Horse Trail (Eaton Canyon Natural Area)
- Location: Pasadena. From the I-210 freeway, take the Altadena Drive exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and go 1.6 miles. The entrance to the park will beo n the right.
- Agency: Eaton Canyon Nature Center; Angeles National Forest
- Distance: 2.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 600 feet
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
- Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
- More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 6
Eaton Canyon Natural Area in Pasadena is best known as an access point for the lower end of the Mt. Wilson Toll Road and for its popular (and infamous) waterfall. However, hikers shouldn’t overlook the Horse Trail, which provides a short but vigorous workout with some panoramic mountain and city views. Best done on cool days with good visibility, the vistas from the Horse Trail include the Santa Monica Mountains, Catalina Island, Old Saddleback and a nearly aerial perspective on the residential areas of the north San Gabriel Valley.
The network of trails through and around the nature center invite meandering and exploring, but for the purposes of this post, the most direct route involves a pleasant 0.6 mile stroll along the park’s main trail followed by a climb of 0.6 miles on the Horse Trail to its upper end at the toll road. From the parking area, take the right trail (the left leads to a picnic area with water fountains for both human and canine hikers) and follow it past fields of spring flowers with the mountains making an impressive backdrop.
At 0.25 miles, cross the stream (dry as of this writing) and enter a pleasant woodland, ignoring several trails that branch to the right. Continue north, ascending gradually, making your way in and out of pockets of oaks. Poison oak, while not hugely prevalent, is found along the sides of the trail. At 0.6 miles where the main route continues north toward the waterfall, turn right on the Horse Trail which begins its efficient climb up the canyon’s east wall. The trail is largely exposed, although a few pleasant spots do provide some shade. About half way up is a spot with some excellent views, including downtown Los Angeles.
Shortly before the top of the trail, look for a pleasant pine grove (a miniature version of Henninger Flats, farther up the toll road). This is an excellent spot to sit and rest, especially if the day is hot. Between the trees, glimpses of downtown, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Signal Hill and more can be seen. Shortly beyond this point, the trail makes one final switchback before meeting the toll road. Ambitious hikers can continue uphill another two miles or so to Henninger Flats, while those who want some variety on the descent can make a loop by descending the toll road and following the Eaton Canyon Trail back to the nature center.
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.