Josephine Peak via Colby Trail
- Location: Angeles National Forest. From I-210 in La Canada, take Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) northeast for 10 miles to a dirt turnout by mile marker 34.55 (shortly beyond the Switzer parking area, about a mile past Clear Creek Junction). The trail head is unsigned. While no signs indicate that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required and while the new policies don’t require a pass at unimproved trail heads such as this one, if you want to be safe and purchase one ($5 per day or $30 for the year) click here.
- Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
- Distance: 8.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,050 feet
- Suggested time: 4.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo maps: Condor Peak
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
- More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here; description of the route via the fire road here
- Rating: 8
Popular Josephine Peak (elevation 5,558) was one of the last Angeles National Forest destinations to reopen following the Station Fire. It is now possible to legally hike to the summit, either via the Josephine Peak Fire Road or, as described here, from Colby Canyon. The route via Colby is quite steep but scenically rewarding, with excellent views of Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and a nearly aerial perspective on the canyon. Terrain isn’t too much of an issue, but a few spots are washed out, loose and rocky, requiring your attention on the descent, which will likely be on tired legs. Keep an eye out too for poodle dog bush, common in areas such as this that were recently burned.
Start hiking on the faint, unsigned (it was burned in the fire) trail at the west side of the turnout. Immediately you are immersed in scenic Colby Canyon, soon passing a seasonal waterfall. You begin climbing out of the canyon, following a ridge over the top of another intermittent waterfall at about 0.4 miles. The trail then clings closely to the side of the ridge, dropping sharply into Colby Canyon, before crossing the stream again and reaching a bench (0.9 miles.)
Now the work begins. The trail ascends relentlessly, making switch backs up the exposed south-facing slope before finally reaching Josephine Saddle, just over two miles from the start and almost 1,400 feet higher. Here you can rest and enjoy the reward for your efforts: an excellent view of Big Tujunga Canyon to the northwest and Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and the canyon to the southeast.
With the hardest work behind you, continue west (bear left) on the unsigned Josephine Peak Trail, which is pleasantly flat and shaded by pines. Soon the peak itself comes into view. After an easy 0.6 miles, you join the fire road from Clear Creek Station and begin a moderate ascent. The shaded, north-facing slope is forgiving and progress is quick. You make a pair of long switchbacks and soon find yourself just below the antennas of the summit. The fire road then gives way to a short but steep and somewhat loose single-track leading a few dozen yards to the top.
Although the antenna installation blocks some of the view, the panorama is still impressive. To the east, Strawberry Peak, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Wilson dominate but you can still see Baldy behind them. No peak in the Angeles west of Josephine is taller, so the views in that direction are the best: the Santa Monica Mountains, downtown L.A., the Verdugos, the Sierra Pelona, and the ocean. If visibility is optimum, San Clemente can be seen as a flat mass behind Catalina; Santa Barbara is visible as a lone bump on the ocean with remote San Nicolas faint behind it and the peaks of Santa Cruz Island can be seen west of the Santa Monicas. After enjoying the vista, return via the same route, or if you’ve arranged for a car shuttle at Clear Creek, you can descend via the fire road.
Text and photography copyright 2015 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.
Looks interesting. I haven’t hiked this one, at least not in the last ten years or so. Maybe I’ll try to time it for when he waterfall is flowing!
Made it up here over the past two weekends–Josephine Fire Road to Josephine Peak on the 1st, and Colby Canyon to Strawberry Meadow on the 7th. Obviously, Colby Canyon is the prettier way up. The waterfall was maybe even narrower than in your picture on the way up, but cascading nicely on my return (it drizzled/rained for at least four hours while I walked on Saturday). Really outstanding views from Josephine Peak. I highly recommend.
did this 3.4.20 for a second time. The Colby Canyon trail is very well maintained. There is a clear sign at the turn-off area now. we planned on going to Strawberry Meadow but I totally chickened out. The steep rock face that one crosses – for yards and yards – by way of an exceedingly narrow trail carved out by metal slots – which are piled with dirt so the trail is now sloping – just totally freaked me out. How do people do this? I’ll get to the Meadow sometime, but not this way. The first mile of the canyon trail is nice; the rest is pretty much just exposed. The first mile from Josephine Saddle is lovely – first part shady; second part a ridge with great views – as you suggest. The fire road is just boring. So are the views worth it? Not a third time, I don’t think – and I can’t bear going up the fireroad. No poodle dog by now.
I haven’t spent much time on the back of Strawberry Peak/Strawberry Meadow – just the regular approach to Strawberry Peak kicks my ass enough. I’ve also visited the meadow via the trail that leaves from Lawlor Saddle and heads downhill along Strawberry’s east slope – a pleasant if not particularly exciting trail. The mountaineer’s route to Strawberry Peak was one that I wanted to check out (with people who knew what they’re doing – cause I sure wouldn’t) but like many others I just didn’t get a chance to do it before I left – maybe on a return trip.