This hike explores one of the more remote and rugged areas of the San Gabriel Mountains: the deep canyons of the upper East Fork, on the southeastern slope of Mt. Baden-Powell. Apart from its significant distance and elevation gain, it presents several challenges including navigation, trail condition (many fallen trees) and a few spots where poison oak is nearly unavoidable. Timing is also important: the road to Vincent Gap is usually closed until May, but the area also gets hot during the summer months, especially at the lower elevations of this route. Since this is a reverse hike (down then up), make sure you budget time and energy for the long ascent on the return. Like other reverse hikes, an afternoon start can be advantageous, especially since Mt. Baden-Powell will block out the sun later in the day. Fortunately, the hike offers some excellent scenery and deep solitude in exchange for the effort required.
From Vincent Gap, follow the dirt road heading south from the parking lot. In 0.2 mile, head left at a signed junction where the right fork continues to Big Horn Mine. The trail continue its descent, in an out of groves of pines and incense cedars, providing views of Pine Mountain and Mt. Baldy across the canyon. At about 0.7 mile, an unsigned spur on the right leads to the ruins of a cabin once owned by prospector Charles Vincent. At about 1.1 mile, you make the first of several switchbacks, descending through an attractive grove of black oaks.
You cross two tributaries of the East Fork at about 2.1 and 2.5 miles respectively. The trail begins to get overgrown at this point, though still fairly easy to navigate. Three miles from the start, the trail closely hugs the rocky east wall of the canyon; exercise caution while negotiating this stretch.
Here, a major tributary comes in from the east (left). Stay straight and follow the East Fork south, picking up the trail after the confluence of the two streams. The trail meanders along the east side of the creek, joining the stream bed at 3.8 miles. Things becomes a little ambiguous at this point; trail ducks can help with navigation (consider leaving your own as well.) You will also never stray too far from the left (east) side of the wash.
After a couple of minutes of navigating the stream bed, the trail leaves and heads through a pleasant mix of pines and oaks. Look for a large fallen oak that appears to block the trail and climb over it. (If you miss it, you will soon enter a makeshift campsite; there’s no easy way out of it so retrace your steps and look for the fallen oak). Finally you reach the Prairie Fork, where you head right and enter Mine Gulch. Here, you can enjoy views of Mt. Baden-Powell towering above and listen to the trickle of the nearby stream, gathering energy for the long climb back to Vincent.
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.