Tag Archives: Angeles National Forest

Camping at Valley Forge Trail Camp

Headed out for another weekend of camping Saturday morning. A small group and I were off to Valley Forge Trail Camp. I had never been here before and I believe it was closed for a while due to the Station Fire closure. I had been wanting to check this place out ever since I heard this part of the Angeles National Forest was reopened. The trailhead we started at was called Red Box which is right across the way from the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center which, naturally, we had to check out.

They had a cool primitive fire starter on display as well as some other artifacts and items for sale. I never even knew this place even existed so that was a neat surprise to start the trip off with.

Next it was onto the trail. The trailhead is clearly marked with a wooden sign and the trail starts right next to it and descends down some stone steps.

The first quarter mile or so of the trail descends quickly and then kind of levels out in a wooded gully. It was not long on the trail until we came across some old machinery of some sort buried in some foliage. It looked kinda cool.

A little further in we came across clusters of ladybugs on a plant near a creek crossing.

The trail we were on was part of the Gabrielino National Recreation Trail and was already proving to be a beautiful hike. After a little less than mile we came across a sign which told us we were only 1.5 miles away from the camp.

We kept hiking and enjoying the scenery. Parts of the trail followed near a creak bed which was dry in some locations. This made us wonder if we’d find water near camp.

I’d say about after 2 miles on the trail we came to a cabin site where there were ruins of an old cabin but also an new and nicely maintained cabin. There was also an old propane tank, water well, and storage shed.

Not sure what the place was called but we checked it out and then continued on towards camp.

When we got to the campsite we found the creek running strong and no one else around. It was a fairly large campsite so we explored all the areas to find the best place to set up camp. There was even a bridge towards the back of the camp you could cross to get to more campsites, however these sites we in a bit of disrepair.

We settled on a spot with a good fire pit, nicely arranged sittin’ logs, and flat grassy areas for our tents. Before setting up we busted out some celebratory beers.

It wasn’t long after we got to camp when the weather took a nasty little turn. We got some strong gusts of cold wind and a little bit of rain thrown on us. We took that as a motivator to get our tents set up ASAP. As we were setting everything up it started raining on us quite regularly but we were able to get everything set up and out of the rain. To pass the time we took cover under one of the bathroom’s porches, had a beer, and waited for the rain to pass.

We probably had to wait about 45 minutes until the rain finally stopped. We decided to quickly start gathering fire wood in case the rain decided to come back. Luckily we were able to find a good amount of wood that was still dry and before long we had a nice fire going.

After the rain had passed the skies turned clear again and the threat of rain quickly disappeared. This made me happy since we were able to actually hang out and enjoy our campsite and not hide out in our tents or on the bathroom patio.

The skies stayed clear into the night and we had a nice time hanging out around our campfire.  The temperature dropped down enough while we were sleeping to freeze some of the condensation on our tents, however it didn’t feel that cold to me. When we awoke and finally crawled out of our tents it was your typical cold and crisp forest morning.

The hike out was quite pleasant with everything still wet with the shower from the day before.

The trail back had a gradual elevation gain since we were climbing slowly out of a canyon, but nothing too bad. The last 1/4 mile started ascending more steeply and was a little more difficult but not very long. We finally were back at the steps that led up to the parking lot.

The entire trip was about 5.5 miles roundtrip making the hike to and from the campsite about only 2.25 miles. I really enjoyed this trail and the camp; I’d love to come back with a bigger group of people someday.

Lewis Falls & Crystal Lake

Monday I headed up highway 39 with a group of friends for a short hike to Lewis Falls.  I had recently read about this hike on Modern Hiker and thought it would be good for us to do since we didn’t have a lot of time.  When we arrived at the trailhead we noticed a large boulder in the middle of the road and other large rocks and debris that had fallen down near where you were supposed to park.  We took this as a warning to park our vehicles a little further down the road.  The last thing I want when I return from a hike is a smashed car.

The trail was nice and pretty easy to follow for the first half.  It followed a creek and passed by some old cabins.  Some of the cabins looked in good repair and some were in ruins.

When we started to lose track of the trail we just kept following the creek upstream. There were some areas where we had to climb up rocks and cross the stream on a large fallen log which was kind of fun.

When we arrived at the falls we discovered a grip of folks there which explained all the cars at the trailhead. We hung around the falls for a bit and then quickly made our way back out.  This was definitely a short hike.

Since the hike took less time than we thought we decided to hop in our vehicles and drive a little further up the 39 and hike to Crystal Lake.  We found a spot to squeeze into and park and took another short hike to the lake.

The water level in the lake seemed low but there were still a lot of people there hanging out around the shore and I even saw a couple people fishing. It was the first time I had been to the lake and I felt like it would be a cool spot to kick back with a few brewskis, but it might be better to come around springtime when the lake is fuller.

Be sure to check out http://crystallake.name for updates and info about the Crystal Lake area if you plan on visiting.

Smith Mountain via Bear Creek Trail

Saturday we headed up highway 39 out of Azusa to the Bear Creek Trailhead for a quick day hike up Smith Mountain.  We got to the trailhead around 7:20am and although it was still early we could already tell it was going to be a warm day.

We headed up the Bear Creek Trail from the highway and started sweating immediately!

Despite the heat we were getting great views of the morning sun coming onto the mountains as we climbed higher on the trail.  It was really nice to be out in the mountains that early in the morning.

After huffing and sweating up the almost all incline trail we made it to Smith Saddle. Here the climb to the summit of Smith Mountain really starts to get hard. The trail practically goes straight up.

Now I guess I kind of underestimated this mountain since you can’t see the actual summit from the saddle.

So when I finally climbed to what I thought the summit was, I saw in the distance a higher point. So I climbed some more and when I got to that point I finally was able to see the actual summit. The last 500ft to the summit was a fairly easy walk through brush and rocks.

Summit views proved worth it however I slightly wished I was still down under all the cool cloud cover I could see below.

The summit register was tucked in a bush behind the rock with the USGS marker on it.

I was pretty hot and tired on top of that mountain so I quickly signed the register and got down as fast as I could without slipping and killing myself on all the loose dirt.

I wasn’t able to track this trip on GPS since technology wasn’t liking me that day but the milage is supposed to be about 7 miles round trip. It took us about 6 hours from start to finish.

Timber Mountain via Icehouse Canyon

I had been wanting to hike up Icehouse Canyon for a while now and finally made it out there on Saturday. I had never been there before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Upon reaching the parking area around 9am I found that we should’ve showed up a lot earlier because there was no place to park! We had to park down the road and hike up to the trailhead; oh well, extra mileage!

It was pretty much all incline from the very start of this trail. The beginning of the trail was really nice though; there were lots of trees that provided shade and a cool looking creek that flowed beside it. There was also a bunch of cabins along the start of the trail; some looked habitable and others looked like they had seen better days.

Eventually the shade of the trees started to thin out and we were more exposed to the sun. It was a lot hotter than I expected it to be up in the mountains.

When we made it to Icehouse Saddle we found a nice spot in to sit down and have lunch. There were a lot of people hanging out up there.

After a short break we decided to go ahead and hike up to Timber Mountain which was just under a mile away.

On the way up to the peak we saw some “snow flowers,” or Sarcodes sanguinea if you wanna be technical. I had never seen these plants before this year; they look really strange popping out of the ground like they do.

Once at the summit we took another break to soak in the view and have a beer.

Apparently if we had brought bottles the summit register was appropriately equiped with a bottle opener. How convenient!

We all signed the register and made our way back down. The trail was pretty much all downhill from there.

When we got back down into Icehouse Canyon we started spotting clusters of ladybugs on some of the plants. I’m not sure why this was happening but it looked cool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many ladybugs all in one place out in the wild before.

I’ll probably go back out to Icehouse Canyon again in the future to go backpacking and stay at Kelly’s Camp or Cedar Glen. It was a really nice area; a lot of people though.

Switzer Falls and the Bear Canyon Trail

Upon hearing that CalTrans just reopened the Angeles Crest Highway on Friday, it just made sense to go check it out. We stopped at the first major parking area which happens to be the Switzer Falls picnic area and trailhead. The parking lot was full when we stopped but we were lucky enough to get a spot from someone who was leaving. The road down to the actual picnic area was still closed, so we had to walk down the road from the highway (that part sucks coming back).

I hadn’t been to this area in years due to the various closures and was excited to be back. It looked like the Forest Service had made some recent improvements to the area including new stairways, picnic tables, and bathrooms. I’m not sure if they were damaged by the fire or if it was just time for an upgrade.

We decided to do a little exploring and went off the beaten path to a cool overlook where we were at the top of a waterfall.

After the detour we got back on the main trail that takes you up to the Switzer Falls lookout, however there was barely any water coming down the falls. While we were at the lookout some forest rangers and volunteer trail builders were on their way out. They had just finished clearing the trail that goes down to Bear Canyon, but they said past that the Bear Canyon Trail gets bad.

Of course we decided to go for it. The part of the trail that had just been cleared was really nice; we got down to the trail junction in no time.

Once we got onto the Bear Canyon Trail we could definitely tell the rangers were not lying about the condition of the trail. There were many parts where we had to bushwhack our way through and there were many stream crossings.

It was worth it though; there was no one else down in the canyon with us and the scenery was amazing. As we got further down the trail we kept coming across awesome pools of water. I could only imagine coming here on a hot summer day; it would be pretty nice.

The trail was virtually non-existent in some places as we pushed on, but it made for a fun adventure down into an area that looked like no one had been in a while.

Eventually we came to an area where a huge downed tree laid across the trail and there was a thick growth of bushes where the trail once was.  At this point we decided to turn back and kick back at a cool spot we had found earlier. Snacks and beers on a mini peninsula next to a waterfall I will classify as a succes.

We had been hoping to find the Bear Canyon Trail Camp but failed to do so. I’m not sure if we might have passed it or if it was further up the trail. I am probably going to go back some day to try and find it; I think it would be an awesome spot to camp. Below is the roundtrip track of our hike.

Hiking the PCT to Blue Ridge via Inspiration Point

On Sunday we hit a section of the PCT that passes through Inspiration Point off the Angeles Crest Highway. I figured the hike from there to blue ridge would make for a nice day hike.

From the very start of the hike you get great views of the surrounding mountains: Blady, Iron, Badden-Powel, ect.  But as you go down the trail you also get views at the back side of the Mountain High Ski Area.

The trail traversed through brush and exposed areas, but also passed through shaded areas with trees.  There were even some patches of snow still on some parts of the trail.

When we got to Blue Ridge there was a great view of Mount Baldy, however there was a cloud hanging around it’s summit most of the time we were there.  Still, it was a nice area to stop, have a snack, and take in the views.

On the way back we took some of the Blue Ridge Truck Trail (3N06) and passed through the Blue Ridge Campsite which seemed pretty nice.  All together the hike was about 7 miles round trip.  You can see the route in the map below.

Backpacking the Upper Bear Creek Trail

The trailhead for this trail is off the newly re-opened portion of Highway 39 at mile marker 32. The trailhead is pretty easy to spot on the side of the road.  There is a parking lot with some signs and a bathroom.

Almost from the very start of the trail you are pretty much constantly climbing up towards Smith Saddle.  This part of the trail is nicely maintained but some areas are kind of steep.

After about 3 miles you make it to Smith Saddle where you can get a close up view of Smith Mountain.  The trail to the peak is just straight up.  There were some day hikers at the saddle that were getting ready to make their final push to the summit.  We, on the other hand, continued down the other side of the saddle to make our way to trail camp.

Almost right after the saddle you cross the wilderness boundary.  As the trail winds it’s way down you get great views of the mountains beyond.

Some parts of the trail going down were washed out and in disrepair, however you could still negotiate these areas with a little caution.

Once we got down to where trail camp was supposed to be we found that the whole area had been overgrown.  There was also lots of poison-oak all around.

We ventured up and down the stream to see if we could find any other clearings but to no avail.  We ended up squeezing our tents in on the banks of the stream in between rocks and plants.

It ended up working out alright and in a short time we had a pretty decent camp set up. When the sun started to go down we made some dinner and kicked back at our little camp spot we had set up. Later that night while I was wondering around in the dark I noticed this little caterpillar munching away on some leaves.  I could actually hear him munching, which I thought was kinda cool.

As I was checking out the caterpillar this millipede came cruising by outta nowhere and kinda caught me off guard, but it was kinda cool to check out as well.  I tried to pick it up but it wrapped up into a little ball,  I guess that’s it’s defense mechanism.

During the night I started hearing rain drops on my tent.  I thought it was probably just a passing sprinkle, but I was wrong.  In the morning we awoke to it still raining outside and our whole camp was wet.  We ate a really small, quick breakfast, packed up, and headed out.

Hiking through the rain wasn’t that bad, it was actually kinda cool.  It gave the trail we saw just yesterday a whole new appearance.

The clouds drifting through the surrounding mountains was also awesome to look at.

Once we made it back up to Smith Saddle we were out of the rain. You really get a great view from the saddle.

The last few miles from the saddle were pretty much all downhill with no more rain. We were back to the trailhead in no time.

I had never been on the Bear Creek Trail before but it was a great little piece of the San Gabriel Wilderness. The trip was about 12 miles all together; the perfect distance for a quick weekend backpacking trip. Below is a map of the route we took, the milage is only one way.