Gabrielino Trail

When several existing trails were renamed to make a “new” 28.5 mile trail in 1970, in compliance with the National Trails System Act, the Forest Service’s self-congratulatory announcement read as follows: “This trail has been created for you – the city dweller – so that you might exchange, for a short time, the hectic scene of your urban life for the rugged beauty and freedom of adventure into the solitary wonderland of nature”.

The trail was the Gabrielino Trail. The eastern end of this trail is in Big Santa Anita Canyon and is the starting point for most trips in the canyon. The trailhead is at the white pipe gate just as you enter the Chantry Flat parking lot.

Follow the asphalt road 3/4 mile to the canyon bottom. Here, where Winter Creek meets Big Santa Anita Creek, is the site of historic Roberts’ Camp and still so called. Ford the creek or cross the green footbridge and continue on the broad center trail 1.25 miles to Fern Lodge Junction, where you are presented with the choice of choose either the Upper Falls Trail or the Stock Trail. Go left on the Stock Trail to continue on the Gabrielino Trail.

At about 3.5 miles from Chantry Flat you reach Spruce Grove Campground. Pass uphill through the campground and in another .5 miles you reach another trail junction. Left will take you to Sturtevant Camp 100 yards away, and right leads to Newcomb Pass and the rest of the Gabrielino Trail outside of Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Going the full distance of the Gabrielino Trail takes you down into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, up to Red Box Saddle at Angeles Crest Highway, then down into the Arroyo Seco to JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in Pasadena. The other end of the trail is at Windsor Ave. in Altadena.

To Sturtevant Falls

The trailhead to Sturtevant Falls is at the white pipe gate just as you enter the Chantry parking lot. Follow the asphalt road 3/4 mile to the bottom. Here, where Winter Creek meets the main creek, is the site of Roberts’ Camp and still so called. Ford the water or cross the green footbridge (relocated from First Water Camp) and continue on the broad center trail. Do not turn left at Fern Lodge Junction. The next stream ford has been known as Fiddler’s Crossing since 1979. If you’re lucky you’ll find out why. Just past Fiddler’s Crossing you may notice a clearing near cabin 87. This was the site of the Sierra Club’s Muir Lodge, which was washed away in the 1938 flood. The last bit of trail, past the outhouse, is a boulder-hop to the falls. Many people have been injured attempting to climb to the top. To see the pools above, backtrack and use the Upper Falls Trail.

Upper Falls Trail

Follow directions for Gabrielino Trail to Fern Lodge Junction. You will see cabin #76 just above the main trail with one trail on each side. To the left is the stock trail. Go right for the Upper Falls Trail.

This will first take you to the pools immediately above Sturtevant Falls. DO NOT attempt to climb down to them – at least one person has died trying. There is much safer swimming to be had just upstream. This spot has a broad, shallow pool, sometimes with a small “beach”, a deeper middle pool, then a narrow deep pool under a water drop.

The trail continues up the canyon bottom passing cabin #94 and the foundations of several others. You will also see a check dam to the right of the trail. This is the mouth of the North Fork. The trail passes directly through the site of a former cabin where ivy grows over a large boulder forming a little grotto; this section is known as Laughing Waters. It is said that if you are very quiet, you can hear a little girl laughing.

Just past here look keenly for a small footpath on the other side of the stream. This will take you up to Falling Sign Junction where you join the stock trail.

Turn left here to make a 6-7 mile loop back to Chantry, turn right to continue on to Cascade, Spruce Grove, Sturtevant’s Camp and Mt. Wilson or to the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.

Stock Trail

Follow directions for Gabrielino Trail to Fern Lodge Junction. You will see cabin #76 just above the main trail with one trail on each side. To the right is the Upper Falls Trail. Go left for the stock trail. You will pass through the site and concrete foundations of Fern Lodge.

Shortly, the trail emerges from the trees and switches back. This is called Tin Can Point and one of the few locations for cell phone reception. The trail contours the hillside, passing through quaint place names like Step-On-My-Toe Canyon, Hogee’s Drop-off, Jodi’s Meadow and Tiger Lily Canyon.

About one mile from Fern Lodge you will see the Upper Falls Trail coming up from the bottom at Falling Sign Junction. Turn right here to make a 6-7 mile loop back to Chantry, stay forward to continue on to Cascade, Spruce Grove, Sturtevant’s Camp and Mt. Wilson; or to the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.

First Water Trail

This trail roughly follows the original built by the Forest Service in the early 1900’s. The trailhead was lost with the construction of the road and was relocated to the second bend in the Roberts Road. The obvious derivation of the name is that taking this trail took you to reliable water much sooner than by continuing on the Sturtevant Trail into Winter Creek.

The trail is actually in two parts – the switchbacks that drop you to the streambed and the foot-worn tracks running from Roberts’ Camp to the back of the reservoir. The first stream ford below Roberts’ is known as Mexican Crossing; why we don’t know. Where the switchbacks meet the bottom at cabin #7 is the site of First Water Camp.

Continue downstream and you will find the swimming holes at the top of Hermit Falls, about 2 miles from Chantry. Be careful – NO DIVING!

Just behind the reservoir, where the Alders end, you can spot a few Deodar Cedars on the east bank. This is the site of the Frank “The Hermit” Volvin’s cabin.

To Mount Wilson

Trail to Mt. Wilson #1

Read Upper Winter Creek Trail. At the junction stay left. Just after you pass the uppermost three cabins of Winter Creek, the trail switches back up to Manzanita Ridge. Here you follow the ridgeline to the Mt. Wilson Trail. Stay right and you shortly join the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. Stay right again and follow the road to Wilson’s summit, 7 miles from Chantry.

Trail to Mt. Wilson #2

9 miles from Chantry. Follow the Gabrielino Trail to the junction for Newcomb Pass and the West Fork. Stay left and pass Sturtevant’s Camp. Stay right at the Mt. Zion junction.

For quite a way past Sturtevant’s, the trail is a pleasing, gentle grade through spruce groves, but it gets tough towards the head of the canyon. It has been improved by Sturtevant manager Chris Kasten as of spring 2005, but there is a 2500 ft. gain in the 3 miles between Sturtevant and Wilson’s summit.

Lower Winter Creek Trail

Follow the Gabrielino Trail. At Roberts’ Camp take the trail to the left of the toilets over the check dam. Just after the first crossing you will see a cave on your left. This was an exploratory tunnel left from Roberts’ Mine. Note the spring drilled out just to the right of the opening. To get fresh water year round, insert the rounded end of a Bay leaf into the hole – this will act as a spout.

The east end of the next check dam is covering the shaft of Roberts’ Mine. In another short distance you will see the foundation of a cabin and a toppled chimney. This cabin burned down in the 1970’s. While attempting to douse the flames, the firefighting helicopter crashed to the ground; no injuries.

After you pass the second cluster of cabins, at the 2 1/2 mile mark, you reach Hogee’s Campground, named in honor Hogee’s resort, the site of which you will see in another 1/8 mile, across the stream.

The junction at old Hogee’s can take you up & over Mt. Zion to the right or stay left to cross the creek once more and join Upper Winter Creek Trail.

The Lower Winter Creek Trail is most often combined with the upper to make a pleasant 5 1/2 mile loop, allow several hours.

Upper Winter Creek Trail

3 easy miles to Hogee’s Campground. This trail is part of the old Burlingame wagon road from Sierra Madre built to retrieve timber.

Take the asphalt road at the upper Chantry Parking lot, to the left of the Forest Service housing. In 1/4 mile, at the third sharp bend in the road, a wooden sign marks the trail to your right.

In short distance you will cross a trickling little creek (unless after heavy rain). This is Santa Oline Creek and the source of water for Chantry Flat. It was named for one in a party of Sierra Madre socialites who took a particular liking to the spot when they stopped for a break here on opening day of the first five miles, Feb. 27,1896. Her name was Miss Oline Newall. It was meant as a joke but the name stuck after an account of the trip was published in a local newspaper.

In about another mile you pass through a small canyon reminiscent of Santa Oline but with less water. This is Charlie’s Canyon, named for former Navy cook Charlie McDaniel, who lived in cabin #116 where the canyon meets Winter Creek.

Another mile or so, as the trail drops into the canyon, just before you reach the streambed, as cabin #134 comes into view, there is a junction for Mt. Wilson left or Lower Winter Creek right. The Upper Winter Creek Trail is most often combined with the lower to make a pleasant 5 1/2 mile loop, allow several hours.

Mount Zion Trail

The last stretch of Sturtevant’s second trail and a part he built himself. From Lanaan Canyon (above Santa Anita Ave.) to Winter Creek he simply had to refurbish the old Burlingame wagon road, built to retrieve timber. To continue on to his camp, he had to contend with Zion Ridge.

One story he told was that his choice in routing the trail was made simply by following a bear up the rugged south-facing slope, assuming that the bear knew the best way. This would account for the trail’s haphazard quality and the 1,000ft gain in 1.5 miles, but it sounds absurd.

He was also overheard to suggest that his stubborn nature was to blame, that when it was recommended he go around the ridge, he went over. I think he invented these stories when he realized that the Burlingame brothers’ trail building skills were far superior to his own.There is also a strong possibility that this project was a dypsomaniacal event.

From the junction with Lower Winter Creek Trail, about 2500′, the trail climbs to Zion Saddle at just over 3500′. Here there is a 1/4 mile spur trail to the summit of Mt. Zion.

The trail down the north side of the ridge is a pleasant 300′ drop in 1 1/2 miles to Sturtevant’s Camp. This lesser-used trail was almost lost until its renovation in the late 1970’s and again in 1985. It is sometimes used by Winter Creek cabin owners when visiting Sturtevant’s but combined with the Gabrielino Trail and Lower Winter Creek it makes a fine 9 1/2 mile loop; 10 miles by Upper Winter Creek.

Because of the steep south side of Zion Ridge, the loop is best done counter-clockwise.

East Fork Trail

This trail has virtually disappeared. It was built after the 1924 fire (that never reached this canyon) to establish a work camp, known as Spring Camp, for the builders of firebreaks and fire roads. It originally started behind cabin #55, now just a stone foundation. It took a route high above the water to skirt the falls. From there it passed through Madrone Flats to Spring Camp, tucked under Monrovia Peak.

The canyon bottom is rarely visited today so hiking there is mostly a boulder hop. It’s well worth the effort. To find the East Fork follow directions for the Gabrielino Trail. Cross the stream at cabin #67 (if you find yourself at Fern Lodge Junction you’ve gone 100 yards too far). Pass between cabins #61 and #59, pass to the left of cabins #58, #57 and #56 (look for the Woodsy Owl “Pack It Out sign) and over the check dam.

This branch has many short water drops and deep pools. About a mile up from the main canyon you reach Adams Falls, named for pack station owners Bill and Lila Adams by their nephew Dennis Lonergan who once placed a plaque there. These falls are unique in that there are two side by side. The taller (Bill) is about 75′ tall on the East Fork proper. The smaller (Lila) is a 40′ cascade where a White Horse drainage meets the East Fork just 50′ away. There is also a nice pool at the base of Bill.

We have a word of warning that may not be as unreasonable as it sounds. Covert farmers have been known to cultivate marijuana in the upper reaches of the canyon, above the falls, and guard their crops fiercely with firearms and booby traps. The DEA keeps a watchful eye but be warned.

San Olene Fire Road

The name is a corruption of “Santa Oline” canyon. This starts at the upper Chantry parking lot to the left of the Forest Service housing. Follow the asphalt road past the water tanks and the Upper Winter Creek Trail head to the heliport on the ridge.

Look back to find the dirt fire road which takes you a long 3 miles through the upper Santa Oline watershed to a point overlooking Little Santa Anita Canyon and the LA basin.

This is popular with mountain bikers and makes an excellent night hike – lay out on the rain-gathering fire tank and gaze at the stars. Stay out of the telecommunications equipment.

If you’re up for it there is a scratch tail that runs a ridgeline between the water tank and the heliport.

Burma Road

Now mostly overgrown and washed out, as intended, this was part of the check dam construction road. The route starts near cabin #87 where Muir Lodge stood, switches back to bypass Sturtevant Falls, contours the hillside, crosses the North Fork and emerges at Cascade Picnic Area.

One can spot the blasting scars and non-native trees from Chantry and from the stock trail.