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.