Places to Visit: Lower Arroyo Seco in Pasadena

November 22, 2009 § 7 Comments

Midstream in the Arroyo Seco

When some of the Swedish visitors were here for their The Fifth Ecology: Los Angeles Beyond Desire exhibit, we planned to go for a hike to Millard Canyon Falls, above Pasadena. Unfortunately the area was closed, likely due to the recent fires. We instead ended up taking a hike along the Lower Arroyo Seco in Pasadena. The lower Arroyo is a very popular, very pleasant site.

We parked the Swedes’ rental car at the southern end of the massive Rose Bowl parking lots, near the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. A portion of the parking area was recently retrofitted to detain and infiltrate stormwater. A handful of parking spaces were removed to create a few oases of native plants. Here’s what it looks like:

Parking Lot Infiltration Area with Native Vegetation

and here’s a helpful sign explaining the project:

Parking Lot Signage about Improving Water Quality and Enhancing Habitat

(It’s all pretty nice… for a parking lot… but loyal readers can probably guess that this creek freak is not all that into parking lots. What I would like to see in this area is enhanced Rose Bowl access via bike and transit… allowing for much less parking needed… then ripping out some big chunks of that parking to make way for a re-naturalized Arroyo Seco streambed. Someday.)

Walking into the Lower Arroyo Seco Nature Park

We crossed Arroyo Boulevard, turned left, and walked downstream. We crossed below the Holly Street bridge and entered the Lower Arroyo Seco Nature Park. The park has a very pleasant walking paths with plenty of mature sycamores trees overhanging. This time of year, the site is particularly green and lush. Note that the park can also have poison oak. We didn’t encounter any this trip, but I’ve seen it there before. If you’re unfamiliar with poison oak, I recommend that you stick to the established trails.

For a short stretch here, about a quarter mile upstream from Colorado Boulevard, the bed of the Arroyo Seco is not channelized in concrete. It’s a nice meandering streambed.

This is the area where the city of Pasadena and the Arroyo Seco Foundation collaborated on a project to restore the arroyo chub – a small native fish species that is threatened.

We continued walking downstream. Below the magnificent historic Colorado Street Bridge, the Arroyo Seco is again channelized in concrete. In this area there’s a wetlands restoration project that was built in 1997. Water from the main stem of the Arroyo is shunted into parallel side streams, now dense with vegetation. These side-streams continue for about a half-mile below the Colorado Bridge.

There are plenty of wonderful historic bridges on this walk. I am pretty sure it’s the largest local concentration of historic bridges other than in Downtown Los Angeles. These include: the Linda Vista Bridge (now Holly Street) – 1925, the Colorado Street Bridge (now Colorado Boulevard) – 1913, the Loma Road Bridge – 1914, and the San Rafael Avenue Bridge – 1922.

We walked along the channel for about two miles. Though the stream is contained in the concrete channel, the surrounding area is a nice deep canyon – which is a bit unusual for Southern California creeks which tended to spread out into broad alluvial washes. The area is very popular for hikers, joggers, and folks walking their dogs.

Checking out the Busch Gardens' remains below San Rafael

We crossed to the opposite bank at the pedestrian bridge just below San Rafael Avenue – right where San Rafael Creek enters from the west. Locals there told us about the remains of Busch Gardens – an early amusement park that was located on the east bank of the Arroyo above and below San Rafael. Stonework adorned pathway remnants of the park are still visible on the hillsides.

The lower Arroyo Seco is an excellent site to visit and explore today… and a site that shows a lot of potential for greater restoration in the future.

(Notes: Another version of this walk appears on pages 160-163 in my book Down by the Los Angeles River published in 2005 by Wilderness Press and available at bookstores, libraries and on-line. Thanks to My Wårhagen for taking the photos.)

Walking upstream near the 134 Freeway Bridge


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§ 7 Responses to Places to Visit: Lower Arroyo Seco in Pasadena

  • Awhile back I saw a wonderful show about Bush Gardens at the California History Museum. If you’ve not visited you should. It has a great bookstore (to sell your book) and discover the past shows dealing with local history (Orange Crate Art, Mt Lowe Railway etc).

    It’s across the street from the Green and Green on Orange Grove

  • That’s a favorite walk of mine, too. It’s kind of amazing things can be so sylvan under a freeway. They did a good job.

  • tim2kirk says:

    That’s wild. Briar and I were walking a little further north — at the Hahamonga Watershed Basin. Worth a look — the flood control stuff is fun, the earth has definitely taken back a good deal of this area, and the Devil’s Gate Dam is funky (with a bridge built upon part of it.)

  • Joyce Amaro says:

    I was just looking for a great, simple day hike, Joe! Thanks for the perfect recommendation.

  • frida magnusson says:

    Thank you Joe, for recalling beatiful memories!

  • Tabitha Harkin says:

    Hi Jessica! Great blog!
    If anyone is interested in more Arroyo hikes, the City of Pasadena has put out a great trails guide for the whole Arroyo with lots of info on watershed connections and habitat. They’re available at all City libraries and City hall, online at: (go to Public Works>> Arroyo Seco News) or by contacting City of Pasadena Parks & Natural Resources: (626) 744-4321
    Happy Hiking, biking and riding!

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