Difficulty PG13 Distance more than 10 miles General information: Dogs allowed Rating: 7-8 San Gabriel Mountains Season: All year Season: Summer

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

View from near the top of the South Fork Trail
View from near the top of the South Fork Trail
Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground
Wildflowers near the South Fork Campground

South Fork Trail (Angeles National Forest)

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest back country on Highway 2.  From the 210 freeway in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 40 miles to Islip Saddle, just beyond the two short tunnels.  Park in the lot on the left (north) side of the highway.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest, Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 10.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance, steepness)
  • Best season: Year round, but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter (check conditions before going)
  • USGS topo maps: Crystal Lake, Valyermo
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sun block
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Los Angeles County
  • More information: Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
0:00 – Upper trail head, Islip Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The South Fork Trail is the shortest and arguably the most scenic route between the Angeles Crest Highway and the high desert on the north slope of the San Gabriels, linking Islip Saddle with the South Fork Campground near Valyermo and Pearblossom.  The hike can be done in either direction, or with a rather lengthy drive between the ends, as a point-to-point uphill or downhill.  There are a few advantages of doing it as a “reverse” (down then up) hike as described here.  The upper end, Islip Saddle, is closer to most of the L.A. area; going downhill first allows hikers sensitive to altitude to more easily acclimate and while the grade is consistently moderate, there are a few tricky spots where the trail is covered by rock slides; while these areas don’t require any special technical skill they’re easier to negotiate in the downhill direction on fresher legs. Almost the entire route hugs the west side of the canyon, so during a late-afternoon/early evening ascent, your sun exposure will be minimal.

0:29 - Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)
0:29 – Woodlands below Reed Spring (times are approximate)
From Islip Saddle, pick up the South Fork Trail heading downhill (not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail which heads uphill toward Mt. Williamson).  You descend through open areas and pockets of mixed woodland: Douglas fir, pines, black oaks and more.  At about 1.1 miles, you cross a tributary of Big Rock Creek’s south fork, fed from Reed Spring higher up on the hill.  The trail continues its descent, providing striking views of the steep canyon carved by Big Rock Creek and the mountains opposite.
1:47 - Hanging on to the side of the canyon
1:47 – Hanging on to the side of the canyon

As you drop farther along, you’ll start to notice more of the high desert vegetation: pinyon pines, mountain mahogany and manzanita.  The trail descends a few steep switchbacks, finally meeting Big Rock Creek (4.9 miles.)  This can be a good turnaround point, but if you want to hike the entire trail or have set up a shuttle at the South Fork Campground, cross the creek (water levels may be high in the spring) and follow the trail another half mile to the High Desert Recreational Trail, which continues toward the Devil’s Punchbowl.  You can turn right on the dirt road and head a short distance to a picnic area, where you can sit and charge your batteries for the long ascent back to Islip Saddle.

2:04 - Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp
2:04 – Crossing Big Rock Creek before the South Fork Camp
Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

2:15 - Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail
2:15 – Looking back from the lower end of the South Fork Trail
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s