then you get to see the whole thing. The waterfall is quite something, cascading down about 90 feet in three main tiers with a fourth just below the trail.
So is Fish Canyon Falls worth the effort? I am definitely glad I made the hike, but you can bet that if I do it again, I’ll take the easy way.