This is an excellent, fairly easy hike and it surprised us that we waited so long to discover it. The hike is mostly shady except for one section and there are several easy stream crossings that only require stepping across rocks. This a great family hike. Read more
Category: Dog fun
Mt San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino Mountains is more than the highest peak in Southern California at 3506 m (11,503 ft)…it is also also the 18th most prominent mountain in the United States. The peak is visible from great distances and nicknamed “Old Greyback.” It has the strange distinction of claiming the lives of Frank Sinatra’s mother and the son of Dean Martin in separate plane crashes.
While there is camping along the trail at the campsites listed below, we chose to climb Mt San Gorgonio in a single day. Even though we chose the shortest path to the summit, it made for a very long hike of 29 km (18 miles) round trip.
We started off at 7am on an unusually cold but sunny day for the end of May. The trail started as a gravel road that continued from the parking lot along the bank of an enormous and rocky wash. After turning at the second “Trail” sign (there are actually two…don’t take the first one). We made our way across to the forest on the other side and the start of what we called, “The Big Wall.”
Don’t be too alarmed by the first section of the trail. It is the steepest and climbs an enormous wall on the north side of the wash. It has a southwest exposure and as such, has the chaparral and loose rock typical of this exposure in Southern California. Once at the top, the trail levels out and begins to follow Vivian Creek in a cool, shaded valley.The difference from the first section is so stark that it makes the Vivian Creek watershed seem even more lush.
To High Creek
After following Vivian Creek for a couple of kilometers, the trail leaves the stream and begins to climb over a ridge to the next watershed, High Creek. There are now enormous pine trees and rock formations that are reminiscent of hiking in Yosemite or Kings Canyon in the Sierra Nevadas. Adding to our enjoyment, the temperatures rose during the day but we also increased our elevation at a rate that kept the temperatures consistently cool and pleasant.
High Creek is a beautiful camp site and the final place to find water before the summit. It is our recommendation that anyone leaving this spot for the top should have a minimum of three liters of water. We were in good shape so we continued upward and began the climb to the ridge that accesses the summit.
Some of the first great views of the day start at the beginning of this ridge. The trees approaching the ridge began to thin until the ridge itself, where the vegetation became low and eventually disappeared entirely as we crossed above the treeline. The ridge was one of the steeper sections of the climb, but with the summit approaching, our energy made it easier to summon the strength. The air was noticeably thinner at this point as well. At the top of the ridge, we made the right turn toward the summit, clearly visible in the distance.
The summit is one of the best views from any mountain top. It is a 360 degree panorama of Southern California that’s hard to find anywhere else.
We were fortunate to be among the first to arrive for the day and had the summit mostly to ourselves for the first few minutes. That changed as large groups arrived behind us, but the view more than made up for the relative crowds.
Any hike of this length needs a warning that the summit is only ‘halfway there.’ Mt San Gorgonio by Vivian Creek is a very long day, and while every hiker is energized by standing on the top, the very long walk down is the most dangerous and difficult part of the day. We were exhausted and sore by the time we reached the bottom of the The Wall as it entered the rocky wash.
This is an excellent hike, but shouldn’t be done in one day unless you have experience hiking such distances and elevations.
Keep in mind this is the second most popular trail for reaching the summit of Mt San Gorgonio. It can be busy with day hikers, overnight backpackers, and even casual hikers walking up from the picnic area. Camping on the trail can be accomplished in the following areas:
- Vivian Creek at 2 km (1.2 miles ) and 2164 m (7100 ft). This is a very wooded camp.
- Halfway Camp at 5 km (3 miles) and 2469 m (8100 ft). This is also a wooded campsite.
- High Creek at 8.5 km (5.3 miles) and 2804 m (9200 ft) and last water. High Creek is in tall pines but less wooded than the lower campsites.
Click here to download the GPX file from our hike (right click and choose ‘save as’):
For the latest in trail conditions, including water availability, check with the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association.
Passes and getting to the trailhead
Before you start, you’ll need to either plan ahead for a day or overnight permit (permits are required for day hiking or overnight camping). Passes can be faxed back to you, mailed (if you have 3-7 days for deliver) or can be picked up in the office or in a small box by the door when the Mill Creek Work Site isn’t open. Their phone number is 909-382-2882 and their official site is found here.
Mt San Gorgonio’s Vivian Creek is one of the easier trailheads to reach. From the Mill Creek Work Site, continue to follow Highway 38 to Forest Falls Road. Turn right and follow Forest Falls until it ends at a picnic area (which is obviously a former campground). The trail starts immediately off the end of the parking lot and initially follows the left bank of the rocky stream bed that you’ve been following since turning on Forest Falls.
This is an extremely popular hike in the San Gabriel Mountains and one of the most popular hikes in Los Angeles and for good reason. The trail is easily accessed off the 210 Freeway in Pasadena by traveling north on Lake Avenue until it ends at a sharp left turn and becomes Loma Alta Avenue. On the outside of the curve are enormous stone pillars and gates of the Cobb Estate. You’ve found the trailhead. Continue on the paved part until it becomes dirt and then forks, and stay to the right.
More than just a hiking trail, Echo Mountain is a piece of Southern California history. It was the location of two famous hotels, the Echo Mountain House and The Chalet, an observatory and a zoo. Unfortunately, all that remains today are the bull wheel of an incline railway and the foundations of the buildings that were destroyed by wind and fire over the years. Beyond ruins, there are picnic tables in the shade of pine trees, great views of Pasadena and Los Angeles, and an echo phone as a great diversion.
The trail is mostly comprised of switchbacks as it climbs from the relatively level edge of Altadena to the top of the mountain. It is extremely well-maintained and mostly unaffected by runoff, unlike many other trails in the San Gabriels. The lower sections are also very smooth and hard packed which makes for quick hiking without worries about ankle turning. The upper sections, however, become much rockier and good shoes are a necessity to prevent sore or injured feet. Don’t take this advice lightly.
Where this trail is truly exceptional is in its views of Pasadena, Los Angeles and the LA basin. Hiked shortly after a rain, the views are incredibly clear to Downtown LA and beyond. Even better than a continuous exposure to views, the trail emerges from Las Flores Canyon every so often with a reminder of how quickly you are climbing and how flat the LA Basin is compared to the San Gabriels. There are often views of the switchbacking trail below as well. The trail ascends Echo Mountain at a remarkably steady grade.
We always take turns using the echo phone even though the results never vary. It is one of those pleasures that can’t be easily explained to someone who’s never done it before. Beyond the echo phone, there are ruins to explore, views to take in, and a break to be taken before the steady downhill hike back to the car. Echo Mountain is a great, reasonably short way to get in a workout and enjoy nature on the edge of the city.
There are typically crowds if you go in the late morning or early afternoon, but for those willing to start early or end late in the day, it isn’t unusual to have the top to yourself.
There are patches of poison oak on both sides of the trail. They are easily avoidable by keeping to the center, but be careful.
We have always heard great things about Runyon Canyon and know it as one of the most popular hikes in Los Angeles. Even with high expectations, we were pleasantly surprised by this fairly urban getaway.
Parking is the biggest challenge since there is no specific lot and the street parking is competitive to say the least. We arrived early afternoon and needed to park a few blocks away.
The lower section of the trail is very busy and if that level of crowd had persisted, we wouldn’t be recommending this trail. Fortunately, as you begin to make choices to hike higher and steeper sections, the crowds thin considerably. We chose to take the early turn to the right and to make a counter-clockwise trip around the Canyon.
The first significantly steep section is a staircase that is fairly eroded to the point that people walk to the left, right, and up the high steps of the wooden timbers that were used to unsuccessfully hold back the soil.
The trail rejoins a paved road above the stairs and continues upward at a more gradual pace until it leaves the ‘dog park’ section, where dogs are allowed off leash. If you watch to the left, you’ll find the trail that continuous up to the highest point of the park.
We found our way up to the highest point on the trail which by that point was not crowded and limited to those who you’ll typically see in tougher places to reach. It involved some steep sections that didn’t have the best footing but were no challenge for Mitch and Gwenn.
The way down was even more challenging with Gwenn eagerly pulling over very rough and loose terrain. Once down the steep section, though, it was easy going the remainder of the hike.
Runyon Canyon is a good getaway but we wouldn’t consider it to be a very difficult or long hike. It is close to the city and has great views of Los Angeles and is also a great off-leash dog park.
An excellent spoof on Runyon Canyon, check out Modern Hiker.
With an afternoon to spend near Thousand Oaks, California, we decided to take one of the several trails we found on the National Park Service sites in the Santa Monica Mountains. We chose Cheseboro Canyon over Paramount Ranch based on a recommendation from the Visitors Center. While Paramount Ranch would have been interesting for its role in American cinema, we wanted fewer tourists and to get off the beaten track. Cheseboro Canyon turned out to be the perfect way to achieve both.
The trailhead is quite close to the 101 Freeway, on Cheseboro Road. We were at the trailhead very quickly and noticed that this was a favorite place for horse riders and mountain bikers. Not always the best combination with hiking, it worked out well as the trail users were polite and gave good warnings to slower moving people.
There isn’t a great deal of shade on this trail, as it winds through a hilly area to the north of the highest of the Santa Monica Mountains. It was a breezy and warm day, perfect for hiking but we could assume this is a very hot place in the Summer.
Water and shade
The best advice about water is to bring what you’ll need and more. There were composting toilets at the trailhead and a few picnic tables along the trail, but this is a very dry area. Even with recent rains, the stream that flows through the Canyon was completely dry. Bring plenty of water for both yourself and, in our case, for dogs.
The benefit of dry hikes in sunny canyons is how great the shade feels when you find it. And not just for us. Gwenn and Mitch know how to ‘flop’ at the right moments when they’ve found shade.
We often get comments when we hike about the packs that our dogs wear. On this hike, a woman asked, “Are those dogs or pack mules?” Of course, we asked, “Why would you think they are dogs?” In reality, we enjoy hiking and so do Mitch and Gwenn. There’s a great symmetry to having everyone carry their own essentials, like water and food. It also allows us to go further than if we had to carry everything in our own packs, considering that the dogs drink as much or more water than we do.
The Santa Monica National Recreation Area is a great Southern California resource. The trails are well signed, well maintained and a great break from the popular routes that are so jammed on the weekends. Sharing with horses and bikes is a small price to pay for solitude. This is yet another great hike in Los Angeles.
Part 1 of Two Days in Death Valley in February 2012
Sometimes places are so close and accessible they become a less urgent destination. Death Valley has been that way for me. Jeanne has been in the US for eight years and has been there five times, where I’ve lived here all of my life, and in California twelve years and never made my way there. It isn’t my first experience with that phenomenon. I grew up in Western New York, an hour and a half from Niagara Falls but never made it there until my late teens.
An Un-sort vacation
We packed quickly on a Saturday morning using our trusted checklist. We knew this would be no-frills camping (‘un-sort’, the opposite of ‘resort’, in Jeanne’s words) on a holiday weekend with no reservations. Death Valley allows camping anywhere two miles from the main roads, but that also means no water, showers, or easy access for last-minute supplies. “Dry camping” as it is called in the West, and our trips to Johnson Valley, CA camping prepared us well for this…bring lots of water.
Of course we brought the dogs along as well. Mitch and Gwenn love every part of camping from the ride, to the new sights and smells, to sleeping in a tent, usually on top of our sleeping bags. Dogs can’t hike on trails in National Parks but we always find ways to have an adventure off the beaten track.
Not too far out of Los Angeles the horizon opens, the land dries out and the Mojave Desert takes over. Getting to Death Valley is much of the same route as heading to Mt Whitney or Mammoth, and we know the best gas stations, restaurants and each turn by heart. This time, however, we wouldn’t be passing the turnoff for Death Valley and commenting yet again that we should go there ‘sometime’.
Once on SR190, the main highway through the Valley, we filled up our gas tank and were given the advice to camp near Panamint Dunes on Lake Hill Road. This took us down a dirt road for a couple of miles until we found and excellent, sheltered spot at the foot of a small mountain and near sand dunes and a dry lake bed. We immediately began our routine of setting up camp with both of us knowing exactly our part. Dinner was beef stew and bread, and we were in The Babymaker by 6pm., just as it became truly dark outside.
It’s too bad that most of the beaches that allow camping in Southern California put the tents so closely together. If you’re not careful, you can be in a tent a few feet away from an RV’s generator in the middle of the night. Leo Carillo is not one of those beaches. We made our reservation at the California State Parks reservation site. The total cost for the reservation was $35 per night and $8 processing fee, so our one night came out to $43. We had been to Leo Carillo in past but only to the beach side.
Dogs on leash
Leo Carillo is also one of the few beaches in Southern California that allow dogs, albeit on leash only. As the only dog beach that also allows for camping, Leo Carillo State Beach is an exceptional treasure for people like us who love our dogs and want to bring them with us everywhere.
As soon as you enter the park, you face two decisions; head right to the campground or left to the beach. We chose to set up our site first and have it ready when darkness fell. We quickly had our tents set up and were ready to walk to the beach, only ten minutes away. All of the campsites seems reasonably good, but if you’d like to get specific, there is a site that ranks each. We used it to get an “A” site, and it was a large, beautiful spot under several sycamore trees.
Leo Carillo Beach
Reaching the beach means crossing under the Pacific Coast Highway through a tunnel that is very artfully painted with scenes from the forest just behind you as you walk. Even though a major road cuts through the park, the murals and tunnel make it not nearly so obvious. As soon as you emerge from the tunnel, the beauty of Leo Carillo is immediately evident. The path to the left enters the sand immediately, and to the right climbs up a hill to the cliff above the rocky point that bisects the beaches.
We went to the right, toward the dogs-allowed northern section of the beach. In the early part of January, there are very few people on the beach even though the temperatures were the same as they can be on a Summer day. The dogs vibrate in excitement from the smells in the air, the birds circling off the coast, and the other dogs playing down below. Getting down to the beach meant being careful not to be dragged down by the very-excited dogs. Once on the sand, we had nearly a half mile of beach completely to ourselves and enjoyed watching the dogs going through sensory overload.
We normally love cooking over a campfire, but a last-minute trip makes that tough, and makes MRE’s an easy choice. There’s something Cracker Jack-like about MRE’s and not knowing what will come in the package besides the main course. Once the MRE’s are open, the trading begins. By the time the bargaining finishes, its time to create the magic with the build-in heat source and to enjoy a hot meal from what started as a vinyl-covered package. We made a great fire after the meal and were off to bed early.
Morning at the beach
The best part of camping at the beach is going to the water’s edge first thing in the morning. The cool morning air and the absence of nearly any other human beings has a wonderfully calming feel. We walked the beaches, climbed the rocks and had a wonderful morning before packing up and heading home. Leo Carillo State Beach is a great place to camp and take dogs to the ocean. We hope you have the chance to enjoy it.
This is one of our favorite hikes in Los Angeles and is also just blocks away from where we live. The Eaton Canyon Nature Center and the first part of the Eaton Canyon Trail are part of Los Angeles County and are well maintained but also very, very popular on weekends and holidays. If you like avoid crowds as we do, choose your time to go very carefully.
This is also a very popular hike with local dog owners and is just long enough to be good exercise for our very active brittanys. You will see other dogs on the trail and you’ll also see the evidence they leave behind. If you take this trail with your dogs, please pack out your dog poo!
Parking to Bridge
The first part of the trail is mostly exposed and can be uncomfortable on hot days. Once leaving the parking lot, the trail crosses the Eaton Canyon Wash, which is a dry creek bed in the dry season but can be tricky to cross if there has been significant rain.
The trail turns left just after the wash and heads north until it reaches the turnoff for the First Waterfall. Along the way, there is a different turnoff for what we call “The Horse Trail” but is actually called Walnut Canyon. This is a very steep trail that connects to the Mt Wilson Toll Road, cutting off several miles of hiking for those willing to make a fast climb, but bypassing the trail to the First Waterfall.
Many people miss the left turn off the main trail at 2 km (1.2 miles) which comes just before the bridge. There is a small sign at the on the left and newer sign right at the merge point of the two trails that makes it easy if hikers are aware that they need to leave the main trail.
Bridge to Waterfall
The trail continues under the bridge and past the first of a set of old dams that created reservoirs for irrigation when Pasadena was known for its orange groves. There are many points where water crossings need to be made but rocks have been placed strategically to make it easy.
This narrow section in the canyon floor is our favorite as the continual crossings of the streams make it a fun challenge to move as quickly as possible. The dogs never hold us back and often will jump into the deeper pools of water. This is also the shady part of the trail and very comfortable in the Summer.
Once you reach the waterfall, it is immediately obvious why it is such a popular hike. The falls drops about 14 m (50 ft) from a narrow split in the canyon. It falls into a shallow pool that is often filled with children on the hotter and busier days. It is such a unique spot that there will oftentimes be people playing music or writing, especially on the quiet days. The water is quite cool, even in the warmest part of the summer and we often take our shoes off and enjoy the moment with our feet in the water. For the dogs, the waterfall is a great chance to jump in and cool off.
The reason this is called the First Waterfall is because there are a whole series of waterfalls further up the canyon. The Second Waterfall can be reached from the same trail but requires a turn just before the First Waterfall and a climb up a very steep spine of rock known as the Razor Back and then a traverse across a very exposed rockface. Many people have been rescued from the cliff face and several have died, including two just this Fall.
This is a fairly easy hike that takes you out of urban Los Angeles and into a cool, shady canyon in a short period of time. If you want a shorter distance, enter from the back gate on Pinecrest Drive between dawn and dusk (The Fire Service locks the gate at night). There is also a side entrance higher on Altadena Drive that shortens the overall hike but has more poison oak than the main trail and is hard to follow. We recommend either the main or back entrances.
Poison oak is prevalent in the canyon, so stay off the sides of trails. Remember to bring water! Many people think this hike is short and easy and don’t bring enough, and keep in mind that stream water must be treated. Lastly, sunscreen should be worn as the first half of the trail is very exposed and sun burns happen quickly.
For Dan Simpson’s very good write up on this hike, click here.