This walk in the Angeles National Forest is a great chance to get some real mountain hiking experience without driving too far or breaking too much of a sweat. It gets a little crowded on weekends, so go early for the best parking spaces. Wear boots or shoes that will tolerate a dunking, because this walk requires a couple of easy water crossings. Before you go, pick up an Adventure Pass ($5 for a day, $30 for the year) at a Sport Chalet or Big 5 sporting goods store. If it’s Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you can also park near the trail head and buy your Adventure Pass from the charming Adams’ Pack Station store at Chantry Flat.
1. From the trail head near the end of North Santa Anita Canyon Road, just north of Arcadia, begin a paved half-mile descent past growths of pine, oak, sumac and bay laurel into the deeper shade of Big Santa Anita Canyon below.
2. At the bridge, stop to soak up some history. During the Great Hiking Era, from the 1890s to the 1920s, this was a regular destination in the San Gabriel Mountains for tens of thousands of walking enthusiasts. The Sierra Club’s first Southern California headquarters was here, as were a dozen hiking lodges and hotels with names like Joe Clark’s Halfway House and Sturtevant Camp, which still offers rooms and cabins to rent.
3. You’ll begin to see cabins as you approach the creek. The area, homesteaded since the early 1900s, once boasted hundreds of cabins, built by hand from materials that had to be brought in by pack mule. To this day, firewood and water are still brought in that way, on mule trains that also function as the area’s sanitation department, making the downhill journey carrying sacks of garbage from the 80 privately owned cabins that remain.
4. At lovely Sturtevant Falls, water tumbles 50 feet down a sheer rock face into a wide pool at the hike’s terminus. The pool is good for wading, and the rocks on the shady banks make for good picnicking.
5. On the return journey, consider extending your walk by a half-hour with a side trip to Hermit Falls.
6. Recover from the half-mile uphill at the end at Adams’ Pack Station and admire the last remaining pack station in the San Gabriels. It was built in 1936, with a general store functioning since 1953, and is a good place to buy hiking and camping supplies or get a restorative cold drink, hot coffee or quick snack.
Charles Fleming 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.”
Distance: 3.5 miles
Duration: 1.5 hour
Difficulty: 3 on a scale of 1 to 5
Details: Dogs on leash OK. Mountain bikes OK. Parking pass required.