Places to Visit: the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and the Bridge to Nowhere
August 22, 2012 § 4 Comments
Last week, a friend and I took a really great hike up the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to the Bridge to Nowhere. It’s an excellent local day hike (9.5 miles round trip) that I highly recommend, though it’s probably best done during cooler seasons – say between late September and early June.
Typically at Creek Freak, I’ve focused on more urban stuff – creeks you can walk or bike or take transit to easily, embedded in L.A. neighborhoods. The East Fork of the San Gabriel River is very close, but not quite in the middle of the city.
There are a few dams on the San Gabriel, but the East Fork is above them, hence it’s a good place to see what Southhern California creeks do when we let them be themselves. The river, mostly 2-3 feet deep at this time of year (a bit deeper in the spring – and, of course, don’t go there when it’s actually raining), meanders through rocky canyons, with plenty of oaks and sycamores.
I’ve biked there from the end of the Metro Gold Line, back when I was in better shape. The trail head is about 25 miles from the Sierra Madre station. It’s uphill getting there, but you’ll appreciate the downhill coming back after a long hike. To get there, bike east until you hit the San Gabriel River, then take a left on the river bike path and head uphill. Continue up the 39 – San Gabriel Canyon Road. At the T-intersection where the river forks, turn right to cross the bridge and go to the end of the paved road.
If you’re driving (which we did last week) exit the 210 Freeway at the 39 – which is Azusa Avenue/San Gabriel River Drive. Go north on the 39 into the Foothills. Purchase a parking pass at the ranger station. Turn right where the river forks, and go all the way to where the 39 ends in a parking lot.
WHERE TO HIKE:
From the parking lot, walk uphill. Initially it’s a dirt road (if you’re bicycling, bike to the end of the dirt road and lock there.) Then it narrows down to a hiking trail. The trail is well-established and well-maintained. As you ascend, you cross the river at least a half-dozen times, so I like to do it in shoes/sandals that I can get wet. It’s faster to keep to the trail, but I enjoy doing a lot of the way hopping from rock to rock on the creek itself.
About 4 miles in, the trail ascends up along the hillside on the right to avoid a narrows area. Once you go up that hillside, the trail turns right and you come across the bridge to nowhere.
All along there are pools of water to cool off in. There’s a fair amount of folks camping along the lower portions of the trail, which can sometimes mean a bit of trash and pollution, so I recommend dipping in closer to the bridge where the water is clear and clean.
HISTORY OF THE BRIDGE:
In the 1930s a highway was built up this canyon – to extend the 39 over the San Gabriel Mountains and into the desert. The major floods of 1938 washed out the highway. Though it feels like wilderness, there are a few places along the hike where you can spot highway ruins, including pier walls, asphalt road bed… and… four miles in… a pretty nice 1936 concrete bridge, with a graceful arch spanning the narrows.
It’s not the most amazing historic bridge in L.A., but it’s handsome. It’s a good punctuation-destination for a nice long hike. Here’s a drawing I did of it last week: (more of my art here)
Recommended Reading: the book I go to for wilderness hikes in Southern California is Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County by Jerry Schad, published by Wilderness Press.