STURTEVANT FALLS HERMIT FALLS WINTER CREEK LOOP FALLING SIGN LOOP MOUNT ZION LOOP aka BIG SANTA ANITA LOOP MOUNT WILSON LOOP
Chantry Flats Map – Hikes Page
STURTEVANT FALLS Distance, one way = 1.9 miles Round trip = 3.8 miles Elevation loss and gain, one way = 440′ initial loss from Gabrielino trailhead to Roberts’ Camp. 320′ of gain from Roberts’ Camp to the base of Sturtevant Falls.
RATING / SUITABILITY: An easy round trip hike for most ages. Great trip for the entire family, including dogs. There are many opportunities for cooling off in the stream!
ROUTE DESCRIPTION: Starting at the Gabrielino trailhead, take the gated, paved fire road down into the canyon bottom. The route you’re on begins as a remnant construction road built back in 1958 for the building of the dozens of check dams which frequent the stream bed. Cement mixers, cranes, bulldozers and other types of equipment drove up and down this road all day long during the late 1950′s until the mid 1960′s. This would have been a pretty terrible place to try to find the beauty of nature while the dams were going in. Go to this website’s blog to read more about the project. The grade of this road averages 11% during its’ 0.7 mile descent between the trailhead and Roberts’ Camp. In some places the grade is nearly 20%! Again, this road was never intended to be hiked on, hence its’ steepness. The climb back up can be hot and exposed in the early afternoon hours when the sun is bearing down on you. Once at Roberts’ Camp, cross the green foot bridge over to the broad trail junction. At once, you are amongst the green coolness of the canyon bottom. A welcome relief if the day is hot!
At this point take the dirt fire road off to your right, which bears up canyon toward Sturtevant Falls. You’ll pass by the Lincoln Log style crib dams (check dams) creating a stair step appearance to the stream bed. Tall, slender white alders grace this stream side hike. Even on the warmest days, the diverse canopy of canyon live oaks, laurel bay, big leaf canyon maple and alders create a welcome, cooling shade. The stream twists and turns, alternating from tranquil pools bounded by the myriad of white and gray boulders, to small runs of fast, clear water. The stream sound is all around. Small cabins dating back 80 to 90 years are nestled amongst small perches left and right as you continue to hike up canyon. Details about these cabins can be found on this website’s blog. Soon the fire road peters out and becomes single track hiking trail. Continue on, passing by Fern Lodge Junction and the accompanying community of little cabins. Soon you’ll approach the Fiddler’s Crossing sign, directing you to make a stream crossing. A short distance further on you’ll make another stream crossing. As you approach the base of the falls, take time to pick your way across the meandering stream on smooth surfaced boulders and logs, which can at times be slippery as ice. This is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in southern California. Take time to linger here in the refreshing breezes, cooled at times by the mists of the falls. When you’re ready to head back, take the same trail back to Chantry Flats. You might notice a hiking trail whittled out of the cliff well above the falls. Over the years people have created a dangerous short cut up the steep mountainside from the base of the falls to the Upper Falls trail way above you. Occasionally a hiker is seriously injured attempting to take this shortcut – avoid the temptation. If your day permits you the time to do a little more exploring, you can safely access the Upper Falls Trail from Fern Lodge Junction, taking the trail indicated by the sign as leading to “top of the falls.” You’ll see Fern Lodge Junction’s two single track hiking trails peeling off to your right on your return hike back down the canyon.
HERMIT FALLS Distance, one way = 1.65 miles Round trip = 3.4 miles Elevation loss and gain, one way = 760′ of loss from Gabrielino trailhead to Hermit Falls. It’s all downhill, so you know the story on your return.
RATING / SUITABILITY: A moderate round trip for adults and children who are at least 8 – 10 years of age. This location is popular with teens and young adults who are seeking to jump off ledges into the plunge pool. This activity is inherently dangerous and Canyon Cartography does not endorse or encourage doing this. Every spring and summer people are seriously injured as a result of jumping into the Hermit Falls plunge pool.
ROUTE DESCRIPTION: Starting at the Gabrielino trailhead, take the gated, paved fire road down the mountainside a short distance. At the first “S” turn in the road, look for a bench and a sign directing you toward First Water and Hermit Falls. A single track hiking trail continues on from this sign, dropping you down further into the canyon, often under a canopy of tree cover. After several switchbacks, your trail will take you directly behind the upslope side of a cabin. Please respect the privacy of the cabins which you’ll pass by on this hike. At this point you’ll notice that you’re at a fork in the trail. Veer toward the right, switchbacking a couple more times to the main stream. Make a stream crossing toward the metal sign indicating “First Water.” You’ve hiked just under a mile to the First Water trail junction. Turn right and continue down canyon 0.75 miles, passing over check dams and alongside more cabins. You’ll make a stream crossing not too far below First Water, then hike along a thin trail that contours the mountainside well above the stream. Stay on this trail just a short distance past a remnant stream measurement gauge made of corrugated metal and wood framing. You’ll see where people are cutting down to the stream and pools. Drop down to your left where you can carefully climb down a slot in the rocks to a ledge. From here you can look down into the infamous pool of Hermit Falls. Your trail dead ends a short distance down canyon from the falls. Return back to Chantry Flats the same way you came in. While on your way back out, there is an alternate route back up to Chantry Flats from First Water. Instead of taking the First Water trail, you can continue to proceed upstream to Roberts’ Camp. In 0.75 of a mile and three stream crossings later, you’ll arrive at Roberts’ Camp, a major trail junction. Cross the green footbridge and ascend the paved fire road back up to Chantry Flats. This road’s 0.7 of a mile in length, steep and exposed to a lot of sunlight in the middle of the day.
WINTER CREEK LOOP Distance = 5.85 miles Elevation loss and gain, ascending Lower Winter Creek trail, returning on Upper Winter Creek trail = 440′ loss from Gabrielino trailhead to Roberts’ Camp. 1,040′ gain from Roberts’ Camp to the high point along the Upper Winter Creek trail above Hoegees Campground. From there on out it’s 600′ of loss to Chantry Flats.
RATING / SUITABILITY: A moderate loop for adults and children who are at least 10-12 years of age. This trail hike travels up the verdant canyon bottom of the Winter Creek, passing through Hoegees campground. The return is along the Upper Winter Creek trail which affords vistas out across canyons as well as culminating in a gentle descent back into Chantry Flats.
ROUTE DESCRIPTION: Starting at the Gabrielino trailhead, take the gated, paved fire road down into the canyon bottom to Robert’s Camp. Cross the green footbridge and head left for Hoegees campground. You’ll initially climb up and over your first check dam and make a stream crossing. Pass by Lynn Roberts’ old gold mine on your left, a remnant from the early part of the last century. Also, you’ll notice expansive glades of non-native ivy and the related cabin ruins along much of the lower Winter Creek as you continue up stream. These ruins were once cabins that met their end in the 1953 Monrovia Peak Fire. Although the cabins are gone, their ivy lives on and flourishes. In the next couple of miles and six stream crossings later, you’ll arrive at expansive Hoegees campground. Nestled under its’ canopy of oak trees, 18 separate campsites await backpackers seeking an overnight experience . If you should decide to build a fire in one of the metal fire rings or Klamath stoves, please use the accompanying rakes, shovels and buckets which are provided by the Big Santa Anita Canyon Firesafe Council. Douse and stir your fire before leaving, making sure it’s Dead Out. If it’s at all windy and dry, don’t build fires at all. It’s not worth the risk to our beautiful canyon.
From Hoegees, continue upstream passing the Lower Mt. Zion Trail Junction. Soon you’ll make a stream crossing and come to yet another trail junction located in a grove of Big Cone Spruce. Turn left, passing a small, seasonal waterfall in a nearby side canyon. Your trail will climb steeply, switchbacking up and out of the stream bottom, until finally leveling off. This is the highest elevation of your trip at approximately 2,800′. The next couple of miles can truly be described as a “cruise” all the way back to Chantry Flats. You’ll have expansive views back up the upper Winter Creek towards Mt. Harvard, as well as across the canyon to Mt. Zion. As you approach Chantry Flats, enjoy views out toward Monrovia Peak and eventually a birds’ eye view down into the picnic ground and parking lots. Soon you’ll cross a small stream in the cool, damp shade of San Olene Canyon. When your trail encounters the paved San Olene truck trail, turn left and head down a quarter mile back into the Chantry Flat picnic area.
FALLING SIGN LOOP Distance = 5 miles Elevation loss and gain, 440′ initial loss from Gabrielino trailhead to Roberts’ Camp. 800′ of gain from Roberts’ Camp to Falling Sign Junction.
RATING / SUITABILITY: A moderate loop for adults and children who are at least 10-12 years of age. This trail hike travels up the well-shaded and at times rugged Big Santa Anita Canyon, passing through both idyllic Fern Lodge (junction) and then up canyon past Sturtevant Falls. Enjoy the scenic and rugged undeveloped section of the canyon bottom between the top of the falls and Falling Sign Junction before returning back on the Gabrielino Trail. On your return, look forward to passing through deeply shaded side canyons, spring time wildflowers, changing colors during the autumn and an ever-present view across the canyon.
ROUTE DESCRIPTION: Starting at the Gabrielino trailhead, take the gated, paved fire road down into the canyon bottom to Roberts’ Camp. Cross the green footbridge and take the dirt fire road off to your right, which bears up canyon toward Sturtevant Falls. In 0.8 of a mile from Roberts’ Camp, you’ll arrive at Fern Lodge Junction. Landmarks at the junction to watch for include a redwood color emergency call box on your left adjacent to a scenic rock outcropping at the base of a stately canyon live oak. You will see a sign indicating where two single track hiking trails peel off to your left. If you happen to reach the wooden “Fiddler’s Crossing” sign, you’ve just missed the junction and need to turn around! Of your two trail choices, take the one identified by the metal sign as leading toward the right or”top of the falls.”
At this point you’ll switchback up and out of an ivy filled side canyon, contouring the mountainside above a grouping of cabins. You’ll also possibly see people hiking below your route, coming and going, from the base of Sturtevant Falls. The mountainside below you will begin to steepen, until soon your path becomes whittled out of solid rock. There’s a great view of Sturtevant Falls and the plunge pool to be had before arriving at the top of a 120′ high cliff. From up here you can look down into the canopies of white alder and maples, seeing and hearing hikers playing in the water far down below you while feeling the refreshing rush of up canyon breezes. The crank telephone line makes its’ airy descent from a small oak outward and down across the canyon to the next tree branch. Continue heading up canyon, passing beautifully polished rock-ribbed pools. If it’s warm, a couple of these are worth checking out for a refreshing dip into the chill waters coming out of Mt. Wilson’s interior. One pool in particular, has a clean sandy bottom and in some years can be over 7′ deep. As your hike continues, oak and bay trees lean gracefully over the stream side trail, providing shade and at times a mix of translucent greens in the canyon light. Crossing the stream, a small set of switchbacks take you up to the opposite canyon wall, where you can really get a sense of the ruggedness of this “inner canyon” where no check dams were ever built. Tall white alders hug the tumbling stream, while twisting oaks and maples grow out of crevices in the fragmented white cliffs below and across from you. Here the canyon is narrowed down and its’ rocks are sharp, the stream bed punctuated with pools in shady seclusion. Eventually you reach a cascade known as Laughing Waters, just below your second stream crossing. Although the sound doesn’t sound like laughing to me, it does sound a bit like applause after a grand performance, especially during the rainy season in the darkness. After your crossing, the trail makes a quick ascent to the Gabrielino trail. You’re now at Falling Sign Junction, less than a mile from Fern Lodge Jct. Falling Sign’s name comes from a time when all our trail signs were made of wood. I remember a period in the 70′s and early 80′s when our wooden junction sign would be uprooted by hikers and thrown mercilessly off the mountainside just to do it…. There was never enough topsoil at this junction to dig a good deep hole to anchor any kind of a sign. Eventually, the sign you now see, was hauled in and placed in concrete by Ajax Moon – our canyon’s fiddler. Hopefully, this sign will stay put! Turn left at Falling sign junction, enjoying a gently graded descent back to Fern Lodge Junction. The distance is just over a mile, during which you’ll enjoy passing under mature maples and occasionally through a variety of chaparral flowering plants of all kinds.
At one point you’ll pass Hoegees’ Drop-Off in a beautiful wooded side canyon. It was at this spot along the trail where a man and his horse both plunged to their deaths back in the late 60′s. Bill Hoegee was the son of Arie and Mrs. Hoegee, the proprietor couple who had founded the little trail resort up in the Winter Creek back in 1908. Bill was on a horse described as “high-strung” and not well known to him, yet. After visiting briefly with his friend Mac Conway, who lived in his cabin across from Fern Lodge, Bill rode up canyon, taking the “stock” trail, now known as the Gabrielino. Travelling down canyon was a group of scouts who had been tent camping at Spruce Grove. Some of the kids had broken away from the group and were running down the narrow trail when suddenly they were met by Hoegee at a blind turn. The horse reared and stepped back into nothing, but thin air. Both Bill and his horse rolled back and went off the cliffy trail to their end. This tragic moment is now decades past, yet the spot remains both ruggedly beautiful and peaceful. Continue on, passing through more leafy canyons and glades of sun drenched chaparral. Eventually, you’ll descend into Fern Canyon, true to its’ name with stands of majestic Woodwardia and Bracken ferns under a canopy of spreading oaks. There’s even a couple of sycamores that can be spotted alongside the trail. When you reach the switchback just prior to your final descent into Fern Lodge, it’s possible to look down canyon into the V-shaped scene of the San Gabriel Valley bounded by the sloping canyon walls left and right. Tin Can is the name given to this point, since it’s where the pack trains used to discard all the empty cans and bottles from the nearby Fern Lodge Resort. All this trash would just be dumped down the mountainside out of sight and thought… Just 40 or 50 feet up trail from the actual switchback, it’s often possible to make a cell phone call if necessary. Just be patient. A few moments from here and you’ll arrive back at Fern Lodge Junction. You know the way back!
MOUNT ZION LOOP aka SANTA ANITA LOOP Distance = 9.8 miles Elevation loss and gain, 440′ initial loss from Gabrielino trailhead to Roberts’ Camp. 1,740′ of gain to Mt. Zion Saddle. 1000′ loss down south side of Mt. Zion trail to Winter Creek / Lower Mt. Zion Trail Junction. 300′ of gain to the high point of the Upper Winter Creek trail above Hoegees Campground. From there on out it’s 600′ of loss to Chantry Flat.
RATING / SUITABILITY: A moderate to strenuous loop for adults and children who are at least 12-14 years of age. This loop hike takes you through a diverse variety of environments. Follow miles of riparian habitat, crossing and recrossing the stream as you ascend the Big Santa Anita Canyon. As you climb in elevation, Big Cone Spruce begin to increase in presence while you pass through Cascade Picnic Area, Spruce Grove Campground and the beautifully forested, historic Sturtevant’s Camp. Hike up and over Mt. Zion’s shady north side before your steep and sun-drenched descent down into the Winter Creek. Proceed upstream from the Lower Mt. Zion Trail Junction, taking the Upper Winter Creek Trail back to Chantry Flats. Bring at least a couple of liters of water per person for this challenging day hike.
ROUTE DESCRIPTION: This loop hike is perfect for day hiking as well as backpacking throughout most of the year. Whether you’re in search of being alongside a rushing mountain stream, seeing one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the range or getting a good hill climb with vistas out toward the high country, this hike’s for you! Let’s say that you decide to do the trip counter-clockwise, then you’d start at the Gabrielino trailhead, dropping 0.7 of a mile down the paved road (gated to cars) to Roberts’ Camp. Here you’ll cross the green metal and wood hikers’ bridge, which has been here since 1950. Roberts’ Camp is located at the confluence of the Big Santa Anita Canyon and Winter Creek. Once a trail resort during the Great Hiking Era, it continues to be an important junction for trail users. On this loop trip, we’ll head toward Sturtevant Falls and Spruce Grove. Less than 0.8 of a mile up canyon from here you’ll come to idyllic Fern Lodge Junction. Dotted with picturesque cabins nestled along the verdant banks of the stream, Fern Lodge is a beauty spot of large canyon oaks leaning out over the trail. Stands of white alder grow tall and straight, nestled in close along the tumbling stream. Boulders, some bright white, others speckled with black mica, and still others solid gray or banded in alternating layers make up the jumbled stream bed. At this junction you can head up the Upper falls Trail, “Top Of The Falls” which is for hikers only. Take this route if you want to see Sturtevant Falls from up above. As you can see in the accompanying photo, the sign mistakenly refers to your route as the “Lower Trail.” Also, you can take the Gabrielino Trail, indicated by the sign as the “Upper Trail” (Horse Trail) which is for both hikers, pack animals and mountain bikes. Regardless of your choice, both these trails rejoin a mile up canyon at Falling Sign Junction. If you choose to take the Upper Falls Trail, not only will you be rewarded with a great view of Sturtevant Falls, there will be a series of rock-ribbed pools that you’ll pass along the way. Some of these are great for cooling off during the warmer months of the year! The water’s chilly, usually never reaching the 60 degree mark. Past the pools, the canyon stays wild and narrows down into a rugged and twisting place, shaded by bay trees and maples. If it’s the right time of day, there can be a gold-green light filtering down through the trees to the canyon bottom. A couple of stream crossings further up, your trail loops back up toward the Gabrielino Trail at Falling Sign Junction. Here you’ll hook around to your right, continuing on to Cascade Picnic Area. This next half mile takes you into both Maple and Tiger Lilly Canyons. You’ll also have a great view down into the Big Santa Anita Canyon from this arid point out in the chaparral, looking back on where you’ve just been. This beautiful overlook is encountered just prior to dropping down into Cascade Picnic Area. At Cascade, you’ll find a lonesome little picnic table and a call box (for reporting emergencies.) At this location, the check dams begin to once, again make their presence… ugh. The good news, however, is that Big Cone Spruce also begin to appear along with mature Canyon Live Oaks arching out and across the stream. Cascade’s name speaks for itself, you won’t be disappointed. Continuing up canyon, you’ll climb up and over nine check dams to Sturtevant’s Camp. The trail between Cascade Picnic Area and Sturtevant’s is a steep climb. To many, it feels like this section is the toughest, especially if your pack’s heavy! In 0.7 of a mile, you’ll reach Spruce Grove Campground, which at 3,000′ in elevation alongside the year-round stream, provides good campsites for those wishing to spend the night on the ground. It is well-shaded, mostly by bay trees and occasional spruce. There are seven picnic tables, metal rings for campfires, Klamath Stoves (flat metal plate to cook on) and restrooms. Make sure to obtain a fire permit prior to your trip! They’re free and you’ll be required to have one if you’re planning to use a backpacking stove or build a fire. Just 0.3 of a mile above the campground is an important trail junction. At this junction, just below Sturtevant Camp, one can turn right and head toward Newcomb Pass and on into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. The way we’ll head on this trip is to the left, going up and over the check dam. If you need drinking water, head up into Sturtevant’s. Here they have a drinking fountain with potable water. NOTE: as of late 2014, the drinking fountain is no longer providing water. However, the caretakers have kindly provided packaged water for the public which has been brought up by pack animals. You’ll find it sitting on the bench adjacent to the fountain. Don’t forget to enjoy the big rope swing and have a look at the place. Sturtevant Camp has been here since 1893 and continues to be available as an overnight destination. Reservations are required and can be made through the Adams Pack Station website: adamspackstation.com This is a very cool place to spend some time in the California of old.
From Sturtevant’s, head back down to the trail junction just above ackstation.com the dam and head across the stream, where you’ll bypass the camp and travel a very short distance upstream before arriving at the Upper Mt. Zion Trail Junction. At this point, you’ll be directly across the stream from the camp. Peel off to the left, climbing into a watered side canyon. The Mt. Zion Trail contours northeast facing hillsides, climbing 300 feet in just over a mile. Along this stretch, you’ll have vistas out toward Twin Peaks and Mount Waterman, located in the back country of the San Gabriel Mountains. Once at the saddle, the watershed divide between the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek, you have the option of doing a quick side trip to the summit of Mt. Zion in all its’ shaggy, 360 degree chaparral clad glory. Heading over the saddle, you’ll drop steeply down into the Winter Creek. You’ll be out in the chamise, manzanita, buckbrush, scrub oak, sumac and lots of wildflowers with lots of views down into the San Gabriel Valley, Chantry Flats and south across the canyon to Manzanita Ridge. After dropping steeply down 1000′ in elevation, you’ll encounter the Lower Mt. Zion Trail Junction. If you want to see Hoegees Campground, turn left and head downstream a very short distance. A beautiful overnight destination, Hoegees consists of 18 campsites, replete with a magnificent canopy of oaks, spruce and maple alongside a year-round stream. Hoegees, like Sturtevant’s, was once a trail resort. Founded in 1908, visitors to the little resort stayed in tent cabins and enjoyed the amenities of camp life. Prepared meals could be taken family style in the main lodge. One of the resort’s specialties was a home-made manzanita berry jelly; the berries being freshly picked alongside the Mt. Zion Trail by the camp’s staff. Saturday evening dances were held in the resort’s lodge once the dining tables were cleared. One could cool off in the stream-fed swimming pool, relax in a hammock, play croquet and more. Hoegees eventually became Camp Ivy and would continue on until the great Monrovia Peak Fire of 1953 which destroyed most of the buildings.
Going back to the Lower Mt. Zion Trail Junction, we’ll turn right, heading upstream a short distance, crossing the stream and then encountering yet another junction under the spruce trees. This junction’s really important. Make sure to turn left, back toward Chantry Flat. Make sure you don’t accidentally head toward Sierra Madre and Mt. Wilson! From this junction, head left and into a drainage that sometimes has water skimming down a rock face you can reach out to and touch. Keep climbing, at times steeply, until after less than a third of a mile the trail levels out at 2,800′ elevation. From here on out, the trail will be level to slightly downhill all the way back to Chantry Flats. This is an easy cruise, a real treat for the last segment of your loop. Near the end of the trail, you’ll come around a ridge that’ll afford you a view of the Chantry Flats area. You’ll see the parking area, people trudging back up the paved road where you began your hike hours earlier, hear the sounds of folks enjoying the picnic area and maybe even hear live music coming from the Adams Pack Station if it’s the weekend. Eventually, after crossing the tranquil little stream in shady San Olene Canyon, your trail will intersect the paved San Olene truck trail coming up out of the picnic area. Make sure to turn left on the road and make your easy descent into the parking area. If you’re hungry or thirsty, you can stop by the Adams Pack Station for ice cold drinks and good food. Also, you can pick up good maps of the canyon’s hiking trails and check out their book display. By the time your day’s over, you will have gotten nearly 10 miles behind you! The Big Santa Anita Loop is a great way to spend your day or weekend.
MOUNT WILSON LOOP Distance = 14.5 miles Elevation loss and gain, 440′ initial loss from Gabrielino trailhead to Roberts’ Camp. 3,950′ of gain to Mt. Wilson summit. 3,510′ loss on the return by way of Manzanita Ridge / Upper Winter Creek approach to Chantry Flat.
RATING / SUITABILITY: A strenuous loop for adults and teens. The direction of travel for this hike description happens to run counterclockwise, yet either way is a good way to go. A really positive outcome of traveling in the direction described here is that after your long day, NOT having to climb that paved fire road back up to Chantry Flat
from Roberts’ Camp. The summer heat along exposed sections of this trip to Mt. Wilson can be relentless. One cannot carry too much water when it’s hot. Winter weather brings along its’ own set of challenges, such as the potential for hypothermia as well as crossing icy sections of trail near the summit. The total distance of your day, combined with lots of elevation gain/loss and potentially rapid changes in weather, put this trail hike into its’ own category on the Chantry Flats Map – Hikes Page. The trade-off for these challenges is traveling through expanses of mature, healthy forest along with the myriad of beautiful views to be had. On a clear day, it’s possible to see Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto far off to the east. Santa Catalina floats out on the mist of the Pacific to the southwest. Out toward the northeast, you’ll be treated to a view of the San Gabriel mountains’ back-country. Peaks such as Mt. Waterman, Twin Peaks, Mt. Williamson and Mt. Baldy make up the horizon. This hike truly fills your senses with much of the splendor of a full day in the mountains. For more on what’s happening at the top of Mt. Wilson, go to: mtwilson.edu This is a fascinating destination.
ROUTE DESCRIPTION: Start out at the Gabrielino trailhead. Take the gated, paved fire road that leads down three quarters of a mile into the canyon. When you reach the bottom, cross the green foot bridge, coming into the clearing of Roberts’ Camp. This is a big junction with several options. You’ll want to head toward Sturtevant Falls, continuing along the stream. Your dirt road soon peters out and alternately becomes single track, road, single track and back to road before reaching Fern Lodge Junction. At this point you’re 8/10 of a mile upstream from Roberts’ Camp. Look for the two trails that peel off to your left from the main road path. From here, take either the Upper Falls
Trail (Right) or Gabrielino Trail (Left). The sign here has often been a source of confusion, since it refers to the Upper Falls Trail as the “Lower Trail” and the Gabrielino as the “Upper Trail.” Your map will be a great help at this point. Both these trails reconnect about a mile up canyon from here at Falling Sign Junction. Once at Falling Sign, make sure to keep heading toward Spruce Grove Campground. The sign incorrectly refers to Spruce Grove as “Spruce Group Campground.” A half mile further up, you’ll drop gently into shady Cascade Picnic Area, crossing the stream to the solitary picnic table. Continue climbing up and over a series of check dams the next 7/10 of a mile to Spruce Grove Campground. Pass through the campground and continue another 3/10 of a mile to the next junction just past a stream crossing. Here you’ll see that the trail to the right heads up and over Newcomb Pass. You’ll want to head left, climbing up and over yet another check dam. Turn left just below Sturtevant Camp, crossing the stream at the top of the dam and continuing up canyon to the Upper Mt. Zion Trail Junction. At this point you’ll be directly across from Sturtevant Camp. If you have the time, it’s worth crossing the stream and checking out the camp. Built back in 1893, Sturtevant is the only camp from the Trail Resort Period to still be operating in the San Gabriels. As of this writing, volunteers at Sturtevant Camp continue to kindly provide potable water to those passing through. It’s here where the work really begins. You’ll climb 2,500′ feet between Sturtevant Camp and Mt. Wilson in the next 2.8 miles. Starting out from here the trail continues along the stream for a short distance at a somewhat gentle grade. Towering Big Cone Spruce shade your way, as do some mammoth Canyon Live Oaks. Soon the trail leaves the stream and you’ll pass by the upper most check dam in the Big Santa Anita Canyon’s creek bed. Pretty soon your grade has steepened as you ascend the canyon through stands of oak and bay, in the now broad canyon bottom. There’s a tranquil and somewhat park-like experience to be had here. Almost a mile above the camp, the grade becomes even steeper and the trail becomes a bit undefined as you continue up through an expanse of white granite boulders speckled with black (Mt. Lowe granodiorite). The trail’s a bit braided by shortcutting, so take your time, watching for the first true switchback in a place known as Rock Park. At this switchback, you can peer down at your last glimpse of the stream, running narrowly over a smooth steep rock face, emerging out of the more hidden recesses of the canyon. This area has a wild, untamed
feel about it. By now, Big Cone Spruce makes a larger presence around you , the canyon tightens up and the trail now switchbacks up and away from the stream for good. Climbing the tree covered slope, you are soon afforded views out across the canyon. It’s really amazing just how wide and big the upper “Big” Santa Anita Canyon really is! Soon you arrive at the “Half Way Rest” (4,500′ elevation), located at the end of a switchback in a lush, dark green grove of ancient conifers and young saplings. From here on out, you begin to be able to look over the north rim of the canyon into the San Gabriel mountain backcountry. Monrovia Peak looms to the east directly in front of you, with its’ East Fork draining back into the Big Santa Anita. As you continue on, the trail goes out and around a ridge, exposing you to the chaparral and bright sun. Hiking up through the thorny buck brush and groves of manzanita, there are views to be had down into the Winter Creek. Soon the trail rounds back into the shady side of the mountain, ascending in switchbacks, sometimes crossing steep sandy slopes where the narrow little trail often disappears when a mantle of snow makes its’ presence. Speaking of snow, if it’s that time of year, watch for a steep narrow chute that drops away hundreds of feet away from the trail. It’s upper end is at about 5,100′ and the location can be seen on the Chantry Flat – Mt. Wilson Trails map. If the conditions are icy, think twice about continuing on past the Half Way Rest, unless you are outfitted with at least instep crampons and an ice axe… and know how to use them. Just past the chute, the trail continues up and back around the same ridge you were on earlier. The chaparral returns and so do the views down into the quiet and trail less side canyons of the Winter Creek. A bit further on and up a few more switchbacks on the loose, sandy mountainside, you arrive at Echo Rock. It’s worth walking out onto this finger of rock and looking out over the mountains. The cliffs dropping off the east side of Mt. Wilson are startling. With all this terrain being nearly vertical, few plants can find a perch, with the exception of the ubiquitous Mountain Mahogany. Continue on up the trail, paralleling a chain link fence, to its’ termination at a black top service road. Your climb is over. Turn left here, following this road past the 60″ and 100″ telescope domes, astronomical museum, 150′ solar camera and more. Eventually you’ll see a green, open air pavilion style structure up slope and to your left, replete with
picnic tables under a sound roof. The view from here is amazing to say the least! Look straight south to Mt. Harvard (with transmitter building straddling its’ summit), out into Eaton Canyon and across to Mt. Lowe, flat-topped Mt. Markham and San Gabriel Peak. This is a good spot to rest before heading back down the mountain. Notice, also, that there are two places adjacent to the pavilion where potable water is available as well as one of the cleanest restrooms that you’ll encounter on this entire trip. This is also the home to the seasonal Cosmic Cafe. From here, head out across the large paved parking area directly below the pavilion to the trailhead where your descent back to Chantry Flats will begin. You’ll see that the sign here indicates this is the way to Sierra Madre. Take it. Continue at a modest descent through chaparral for 7/10 of a mile, paralleling the old Mt. Wilson Toll Road to Martin’s Saddle. Your trail intersects the Toll Road (now a fire road) here at a place that was once Martin’s Camp, a trail resort built back in 1889 during the Great Hiking Era. Today, you’d never
know that there were once wooden buildings and tents set up all over this open space, except for a dilapidated rock wall, where the Toll Road drops away from the saddle. See John Robinson’s “The San Gabriels, Southern California Mountain Country” for more on this colorful period of trail resort history. Now, all that’s left here is an aging, boxy, lackluster concrete utility vault for SCE power traveling underground to Mt. Wilson. Also, you’ll see the short spur road leading off toward Mt. Harvard and an imposing barbed wire gate with “keep out” signs. So much for bagging two peaks today… Proceed down the old Toll Road for a half mile to the intersection with Manzanita Ridge. You’ll pass by really big chunks of rock, broken free from high up on Mt. Harvard, that have come to rest on the roadway. Much of the mountainside is loose and fractured up here. Occasionally, take a moment to look down into the extreme upper reaches of the Winter Creek. You can also look back across at the domes and towers on Mt. Wilson. It’s really important to turn left at the Manzanita Ridge trail junction, otherwise you’ll end up possibly walking down into Altadena… The turn off is on the left outside edge of a wide turn in the road as you’re heading down. Fortunately, there’s one of those good metal trail signs for your landmark.
The trail switchbacks down the broad Manzanita Ridge, crossing and recrossing it a couple of times, then eventually running along it’s forested, shady northeast side. Again, you find yourself under the boughs of mature Big Cone Spruce with stunning views into the backcountry. And, true to its’ namesake, extensive groves of manzanita make their appearance. Soon you encounter a ridge top trail junction with a comfortable wooden bench built to honor the memory of a local trail runner. The Old Mount Wilson Trail drops down to your right, eventually passing such places as Orchard Camp, Decker Springs, First Water and eventually the quaint little foothill village of Sierra Madre. That canyon you’re looking down into is the Little Santa Anita. The trail you want drops back off the ridge to your left (Winter Creek side) again, paralleling and descending Manzanita Ridge through more of the exquisite terrain. It’s important that you keep your eyes peeled for your departure from the ridge, about 3/4 of a mile below the memorial bench, where the switchbacks begin heading down north facing slopes away from the ridge and into the Winter Creek toward Hoegees Campground. Occasional hikers over the years have missed this turn off, continuing down the ridge for miles in the wrong direction, making a long day even longer. As your trail descends lushly forested slopes, you’ll pass by more stands of very old Big
Cone Spruce, Canyon Live Oaks and Laurel Bay. Switchback after switchback eventually drop you down to a gentler grade and your first glimpse of the upper most cabins along the Winter Creek. The trail eventually comes to the Upper and Lower Winter Creek trail junction. If you are still interested in avoiding the climb up from Roberts’ Camp to the parking lot, then it’s the Upper Winter Creek trail for you. Taking the Upper trail means doing about two hundred feet of climb in less than half a mile, followed by a nearly level and easy descent into Chantry Flats. It’s really a gentle cruise the rest of the way back. The Upper Winter Creek trail terminates at a sharp curve along the paved section of the San Olene Truck Trail, just above the Chantry Picnic Area. Make sure to turn left (down) on the road, descending back to wherever you’re parked. This concludes an enormously satisfying day of hiking!