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Descending the firebreak

Woodlands on the Los Pinetos trail

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.

Manzanita Mountain Loop

  • Location: 19152 Placerita Canyon Road, near Newhall.  From the 14 freeway in Newhall, take the Placerita Canyon Road exit and head east for 3.5 miles.  The park entrance is on the right.
  • Agency:  Placerita Canyon Park/Angeles National Forest (Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District)
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, trail condition, elevation gain, distance)
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: “Mint Canyon”; “San Fernando”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: trip discussions here; trail map here
  • Rating: 9

If the weather is clear, this can be one of So-Cal’s best hikes.  With a trickling stream, secluded woodlands and great views of the Antelope Valley, the scenery on this loop is hard to beat.

The hike is a 7-mile loop that starts at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.   If you are off to a very early start (the gates open at 9am) or if it’s an unusually cool day, you might want to go counter-clockwise and climb the steep firebreak to the Wilson Saddle.  Most hikers will find it easier to hike the loop clockwise, with a more gradual ascent, as described here.  If you do it this way, keep in mind that you will be descending a steep firebreak that is quite loose in some places, and that fatigue might be a factor as well.

From the parking area, take the Canyon Trail along the stream and follow it for two miles to Walker Ranch (as if you were going to the waterfall).  Look for the Los Pinetos trail (not to be confused with the waterfall trail) and begin your climbing.  The trail splits soon after leaving the campground, but the two paths come back together quickly.

You begin your first real ascent of the journey here.  The good news is that much of the climb is shaded, and during the exposed stretches, you get a great view of the canyon below.  After about a mile, the grade mellows a little, and you enter an attractive forest of oaks and pines.  Soon afterward, you cross the boundary in to the Angeles National Forest.  The trail passes by a small seasonal waterfall, makes a few switchbacks and finally arrives at Wilson Saddle (elevation 3,100).

At this junction of several roads, you can stop and rest at the picnic table, and enjoy some nice views which are only partially blocked by the trees.   To continue, take the fire road to your immediate right (as it would appear as you are approaching the saddle), numbered 3N17, also known as Whitney Canyon Road.  Stay right at the first junction, and then look for a clearing on the right side of the road where a firebreak descends.

You’ll want your hiking poles out on this descent, which is quite steep in some places and also loose (often, walking on the rougher ground a the side of the path can be a better option).  For the next two miles, the fire break follows the ridge, making a roller-coaster like descent (and a few brief ascents as well).  The views of the Antelope Valley and the Sierra Pelona mountains are phenomenal; just don’t let it distract you as you make your way down.

After over 1,000 feet of descent, you reach a saddle, where a single-track trail signed for the nature center branches off to the right.  (If the sign has been knocked down, you can still see the trail, and in fact the nature center itself, from above, so that should help you get oriented.)  The steep descent continues, although the trail is easier to navigate.  You climb down to the water tank, from which you can either continue descending directly to the parking lot or take a slightly longer route through the picnic area.

If the descent down the firebreak doesn’t sound like your thing, or if the weather is hot, consider making the hike as an out-and-back trip to Wilson Saddle, which would be about 8 miles round trip with 1,500 feet of elevation gain–not a bad workout either.  However you decide to do it, exploring the back country of Placerita Canyon Park is a must-do for any L.A. hiker.


4 Comment on “Los Pinetos Canyon/Manzanita Mountain Loop

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