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Local Hiking Trails

©1990 Christopher Nyerges

The Arroyo Seco trail is one section of what is called the Gabrielino National Recreation Trail, a 28-mile route from Altadena, through Red Box, and eventually down to Chantry Flats in Sierra Madre. Gabrielino Indians once lived in this canyon, collecting acorns, black walnuts, and other seeds, and hunting the abundant deer. At one time, there were seven village sites in the Arroyo Seco where they worked with stone, produced food, made clothing, and produced woven goods. Their annual migratory route involved collecting acorns in the mountains during the fall, and then hiking down the  Arroyo to where it met the Los Angeles River, and then to the beaches of Long Beach. If you know the foods and plants that the early Gabrielinos used, it will make your journeys all the more interesting as you spot those same plants today.

There are at least three ways to begin our trek into the Arroyo:

The easiest is to begin at the west end of Altadena Drive in Altadena where the street deadends and a horse path begins. Hike down the dirt horse path to the asphalt road and head up the canyon.

A second way is to begin at the west end of Ventura Avenue in Altadena. This is about a half-mile below Altadena Drive, so you just have to hike up a little further on a paved forest access road. There is a large parking area on the west end of Ventura Ave. where it meets Windsor.

A third way is to drive to Hahamongna Watershed Park (formerly Oak Grove Park) and park near the ranger station. Follow the hiking path up the canyon, along the east side of JPL until you get behind JPL.

As you'll hike north of JPL, you'll soon encounter a smaller side canyon off to your right. You can hike up this stream, eventually reaching Millard Canyon picnic site and the waterfall after several miles of hiking.

As you continue northward up the Arroyo Seco, you'll eventually pass the green houses where the U.S. Forest Service employees live. You'll hike by numerous ruins consisting of stone stairways, foundations, and occasional fireplaces -- the last remnants of the cabins that lined this canyon a century ago. Generally, you can spot the old homestead sites because they are overgrown with the ivy and periwinkle vines that were planted about a century ago.

The hiking is easy and flat, and always interesting as you hike through the tall trees, along the swimming holes, and passing various patches of blackberries or wild grapes. Large oaks cover the hillsides which are otherwise covered with chaparral, grasses, and the ubiquitous poison oak.

The first marked picnic site you'll encounter in the Arroyo Seco is Gould Mesa, approximately two miles from the beginning of the trail. At Gould Mesa, there is an outhouse and a large picnic area which truly feels like you're in a forest. This picnic area was planted with fast-growing trees about 15 years ago and is now quite    pleasant, visited by hawks, owls, woodpeckers, and other wildlife.

At the river at Gould Mesa, you'll see a large swimming hole where children often frolic. From Gould Mesa, you can also hike up to the Angeles Crest Highway if you wish. If you hike out of the canyon at this point, you'll be at the Angeles Crest Highway two miles north of La Canada.

Onward in the Arroyo, you continue on the dirt road, always following the stream as you pass by old cabin ruins and beautiful scenery. Just beyond Gould Mesa is a row of towering eucalyptus trees, probably over a century old. You'll encounter Nino in approximately 3/4 of a mile, a small picnic site with benches at the river's edge. Further along, the trail narrows and gets rockier and the canyon seems even narrower and steeper. In another mile or so, you'll come to Paul Little picnic area, a great place to stop for lunch, though no fires are permitted here. Paul Little is the site of the so-called "waterfall," actually an old flood control dam. At the right spots, you can look up and see the Angeles Crest Highway.

Continuing, you cross over the dam and then the canyon widens considerably. The trail follows typical river vegetation for another mile to Oakwilde camp. Oakwilde is the site of an old resort which remained until the 1930s. You'll see numerous cement foundations and steps and benches from this once-popular resort. Oakwilde is as far as you can go without having to climb, and it's a great place to spend the night. Oakwilde is perhaps the only place where I have consistently seen deer every time I have camped there. It's a wonderful, and generally very quiet spot.

The next stop beyond Oakwilde is Commodore Switzer's Camp, a dusty 4-mile climb out of the canyon.

Total distance to Oakwilde from the west end of Altadena Drive is approximately five or six miles depending on whose figures you believe. A hike all the way to Switzer's Camp can be a vigorous day hike if you leave early -- it all depends on your own ability, how fast you walk, and how many stops you make.

Incidentally, you can hike up to the Angeles Crest Highway from Oakwilde Camp. There are two ways to do this. One is a rather steep trail on the west wall of the canyon directly west of Oakwilde which goes straight up the hill. Suggestion: Make sure your canteen is full before attempting this one. Novice hikers will cry! The other way -- well, there used to be a road called the CCC Road which came right into Oakwilde from the Angeles Crest Highway. The lower half washed out many years ago, and it was never repaired. So the easiest way out is to hike right up the massive ridge that empties into Oakwilde. Eventually, you'll come to the top portion of the CCC Road and you can hike out to the Crest Highway.

Should you choose to do a one-way hike, you can have someone either drop you off, or pick you up, at the Angeles Crest Highway.

"Don't forget to take plenty of water,
to which you've added a bit of raw apple cider vinegar!"
Local Hiking Trails
The CCC Road
The Switzers Area
The Falls
Millard Canyon
Mt. Lowe
Garbage: Good Enough to Eat?
Scoutleader Landry