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.
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.