Bear Creek Trail, San Gabriel Wilderness

Lower Bear Creek (San Gabriel Wilderness)

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    • Location: Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains, 13 miles north of the 210 Freeway and 1.5 miles north of the East Fork turnoff. The signed West Fork parking area is on the north side of a small bridge. A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency:  Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel River Ranger District
    • Distance: 4.4 miles (round trip to cabin ruins)
    • Elevation gain: 300 feet
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG
    • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer; stream crossings may be difficult
    • Dogs: Allowed (exercise caution on hot days and keep an eye out for poison oak; some of the terrain may be difficult)
    • Cell phone reception: None
    • Restrooms: Vault style toilets at the trail head
    • Water: Bear Creek usually flows year round with enough water to filter
    • Camping/backpacking: Overnight parking is not allowed at the West Fork Trailhead, so if you are going to camp or backpack, you will have to arrange for drop off/pickup. There are several viable sites for camping, including the two described in the post below. The Coldbrook Campground ($12/night) is a short distance north on  Highway 39. For information on fire restrictions, click here.
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles insect repellent
    • More information:  Summit Post page here; Trip description here
    • Rating: 7

The 36,000-acre plus San Gabriel Wilderness encompasses some of the most remote terrain in the Angeles National Forest. The hike described here, to some cabin ruins on the shores of Bear Creek, offers an enjoyable sample of the area, while requiring little to nothing in the way of specialized skills or equipment. Casual hikers can easily do this trip in an afternoon and it also can serve as a starting point for more ambitious trips into the wilderness.

From the parking area, cross the West Fork of the San Gabriel River on the footbridge and head into the canyon. The next mile on the paved road passes quickly enough; the elevation gain is minimal and the scenery is enhanced by the pleasant sound of the flowing river and, in the fall, bright foliage.

About a mile from the start, you’ll cross a bridge. On the opposite side, scramble down the rocks on your left, cross under the bridge and begin your hike up Bear Creek, a tributary of the West Fork (Bear Creek is straight ahead of you while the West Fork is on your right; you will be heading upstream, not downstream.) The trail hugs the west side of the canyon before making the first of several stream crossings. Shortly after, you will have to bypass a large, fallen tree. The foliage in the canyon is quite diverse: a mix of sycamores, oaks, bigcone pines and alders.

After the sixth stream crossing, you reach a makeshift campsite amid an attractive grove of oaks, just under a mile from the bridge. The trail continues up canyon, making a few more crossings. The route is a little ambiguous in some spots, but several trail ducks help mark the way; since this area receives regular if light visitation, check for footprints.

Soon you reach the cabin ruins. This peaceful spot is a good turnaround point for a moderate day hike, but you can continue farther up Bear Creek, eventually reaching Smith Saddle and the upper trailhead on Highway 39.

San Gabriel West Fork, Angeles National Forest, CA
Footbridge at the start of the hike
San Gabriel River, West Fork
Fall colors, West Fork
West Fork, San Gabriel River
Confluence of Bear Creek and the West Fork as seen from the bridge
Bear Creek, San Gabriel Wilderness
One of several stream crossings
Bear Creek Trail, San Gabriel Wilderness
Bear Creek Trail
Bear Creek, San Gabriel Wilderness
Campsite next to Bear Creek
Bear Creek, San Gabriel Wilderness, CA
Fall colors on Bear Creek between the campsites
Lower Bear Creek campsite, San Gabriel Wilderness
Cabin ruins at the campsite

Text and photography copyright 2017 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.


    1. Just a few days ago. It’s a really nice little hike – I probably would have given it an :”8″ but for the mile each way on the paved road.

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