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Switzer's Area

©1990 Christopher Nyerges
Just a few years ago, hikers could drive down the road about a half-mile to the river. But Switzers was SO popular that people parked everywhere and anywhere, and the campground on weekends was no different than your typical urban park. Certainly Switzer's is far more attractive than an urban park, but with the crowds and the radios and the yelling children and the hamburgers grilling, it's natural attractiveness was diminished.

Today, you park on the Angeles Crest Highway and you walk down the road to a picnic area that is generally cleaner and quieter than those hectic summer weekends of a few years back.

I've hiked down to the picnic area in the fall to collect acorns. Often, I will make a small fire in one of the fire-sites and warm soup for an autumn afternoon. This is a pleasant place to sit and listen to the river and listen to the birds and watch the many grey squirrels.

The picnic area is covered with very large canyon live oak trees, and the river is lined with the tall, white-barked alders. There is much poison oak covering the hill sides so be sure you know what poison oak looks like.

If you're by yourself or with a small party, you may encounter deer before they dart away up the hillside. And though the entire Angeles National Forest s said to have only between 300 and 400 bears, at least one bear den is said to be just upstream from the Switzer's picnic area. A friend of mine saw a bear at Switzer's once when he was in the canyon alone on a weekday. But bear encounters are extremely rare, and I wouldn't count on ever seeing one.

Hiking downstream is shady and pleasant. The stream is lined with tall white-barked alders, and tall oaks, sycamores, and occasional big leaf maples abound. There are several river crossings as you hike along, and bits of old walls and old foundations are seen here and there.

Only a mile down and you come to the old turn-of-the-century resort at Switzers. It is now called Commodore Switzers Camp ground, and overnight camping is allowed there. There are only foundations and occasional stairs to indicate that the resort was once here. If you look carefully, you'll find the old rose bushes still growing, and wild patches of blackberries that still produce fruit.

Though it is a bit difficult to find, there once was a chapel on the cliff south of the resort. To find it, you walk south of the resort site where you see a sign telling of how many people have died when they fell over the waterfall. Take a sharp left on a small dirt path, and climb up a short ways and then turn right, or south. This is an unmaintained, overgrown trail winding slightly upward for no more than 500 feet. It ends at the site of the chapel -- once called Christ Chapel Switzerland -- where only a cement slab remains. Cement arches can be observed on the hillside below.

Just downstream is the Switzers waterfall, so the hiking trail winds up on the west wall of the canyon to bypass the waterfall. There is a terrific view of the falls from this trail. The trail is actually fenced in sections because one slip off the trail would likely mean death if you fell down the sheer side of the rocky canyon.

While you are looking at the waterfall, look directly east and you'll get another view of where the chapel once sat. You'll see the flat area where the chapel was, and if you look closely, you'll see two arches just below on the steep hillside.

Continuing down the trail, you come to a fork. The west fork takes you down into Oakwilde Camp and down to Altadena eventually. The east fork takes you back down to the river.

When you get to the river, you can go upstream and look at the waterfall from the bottom. Or you can  continue downstream to several of the larger swimming holes where fish share the water with human swimmers in the summer heat.

Gradually, you'll come to a fork in the river. The east fork leads you to Bear Canyon and in a mile or so to the Bear Canyon campsite, perhaps one of the most isolated sites in the forest. If you were to continue to the end of Bear Canyon, you'd eventually end up on the road which leads down to Mount Lowe Campground, and eventually turns into Chaney Trail in Altadena.

In fact, once you drive to Switzers from the Angeles Crest, you will have many options ranging from an afternoon picnic to a week-long (or longer) adventure throughout these many camp sites and trails.

Before your trip, obtain a U.S. Forest Service map, and ideally a topographical map of the area you plan to hike into (topographical maps can be obtained at most map shops and at many camping shops). If you're looking for a good trail guide for these areas, I recommend Trails of the Angeles by John Robinson, available at bookstores and backpacking stores.

Continuing up the trail from Oakwilde, you will eventually come to Switzer's Camp. As you're still up high on the hillside and approaching Switzer's Falls, look across the canyon for the ruins of the old stone chapel that used to be on the edge of the cliff. You should be able to see the cement steps, some rubble, and two stone arches on the hillside just below the chapel site.

You can also drive to Switzer's from the Angeles Crest Highway. You park at the dirt parking area on the Angeles Crest Highway just a mile or so east of the Clear Creek Ranger Station, and you hike down to the picnic area. Camping is permitted another mile down stream at the Commodore Switzer's Camp.

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The CCC Road
The Switzers Area
The Falls
Millard Canyon
Mt. Lowe
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