Bear Canyon/Tom Sloan Loop


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UPDATE November 2019: A reader recently hiked this trail and reports that thanks to the efforts of the Restoration Legacy Crew, the trail is in better condition than it was at the time of the writing. Read the comments below for more details.

Bear Canyon, Angeles National Forest, CA
Mist over Bear Canyon
Mt. Lukens, Angeles National Forest, CA
Mt. Lukens as seen from Mt. Lowe Road

Bear Canyon/Tom Sloan Loop

    • Location: Eaton Saddle, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) northeast for 14 miles. Take a right on the Mt. Wilson Red Box Road and go 2.3 miles to Eaton Saddle. Park on the right side of the road in a small turnout.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase. Note: because of the bushwhacking and difficult terrain involved, dogs, while allowed, are not recommended. The author would like to take this opportunity to apologize to his two.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 7.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
    • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (terrain, trail condition, navigation, distance, elevation gain)
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo maps: Mt. Lowe
    • Dogs: Allowed
    • Cell phone reception: None
    • Restrooms: None
    • Water: None
    • Camping/backpacking: Available; Tom Sloan Saddle is the best option for remote trail camping
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking polesinsect repellent; long pants and long sleeved shirts
    • More information: Excellent trip report here – including some strong language.
    • Rating: 7
Eaton Saddle, Angeles National Forest, CA
0:00 – Start of the hike at Eaton Saddle (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

If you don’t mind bushwhacking and negotiating potentially treacherous rock slides and washed out terrain, this loop offers about as much of an adventure as can be found in the San Gabriel front country, short of requiring wilderness survival skills. The main challenge of this route is the upper leg of the Tom Sloan Trail, a 1.8-mile scramble that some adventurers will find exciting and inspiring while others will curse enough to make the “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Scarface” seem like Disney productions. The author belongs in the second category.

Bear Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA
0:45 – Start of the Bear Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

The hike starts off innocently enough by following the Mt. Lowe fire road through Mueller Tunnel and past Markham Saddle. Continue following the fire road, which feels more like a single track, as it traverses Mt. Lowe’s north slope, taking in views of Bear Canyon and distant Mt. Lukens. At 1.8 miles, you reach the top of the Bear Canyon Trail, the start of the loop. I strongly recommend hiking counter-clockwise; this will allow you to descend rather than ascend the steepest stretch, ascending the Tom Sloan Trail. Since the terrain on that route is challenging, hiking downhill won’t feel much easier and you’ll have the steep ascent on the Bear Canyon Trail to deal with.

Tom Sloan Saddle, Angeles National Forest, CA
1:15 – “Trail” leading east from Tom Sloan Saddle

The Bear Canyon Trail crosses a plateau and then drops sharply, occasionally overgrown but usually easy to follow, providing more great views as it drops to Tom Sloan Saddle, three miles from the start. This shaded spot is a good place to rest before the ordeal ahead.

Tom Sloan Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA
1:30 – Negotiating a rock slide on the Tom Sloan Trail

Two obvious trails leave the saddle: the Bear Canyon Trail continues northwest, dropping deep into the canyon, while the Tom Sloan Trail continues south. Locate the Tom Sloan Trail but DON’T follow it, unless you have a car shuttle parked in Altadena or don’t mind taking an expensive “Uber” back to Eaton Saddle. Instead, work your way between the clear Tom Sloan Trail and the stretch of trail you were just on. As you pick your way southeast, generally keep as high on the slope as possible and focus on the next ridge ahead of you. There are several spots where the trail is simply nonexistent, requiring scrambling over or under trees and crawling across rock slides.

Tom Sloan Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA
2:00 – Your guess is as good as mine

At 3.8 miles, you reach a ledge where you can sit and rest, enjoying a great view of Grand Canyon, a tributary of Millard Canyon. The trail then makes a hairpin left turn and continues east, clinging to the side of the ridge. Your going becomes easier here, although there are still a few washed out spots that can be tricky. At 4.4 miles, you’ll enter an attractive grove of black oaks. The trail is easier to follow now, although the very last stretch before Mt. Lowe Road is steep and loose.

Grand Canyon, San Gabriel Mountains, CA
2:20 – View down Grand Canyon

At 4.8 miles, you reach Mt. Lowe Road. Your efforts are now rewarded with the remaining 2.8 miles which, though mostly uphill, are a piece of cake compared to what you’ve just been through. Turn left and follow the road as it ascends gradually, taking in panoramic views that may extend to the ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains if visibility is good. In about one mile you reach the Bear Canyon Trail, completing the loop portion of the hike. Keep following Mt. Lowe Road 1.8 miles back to Eaton Saddle.

Oaks on the Tom Sloan Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA
2:40 – Entering the oak grove

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.

Mt. Lowe Road, Angeles National Forest, CA
3:00 – Left turn on Mt. Lowe Road, heading back toward the saddle

6 comments

  1. Thanks for the great site! It inspired my friend and I to tackle the Tom Sloan Trail last week. Fairly easy to follow but definitely dangerous in a few spots and overgrown throughout. Not sure what month you went but at the beginning of April 2017 creatures have emerged in force. I’ve nicknamed the TS trail the “tick highway” because I pulled around 25 of the blood suckers off my pants just on the actual TST (about 1.8 miles). There are overgrown sections about every 20′ so you need to check your legs often. Things improved once I pulled out a hiking pole to swat the grass or plants before brushing against them. It’s a shame it hasn’t been cleaned up after all these years as it appears to have been a wonderful trail. If you have a fear or ticks or heights, stay away. Thanks again for the write-up and photos!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, it’s always nice to hear that people are enjoying the site and finding it helpful. I did it back in December ’15 and even back then it was overgrown and there were quite a few ticks…I can only imagine what it’s like now! Certainly an adventure, for better or worse.

    2. I am a volunteer with the Restoration Legacy Crew (working with USFS) to clear and restore the old Tom Sloan Trail. We started in mid-March 2018 at Tom Sloan Saddle and cleared away maybe 200 yds, but as you mentioned the ticks are a mess, plus hiking down to the saddle and back up again at the end of a work day was not a lot of fun. We have spent most of the time working from the Mt. Lowe Truck Trail (the east trailhead) going toward Tom Sloan Saddle. As of today, we have restored about a half mile of trail, and we’re making good progress. We know it’s going to be harder soon though. I’d guess we will be done before August.

      By the way, in March we finished restoring the trail from Sunset Ridge trailhead to Dawn Mine and on to Tom Sloan Saddle. (We’re calling that the Dawn Mine Trail.) It’s about 4.5 miles long.

      1. Hi Eric, thank you and your crew for all of your hard work on the trails. I am looking forward to revisiting.

  2. The Restoration Legacy Crew work on the Tom Sloan Trail is done (from Tom Sloan Saddle to Mt. Lowe Truck trail). [I had no involvement.] I hiked it today (11/3/2019), and while there remain a few areas where the trail crosses old slides, it is in general in much better shape than the risking life and limb state it was previously in. Overall, the trail is reasonably repaired, however downhill mountain bike damage is apparent already, causing deep ruts in several soft ground areas because of cyclists clearly laying on the brakes as they descend and dragging half the trail with them. Next rainy season will send floods down these ruts and undue a good chuck of the trail repair hard work. The about half the worst spots of destruction are at switchback turns. I wish the cyclists would just stay on the truck trails, but some of them seem intent on running the single tracks as well, and wrecking them. It is a very nice hike with great views, particularly of Grand Canyon. You can also finish this loop by taking a right turn when you reach the Lowe Truck Trail, descending slightly, passing (but not taking) the signed decent to Lowe Trail Camp, and in about .3 mils from the TST / Lowe Truck Trail meet, you will see the Mt. Lowe West and East trails (West first, then East in another 100 yards), on the left side (uphill). Taking the East trail provides additional vistas of more canyons that you cannot really see any other way, but the trail ascends more rapidly and relentlessly than if you had chosen the author’s original left turn on the Lowe Truck Trail (so its a bit tougher). You are rewarded at the end a bit by having less grade to ascend once you pass over the Lowe Saddle between Lowe Mountain and Mt. Markham as compared to the Lowe Truck Trail, which must ascend “more” rapidly at the end. The LTT and the East Mt Lowe Trail meet at Markham saddle, and you finish the same, by taking the Lowe Truck trail through the Mueller Tunnel back to your parked vehicle.

    1. Thank you for the update! It has been several years since I hiked this trail and since I don’t live in the L.A. area anymore it’s hard for me update the write-ups regularly. I will make a special note at the beginning of the post for readers to read your comments for a more updated description of the hike.

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