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GETAWAYS : Lost in the Land of Switzer : The highlight of the five-mile walk is the 70-foot falls that plunge through granite cliffs.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Foster is a regular contributor to The Times

In the 1920s, Switzer-Land Resort was in full swing in Angeles National Forest, accessed by horse and carriage up the mountain and by mule along the Arroyo Seco River. Movie stars and others considered it fashionable to spend weekends at the 20-room resort, built in 1884 by Commodore Perry Switzer.

The resort closed in the mid-1930s, but the area still provides a breathtaking getaway. The highlight of a five-mile round-trip hike is a 70-foot waterfall that plunges through granite cliffs.

The hike parallels the Arroyo Seco, which has its headwaters four miles north of the Switzer Falls picnic area in Angeles National Forest.

Stay on the trail. About 100 hikers have lost their lives over the past 20 years while scaling cliffs in search of a better view of the falls. The pool that feeds the falls is especially dangerous, and the surrounding granite is slippery, especially in warm months.

National Forest Service district ranger Terry Ellis recommends carrying water and warm clothes in case of sudden weather changes. “You won’t need a compass if you stay on the trail,” he says. “But travel with another person, or at least tell someone where you are, if you hike alone.”

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You’ll need to execute about a dozen stream crossings during the hike, so wear sturdy footwear; thongs and sandals won’t suffice. Rocks that dot streams can either be dry and unsteady during summer months or slippery in the spring, when water levels are high.

According to forest rangers, the trek can be made with small children, but use common sense, and be prepared to carry them over rough spots. Mountain bikes and trout fishing are allowed; pets must be kept on a leash.

The trail is easy to follow, but may be washed out during spring months because of heavy rains. It can still be hiked, but be prepared to get wet. You’ll need to climb over piles of rocks and logs during any month.

About 100 picnic areas with tables, barbecue stations and running water are found up and down the stream.

Some stream crossings are easier to traverse than others; most present several options. If the log perched five feet above those raging waters seems destined only for Indiana Jones, try upstream a bit, where rocks have been strategically placed. A walking stick may help with balance.

The large bushes dotted with purple spikes along the river are mountain lilacs. A crumpled leaf will release a pungent smell. The yellow-tipped bushes are Spanish broom, and some desert yucca can also be spotted.

The surrounding evergreens are big-cone Douglas firs and Coulter pines. Alder, oak and sycamore trees also grow along the banks.

Feel free to sit on a boulder and dangle your feet in the stream, which gathers its steam from runoff water in the San Gabriel Mountains.

One mile into your journey, look for a red sign warning that the area surrounding the falls can be treacherous. Straight ahead is the top of the falls. The view is spectacular--a thread of electric white spins down a granite canyon from an elevation of about 3,800 feet.

Back at the red sign, you can cross the stream and hike another mile along Bear Canyon Trail, which ends at the bottom of the falls. Look to the northeast along the trail’s ridge for a view of Strawberry Mountain, a 7,000-foot hunk of granite that resembles an inverted strawberry. There are also several stunning views of the falls.

After a quarter of a mile, the trail splits to the right along a ridge, where a 10-mile hike along the Gabrielino National Recreation Trail empties out into the Jet Propulsion Lab’s parking lot in Pasadena.

But if you bear left and go downhill, you’ll come to a wooded canyon populated with quail, junco, robins, red-tail hawks, steller’s jays, rabbits, coyotes and a few deer. Don’t expect to see the whole list in one trip. This isn’t a Disney-animated feature.

The fall’s final 30-foot splash empties into a pool at the canyon’s far end. You can swim here, but don’t hike across the stream and climb the adjacent ashen-colored cliffs; it’s too dangerous, Ellis says. There are boulders to lounge on around the pool, which throws up a cool mist that mingles with the dappled sunlight.

‘WHERE TO GO’

Getting There: Go east on the Foothill Freeway (210), exit at Angeles Crest Highway and head north for 10 miles. About a quarter mile after the Clear Creek information center, look for the Switzer Falls sign on the right. Proceed into the parking lot and down a road near the sign. Park and cross the footbridge over the stream.


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