Los Angeles Top Trails

Arroyo Seco
By Jerry Schad
  |  Gorp.com
Key Info

Milestones:
0.0 – Begin on pavement
2.4 – Gould Mesa Campground (service road toward Angeles Crest Highway provides alternate access to or from the canyon)
4.2 – Trail climbs high to bypass Brown Canyon Debris Dam
5.0 – Oakwilde Campground; from here return by the same route

Trail Use: Hike, run, bike
Length: 10.0 miles, 4 hours
Elevation Gain/Loss: 900'/900'
Difficulty: 1 2 3 4 5 +
Trail Type: Out and back
Surface Type: Dirt

Features:
Permit required, dogs allowed, child friendly, handicap access, canyon, streams, waterfall, autumn colors, wildflowers, cool & shady, camping, historic

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Excerpted from Top Trails: Los Angeles by Jerry Schad

BEST FALL COLORS: Conveniently located just above Pasadena, Arroyo Seco harbors sycamores and bigleaf maples, whose orange and yellow autumn leaves flutter in the breeze and carpet the canyon floor.

Finding the Trail
Take the Windsor Ave./Arroyo Blvd. exit from Interstate 210, and drive 1 mile north on Windsor Ave. to where the street turns sharply right (east) and becomes Ventura St. The marked Gabrielino Trail going up Arroyo Seco starts here. Spacious free parking is available in a long narrow lot along the west side of Windsor Avenue, but it fills up fast on weekend mornings.

Trail Description
The trail begins as a paved road through Pasadena's Hahamongna Watershed Park, open sunrise to sunset only. At certain busy times on this lowermost stretch, you're likely to run into hikers cyclists, joggers, parents pushing strollers, and skateboarders—anything that moves without a motor.

Ahead, though, the going gets progressively rougher. Pavement yields to dirt with bridged stream crossings, then later the crossings become fords. Eventually, to the delight of purists, the route becomes merely a narrow trail. Sometimes even the trail disappears into the shallow water, sand, or rocks of the stream bed.

As you work your way up the canyon, you'll pass many old cabin sites and foundations. Some are conspicuously identified from afar by nonnative vegetation—eucalyptus, agaves, vinca, and so on—that might to a trained eye look totally out of place among the native flora. Some of the foundations are associated with old resorts that thrived here before the completion of Angeles Crest Highway in the 1930s.

The Forest Service maintains several pleasant trailside rest stops: Teddy's Outpost Picnic Area at 1.9 miles, Gould Mesa Campground at 2.4 miles, Nino Picnic Area at 3.0 miles, Paul Little Picnic Area at 4.0 miles, and Oakwilde Campground at 5.0 miles. Just beyond Paul Little Picnic Area, the trail abruptly climbs the east wall of the canyon and later descends in a bypass maneuver around the large Brown Canyon Debris Dam. Otherwise, the trail is in or near the canyon bottom at all times.

Oakwilde Campground, which occupies the foundation remnants of the former Oak Wilde resort, is a great place for a picnic—as long as the warm-season gnats leave you alone. Head back on the same route when you're ready.

Up-canyon from Oakwilde Campground, you can press on farther into perhaps the most gorgeous section of the Arroyo Seco canyon—a "narrows" flanked by soaring walls and dappled with shade cast by ever-present alders. Bigleaf maples put on a great show here in November, their bright yellow leaves boldly contrasting with the earthy greens, grays, and browns of the canyon's dimly lit bottom. This is a fun section for hikers, and quite technical for mountain bikers.

Although the lowermost (Pasadena) segment of the Gabrielino Trail is closed at night, there's 24-hour access to the middle stretch of the arroyo (on national forest land) by way of a service road that descends from Angeles Crest Highway in La Cañada to Gould Mesa Campground.


Article © Wilderness Press. All rights reserved.


Published: 4 Oct 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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