Distance: 3 to 7 miles
Duration: 1 to 2.5 hours
Transportation: Free parking; Metro bus: Nos. 176, 177
This is a lovely country-in-the-city walk, flat and undemanding, offering rare views of the untamed river — less than five minutes from Old Town Pasadena.
The 22-mile-long Arroyo Seco, a river-bed canyon that begins in the San Gabriel Mountains and runs into the Los Angeles River, was a lot of things before it became home to the world's first freeway and a concrete ditch with water in it.
Today it's a great hiking opportunity.
To take the long version of this walk, park by the Arroyo Seco Golf Course, just off Stoney Drive, near the York Boulevard or Marmion Way exits from the 110/Arroyo Seco Parkway. (The golf course coffee shop opens at 9 a.m. weekday mornings and 8 a.m. weekends and stays open to 7 or 9 p.m. depending on the season.)
Leave the parking lot heading north, with the arroyo's waterway on your left. Walk past the tennis center to Stoney Drive, take a left and walk along Stoney until it meets San Pascual Avenue. Take the trail on the left heading under San Pascual, and begin the arroyo walk.
Within minutes, as you pass a collection of horse stables, the path broadens and you enter the Lower Arroyo Seco Natural Park. Overhead is the elegant San Rafael bridge. To the right, just by the bridge, are sets of old stone stairs that climb out of the arroyo, up to the corner of San Rafael Avenue and South Arroyo Boulevard.
The stairs may be remnants of some old Pasadena history: The arroyo and hillsides just north of here were once home to the grand beer magnate Adolphus Busch, and the first Busch Gardens. This was an elaborate wonderland of fountains, streams and glades, designed in 1905 and, though privately owned, open to the public. The gardens were not the theme-park scale efforts that followed in later years, but they were lush enough to double for Sherwood Forest in the Errol Flynn action film "The Adventures of Robin Hood" in 1938 — the same year the gardens were closed.
(The area is scattered with large homes. "Wayne Manor," from the "Batman" TV series of the 1960s, is on San Rafael, high up to your right. So is the house where the American version of the film "Clue" was shot.)
Above the San Rafael Bridge, the canyon widens considerably. Close to the river, the path runs arrow-straight along the concrete channel. Off to the right, other pathways wander into the shade of an abundant selection of native and nonnative trees — eucalyptus, pine, palm, sycamore, coast live oak and California pepper among them. Overhead you may see hawks.
Another mile ahead, more or less, you will pass under another bridge. This one supports La Loma Road as it leaves Pasadena heading west toward Eagle Rock. The canyon widens again and offers several pathway choices, from full sun at the middle of the canyon to full shade on the eastern or right side.
Farther north, about two miles from the golf course starting point, you may come upon increasing numbers of walkers: There is a parking lot not far ahead, with access from South Arroyo Boulevard near the corner of Norwood Drive, which makes this a convenient point to begin the shorter version of this walk. (There are also public restrooms and drinking fountains.)
The parking lot also serves a lively community of archers, who practice their art on the western side of the arroyo, and fly fishermen, who practice their craft at a casting pool on the eastern side. Walk on and continue north, perhaps taking advantage of the pedestrian bridge to explore the western side of the river as you continue upstream.
Shortly ahead and high above you is the stately Colorado Street Bridge, familiarly known as Suicide Bridge, crossing the arroyo over what is now Colorado Boulevard. (Once part of historic Route 66, this remarkable construction opened in 1913 and witnessed the first of its known suicides six years later. To date, more than 100 people are said to have jumped to their deaths from the scenic span.)
Use the short pedestrian bridge to get back to the eastern side of the river here — the western side trail dead-ends just ahead — and follow the footpath upriver. Just beyond the bridge, behold: The waterway here has loosed its concrete channel and been allowed to return to its natural state. You will find abundant wild grasses and reeds, and water birds of several varieties. Nearby signs say that the water is also home to chub, mugwort and mulefat … whatever those are.
Just above the bridge, the waterway becomes a concrete channel again. The trail meets the roadway. Dead ahead are Brookside Park, the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center and the Rose Bowl. Picnic tables, shaded by oaks and redwoods, abound, as do public restrooms and pushcarts ice treats, making this a natural place to enjoy a mid-walk break.
If you've walked from the golf course, you've covered about 3.5 miles. If you started at the parking lot off Arroyo and Norwood, you've walked about 1.4 miles. When you've supped, snacked or otherwise refreshed yourself, turn around and head back.
Fleming, who lives in Silver Lake, is the author of "Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles" and "Secret Stairs East Bay: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Berkeley and Oakland." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments and suggestions for future walks.