Holcomb Canyon Loop (Devil’s Punchbowl)
- Location: High desert near Pearblossom. From Pearblossom, take highway 138 east to Longview Road. Go right and after 2.5 miles, go left on Fort Tejon. Drive 2.1 miles to Valyermo Road and turn right (south). Go 2.9 miles and make a right on Big Rock Creek Road. Drive 0.7 miles (0.2 miles past the Angeles National Forest sign) and park in either of two dirt turnouts on opposite sides of the road. 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/Santa Clara & Mojave Rivers Ranger District
- Distance: 4.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 750 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, navigation, trail condition)
- Suggested time: 3 hours
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo map: “Valyermo”
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; bug spray
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
- More information: Photos of Holcomb Canyon and other area trails here; All Trails report here
- Rating: 8
This is truly a hiker’s hike: in addition to the unique geology of the Devil’s Punchbowl, it features canyon scrambling, mountain views and a wide variety of plant life, including manzanitas, yuccas, cacti, pines, sycamores and oaks. Fall colors here can be exceptional. As far as off-trail hikes go, this one isn’t too difficult, but there are some definite challenges of terrain and navigation for which all hikers should be prepared. If you have never done an off-trail hike, go with someone who has.
The loop begins easily enough, by walking 0.3 miles south on Big Rock Creek Road. After reaching another parking area, look for several use trails leading down to Big Rock Creek, which you cross on one of multiple makeshift jetties of rocks. On the other side, turn left and continue heading south along a semblance of a trail, through the woods, and reach the rocky wash of Holcomb Canyon.
Bear right and begin heading south, following the rocky stream bed. At 1.1 miles from the start, stay right as a tributary canyon comes in from the left. (Generally speaking, Holcomb is rocky, while the numerous smaller tributaries aren’t.) You pass by a giant tower of volcanic rock, part of the Punchbowl Formation. The canyon pinches in tightly, requiring some scrambling, before opening up.
You continue south, reaching a sharp right turn at 1.4 miles where the canyon enters a pleasantly wooded area. At 1.8 miles, you reach a junction with a tributary. Here you can continue up the main canyon or take the tributary to the Punchbowl Trail. Turn right and head west, passing through a grove of oaks and a canyon wash before climbing 250 feet to a saddle (2.1 miles.)
At the saddle, you get a great view of the Punchbowl and the high desert beyond. This spot represents a sort of point of no return; the most challenging terrain of the hike is on the descent into the unnamed canyon that neighbors Holcomb. If you’re not up for an adventure, consider turning around at this point.
For those with off-trail and canyoning experience who want to complete the hike as a loop, look for a faint, overgrown trail heading steeply downhill. Hiking poles may be helpful, although some hikers may find them cumbersome in the close quarters of the ravine. Follow the slope into the canyon, where your progress will be blocked by a large boulder. Slip to the left of the boulder, passing by a large oak. A smaller tributary canyon comes in at this point. Continue heading northwest, down the main canyon.
For the next half mile or so the going is fairly easy; other than the occasional fallen tree or pile of rocks to negotiate, it’s basically like a single-track trail. However, at 2.8 miles, you’ll reach the most challenging obstacle of the entire hike as you arrive at the edge of a 20-foot precipice. Hikers without much in the way of technical climbing skills or gear (such as the author) will need to crab-walk along the right (east) side of the canyon, along a rock that slopes downward. (If you are using hiking poles and find that they’re in the way, throw them down to the bottom.) You’ll reach a gap in the rocks where you can grab a hold on the other side and lower yourself back down to the floor of the canyon.
Leaving the cliff behind you continue north for 0.6 miles before arriving at a smaller cliff. Here, you can work your way around the right side more easily than before, dropping back into the canyon and continuing your descent.
At 3.9 miles, you join Punchbowl Canyon. Bear right and follow the canyon for 0.2 miles, where you will see a rock with graffiti. (There’s sadly a lot of trash and graffiti in the lower areas of this hike, but in some cases, such as this one, it can help with navigation.) A trail has been pounded out by hikers; follow it out of the canyon to Big Rock Creek. Your last task is to re-cross the creek (as before, look for the rock jetties). This brings you back to Big Rock Creek Road and your car.
Text and photography copyright 2013 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.