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Day Hikes in the San Gabriel River Canyons

There are three possible half-day treks I can think of immediately that you might consider which would be good for a backpack trip with maybe a lunch at the end of it. They're not too difficult and wouldn't last too long, one of which is good for smaller children to enjoy.

The first possible place would be a hike along West Fork Road. This is a closed water company paved road which follows Bear Creek for eight miles and is an easy, safe hike which also has a lot of cool shade where hikers and bicycle riders may rest. This is a good day hike for small children in that it's not at all difficult and the road is paved the whole way.

Take the Azusa / Highway 39 exit off of the 210 freeway then drive North through Azusa, enter the base of the mountains (you'll pass a Forest Service visitor center on your right at the base of the mountain) and then about 12 miles of winding road later you'll drive pass East Fork Road (that's the bridge on your right.)

If you keep going North on Highway 39 for another 500 feet you'll pass the Off Road Vehicle Area, and then another 500 feet you'll pass the Environmental Education Center on your left and the Rincon Fire Station on your right (there's a small street sign which shows a fire truck. The fire truck sign isn't easy to see but the Education Center sign is easy to see.)

When you top the very next hill there's parking on the right in a wide paved parking area. (An Adventure Pass parking permit is needed for that parking area. Permits are sold at the Off Road Vehicle area for $5.)

If you park there and walk down to the bottom of that hill there's a bridge and on the left hand side where there's a little gate and the start of the 8-mile-long hike which leads to Glenn Camp and Cogswell Dam. There's fishing (catch and release) along the way. There's litter and garbage usually for the first mile or two but then the garbage abruptly ends and the remainder of the hike is a good, clean hike.

There's no drinkable water along the way (there actually is water and I often drink it however the USFS warns people not to drink the water because it really is unsafe) so you'd have to pack in your water. About the midpoint four-mile-marker there's the only toilet available until you reach Glenn Campground - which has ten camping sites.

The second possible hike you might consider is the Rincon Shortcut. This is a dirt road that is immediately on the left after you pass the Rincon Fire Station. A small dirt parking area is available and a white metal Forest Service gate blocks cars from driving in to the Shortcut unless they have the combination number to the lock. (That dirt parking lot also requires an Adventure Pass parking permit.) There are Forest Service signs offering a map of the Shortcut there at the dirt parking area.

The Rincon Shortcut is not the best hike when there are people driving on it. My experiences are that SUV / clown pickup truck drivers on the dirt road invariably drive recklessly on the road without much concern for joggers, hikers, bicycle riders and the like which use the road for exercise. I encounter drunk drivers and people shooting firearms into the canyons along the road from time to time so I avoid the Shortcut during daylight hours. When people are not permitted to drive on it, however, the Rincon Shortcut is an excellent hike.

The Rincon Shortcut isn't something you would hike from one end to the other in a day because it meanders through the mountains for some 32 miles or so before it reaches Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) and that's a pretty exhausting hike (there's water along the way during some months of the year but again, the Forest Service recommends that people do not drink the water in streams unless you treat the water.)

If you're willing to hike up the Shortcut for about six miles or so you can get to the top of Pine Mountain, one of the higher peaks along the road, have lunch, and then hike back down - and the hike down is far easier than the hike up. There's not much shade along the way, however, and though there are trees, few actually reach the dirt road.

A third possible hike is the one that I would recommend the most. Bear Creek Trail was recently restored by a professional trail crew - at least the first three and a half miles of it were. Unfortunately the trail head is two miles beyond where the Forest Service has closed the road, adding two miles of hiking along the highway to a day trip.

For Bear Creek Trail you would continue to drive North along Highway 39, winding further up the mountain until you reach the Forest Service gate that blocks the highway (past mile marker 29.) There's parking along the dirt shoulder there at the gate and, like everywhere else, an Adventure Pass parking permit is required. (This is the gate that will be moved further up the road some time soon.)

If you park where the gate closure is, you can hike North about two more miles until you get to around mile marker 32 or so. Hike over a bridge that's fairly long, swing around the curve, and toward the top of a hill there's a very large dirt parking area on the right and about 500 feet further there's an even larger paved parking area on the left (this area is called the Valley of the Moon.)

At the crest of that hill there's a new toilet on the left and there's an area where the gate that you parked at will be moved to (the old gate will be disassembled, get moved up to this point, and then get re-installed.)

Behind the toilet building is the trail head to Bear Creek Trail. This runs through the mountains for about 3 miles before attaining the Smith Mountain Saddle and the edge of the designated Wilderness Area. You know you're at the saddle when you reach the top of the mountain and find that if you continue to hike you start to lose altitude.

If you continue on Bear Creek Trail past Smith Saddle you'll be hiking through the Wilderness Area and the quality of the trail will be poor - and at times dangerous. The Curve Fire went through parts of it and currently the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders and other volunteer organizations have a lot of work to do to make the hiker safer.

There are mile markers along the trail to let you know approximately where you are when you hike. If you reach marker number 4, you're a half mile or so into the Designated Wilderness. (There are bears in this area all months of the year though they'll work hard to avoid you if they hear or smell you coming.)

If you're really in for an adventure, Bear Creek Trail continues all the way back down to West Fork Road, meeting up eventually with the paved water company road that leads to Cogswell Dam. That remaining section of the Bear Creek Trail hike is about three or four miles from the crest of Smith Saddle however if you continue on you will wind up walking in the middle of the creek for a mile or so - getting wet -- and nobody I know of has surveyed that section of the trail since the fires so I don't know how safe it is.

The hike to Smith Saddle along Bear Creek Trail is the best day hike I can think of. The hike to Glenn Campgrounds is second best, and a hike to Pine Mountain comes in third.

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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