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.
The Road to Nowhere
- Location: Angeles National Forest, north of Azusa. From I-210, take the Azusa Avenue (highway 39) north for 11.6 miles (make sure to stay on the road where it bares to the left, 1.6 miles north of the freeway and becomes San Gabriel Canyon Road.) Take a right on East Fork Road, and go 3.3 miles. Bare left on Shoemaker Canyon road, and drive 1.8 miles to its end. There is a turnout where the road becomes dirt, right before the yellow metal fence. 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/San Gabriel Ranger District
- Distance: 5 miles
- Elevation gain: 900 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo maps: Crystal Lake, Glendora
- Recommended gear: head lamp (for tunnel)
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
- More information: here
- Rating: 6
Like the nearby Bridge to Nowhere, Shoemaker Canyon Road – the Road to Nowhere – provides hikers with an air of mystery. In the 1950s and 60s, the road was built (with convict labor), according to one source, as an intended escape route should Los Angeles be attacked with nuclear weapons. As with other highway projects attempting to link the San Gabriel Valley with the Angeles Crest Highway, this one did not succeed; the road was abandoned in 1969. (That said, there is still construction going on at the beginning of the trail – just what, I’m not sure – but the area is, in fact, open to hikers).
The route couldn’t be clearer. From the metal gate, head uphill on the fire road. On your right is the canyon of the east fork of the San Gabriel River. Y0u’ll see infamous Iron Mountain, supposedly the hardest peak in the entire San Gabriel Range, and you may get a glimpse or two of Baldy. You also get an interesting aerial view of the East Fork ranger station, trailhead to the Bridge to Nowhere, about 300 feet below.
Continuing up the moderate grade, you’ll actually get a glimpse of the second tunnel before the first. It appears on a distant hillside at about a mile and a half into the hike. Soon after that, you arrive at the first tunnel, which is almost a quarter mile long. In the middle, the tunnel is quite dark, and some people might find it a little un-nerving.
On exiting the tunnel, the trail makes a horseshoe-shape curve. Soon you arrive at the second tunnel, which is a little shorter. The trail continues for a little ways past the second tunnel, but this is a good turnaround spot. You can take in some nice views of the gorge before heading back.