San Gabriel River, Angeles National Forest, CA

Azusa River Wilderness Park

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San Gabriel River, Angeles National Forest, CA
The San Gabriel River as seen from  the gauging station

Azusa River Wilderness Park

  • Location: 100 Old San Gabriel Canyon Road, Azusa. From the 210 Freeway, take Highway 39/Azusa Ave. north for 3.6 miles. Turn right onto Old San Gabriel Canyon Road and park in the lot. Note the signs for the Encanto Trail/Azusa River Wilderness Park.
  • Agency: Watershed Conservation Authority
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
  • More information: Trip description here; Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 5

There aren’t many ways to legally and safely get a close-up look at the San Gabriel River, but thanks to the Watershed Conservation Authority, at the Azusa River Wilderness Park, hikers can do just that. (The park is officially just the River Wilderness Park, but it has come to be popularly known as the Azusa River Wilderness Park; it’s also sometimes referred to as the El Encanto Trail).

Old San Gabriel Canyon Road, Azusa, CA
0:00 – Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Los Angeles isn’t known for its rivers and those familiar with the San Gabriel River likely think of it as nothing more than a concrete trench, to which the 605 Freeway runs parallel. However, the San Gabriel headwaters in the Angeles National Forest are responsible for some of the most dramatic natural scenery in the L.A. area. This hike–really more of a nature walk–explores the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon, where wilderness meets suburbia. Its diminutive distance and minimal elevation gain make it dog and kid friendly; it’s a good year round choice too, although appropriate cautions should still be taken on hot days.

Old San Gabriel Canyon Road, Azusa, CA
0:17 – The canyon narrows (times are approximate)

The hike follows the abandoned Old San Gabriel Canyon Road one mile to a gauging station on the river. Begin at the gate and walk along the road bed, passing by a seasonal waterfall at 0.3 miles (likely to be just a trickle, but perhaps more immediately following rain.) At 0.5 miles, stay right at a fork (the left route leads to private property) and pass by another gate. The trail now takes on a more rural feel, although you still may hear some traffic noise.

At about 2/3 of a mile from the start, the trail bends to the north and takes in a dramatic view of the canyon. On the opposite side of the river, cars and trucks travel along Highway 39, at one point crossing over a high bridge. The trail descends to level of the river, passing by a pair of oaks and finally reaching the old gauging station. Here, hikers can wander out onto a concrete lip and enjoy a moment by the water’s edge before heading back to civilization. As of this writing, the water level is low and the lip is easily accessible, but during wet seasons, the water level may vary dramatically so appropriate cautions should be taken.

Abandoned gauging station, San Gabriel River, Angeles National Forest, CA
0:25 – Gauging station; turnaround point

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.

One comment

  1. This is definitely more of a nature walk but it is a fun alternative to strolling down the San Gabriel bike path. Passes a stable and a Buddhist retreat – down that private property.

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