Lower Arroyo Seco: Gabrielino Trail to Paul Little Picnic Area

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Hills above the Arroyo Seco
The Arroyo Seco

Lower Arroyo Seco: Gabrielino Trail to Paul Little Picnic Area

  • Location: North of Altadena, near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  From I-210, take the Windsor Ave. exit (Arroyo Blvd. if you’re coming from the northwest).  Head north on Windsor for a mile, turn right on Ventura and park on the north side of the street (parking is available on Sterling Place, nearby).  The Gabrielino Trail begins at the intersection of Ventura and Windsor, past the metal gate.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River District
  • Distance: 6.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
  • Recomended gear: Hiking Poles (stream crossings)
  • USGS topo map: “Pasadena”
  • More information: trip reports here; here.  Station Fire closure map here.
  • Rating: 7

The Arroyo Seco, and the parallel Gabrielino Trail, run from high up in the San Gabriels down to the Pasadena foothills.  The lower portion of the trail has recently re-opened following the Station Fire, and hikers can reach the Paul Little Picnic Area.  When the rest of the trail opens, hikers will be able to continue to Oakwilde Trail Camp, and perhaps even to the Switzer area.   As it is, the trek to Paul Little is a nice, moderate hike, with enough shade to be tolerable even during the summer months.

The Gabrielino Trail is proof positive that one cannot judge a book by its cover.  It might seem hard to believe that from the city streets where the Gabrielino begins, a quiet, peaceful forest can be reached with a few miles of walking.   The trail starts with a panoramic view of, well, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory parking lot.  It dips down into the canyon, soon leaving signs of civilization and entering a cool canyon shaded by oaks, maples, alders and a few pines–even one or two rogue palm trees.  Stay left at the two junctions you’ll reach and soon you’ll enter the Angeles National Forest.  A few bridges cross the Arroyo Seco stream (still flowing nicely in August).  Soon you reach the Gould Mesa Trail Camp, a nice place for a snack break.

Past Gould, the trail dips down to the creek to bypass a Station Fire-damaged bridge that is being repaired.  This is the first of several tricky stream crossings.   There are a few spots where the trail may be a little ambiguous; look for logs to help out when crossing the streams.

After approximately 3.25 miles from the start (distances vary by source), you arrive at the Paul Little picnic area.  You can see remnants of some fire-burned buildings here.  The trail, currently closed, continues up an embankment to bypass the Brown Canyon Dam, and descends to the Oakwilde Trail Camp.  Since that destination is currently not an option, hikers might consider taking a detour to the dam, which can be reached by following the trail past the picnic area.  While some hikers will be undoubtedly put off by the presence of a man made structure deep in the woods here, the flow of the water over the dam is pretty impressive.

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.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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