Shortcut Saddle to West Fork Trail Camp
- Location: Angeles Crest Highway, between Mt. Wilson and Chilao Flats. From I-210, head northeast for 19 miles. Just past the intersection with Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, park in a turnout on the right side of the road, at Shortcut Saddle. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
- Distance: 7 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
- Suggested time: 4 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Terrain, elevation gain, distance, navigation)
- Best season: Year-round (depending on conditions)
- USGS topo maps: Mt. Wilson, Chilao
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- More information: here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 8
Shortcut Canyon today is best known as a segment of the Silver Moccasin trail, and also as an unofficial dividing point between the front country and high country of the San Gabriel Mountains. However, before the Angeles Crest Highway was completed, it was one of the main routes from the San Gabriel Valley into the high country.
The 7-mile round trip (according to my GPS unit; “Trails of the Angeles” lists it as a 6 mile round trip and the ANF signage indicates 7.4) is similar to the nearby Devil’s Canyon hike in the San Gabriel Wilderness. This one doesn’t quite have as varied scenery, or the panoramic views of the Devil’s Canyon, but it’s still well worth a visit. The destination is the West Fork Trail Camp, although one can easily add on to the trip on any of the four trails that meet there. Weather can play a big role in planning this hike: while it can certainly be doable year-round, snow and high water levels can present challenges during the winter, and the exposed upper reaches of the canyon can be hot during the summer. Hiking poles are advisable, both for the steep upper portion of the hike and the nearly two miles each way in the canyon, with many stream crossings.
From the highway, look for a single-track trail that zigzags steeply down the hill to a fire road. Turn right, and in 0.1 miles, continue on the single-track, on the left. For the next mile and a half, you make your descent on the trail, which closely hugs the walls of the canyon. You have great views of San Gabriel, Mt. Wilson, Markham and Mt. Disappointment as you go. The trail is in good condition, although there are a few fallen trees that present more of a nuisance than an obstacle, and there are some spots where the drop-offs are pretty sharp. You pass by a small seasonal waterfall, although the trail doesn’t go close enough to provide a good look.
At about 1.8 miles (approximately half way), the trail curves sharply and makes a steep descent to the bottom of the canyon. Here, the going can be a little tricky. There are several stream crossings, which as of this writing are all easy, but can easily become difficult if the water level is high. Watch out for poison oak, too.
Navigation can be a little tough here, although there are quite a few trail ducks and the crossing points should be pretty obvious. In general, the trail follows closely along the banks of the creek. Half a mile into the canyon, a tributary comes in from the right. You continue another mile, in and out of the creek, around a few fallen trees, and soon you arrive at the merge with the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. Depending on how high the water level is, the best place to cross may vary. On the opposite side, you will find the West Fork Trail Camp, with picnic tables, an outhouse and some fire pits.
The shade and the sound of the two streams coming together makes this a nice place to relax before continuing the next leg of the hike – be it continuing west to the Valley Forge camp, east to the DeVore Camp or back to the Angeles Crest Highway.