The Bridge to Nowhere

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

Look out below: bungee jumpers at the Bridge to Nowhere
Heading into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness on the East Fork Trail

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.

The Bridge to Nowhere

  • Location: Angeles National Forest, north of Azusa.  From I-210, take Highway 39 (Azusa Blvd.) north.  On the way up, it becomes San Gabriel Canyon Road.  Take a right onto East Fork Road and go 6 miles past Camp Williams.  When the road takes a hairpin turn to the right, head straight, down a hill and over a bridge.  This road dead ends at the East Fork Station where you park for trail-head access.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click hereto purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel River Ranger District
  • Distance: 9.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, terrain, trail condition)
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo maps:  Crystal Lake; Glendora; Mount San Antonio
  • More information: Trip reports here, here and here
  • Rating: 9

Long before people started talking of Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere”, a stone arch bridge was built high above the east fork of the San Gabriel River.  A road did lead to and across it higher up into the mountains, but in 1938, it was washed away in a flood.  The bridge–which could more accurately be called the bridge to and from nowhere–remained, and it is a popular destination for Southern California hikers, and bungee jumpers.

The first half-mile or so is self-explanatory.  A signed trail leads out of the north end of the parking lot.  After half a mile, you will come to the Heaton Flats campgrounds where you will fill out a free wilderness permit before continuing.  Here is where the trail begins to get interpretive.  For the next two miles, some parts of the trail are clear, but many stretches either require you to ford the river or climb up along the rocky sides of the canyon.   The general advice given to hikers is that if the going gets too tough, chances are you’re not on the trail, but here the trail itself is very unclear.  If anything, it can be something of an exercise in crowd-sourcing:  The trail is popular, especially on weekends, but people seem to take many different routes.  During my recent hike on this trail, I found myself “hitch-hiking” with several groups of people.  Throughout this first section of the hike, you may find gold-panners wading in the river, but don’t get too excited; according to Jerry Schad, author of “Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County”, the typical take is less than $5 worth of gold per hour.

After about 2.5 miles, you will see “Swan Rock” to your left.  This is a huge boulder with an etching that to some resembles a swan in flight; it is the approximate half way marker.  Shortly afterward you will cross a sketchy-looking, but secure, wooden foot-bridge and will enter the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.  The next mile or so continues numerous river-crossings, arriving at a wide flood-plain.  At some point–where exactly depends on whom you ask–you leave the flood plain and climb up the embankment on the right side where you will see a clearly outlined trail.  (The trail itself has no definite beginning, other than a treacherous climb out of the flood plain up some rocks).  This trail eventually becomes a road-bed which rises rather sharply above the river.  You will see some great views of the surrounding peaks, towering a mile above the river at times, as you make your way toward the bridge.  Finally, the bridge comes into view. After crossing it the trail continues along the west side of the river, and you can get a good vantage point from here. The high mountains above you and deep gorge below make a dramatic backdrop for the bridge.

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