A Tale of Two Hikes: Getting to Fish Canyon Falls in the Foothills The Easy Way

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Photo by David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in L.A.
By David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in L.A. / Special to LAist

It is the best of hikes; it is the worst of hikes.

Fish Canyon Falls, located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains above Azusa, has one of the more interesting and colorful histories among Southern California hiking destinations. While the impressive 90-foot waterfall, with its distinctive multiple tiers, is a must-see, Fish Canyon Falls is equally known for the hellacious hike required to get there.

The Azusa Rock Project, a quarry, owns the land that used to lead up the bottom of the canyon to the waterfall. To bypass it, a trail was created—one of the most infamous in all of Southern California. The trail, which climbs 1,400 feet and then drops 1,100 feet back into the canyon, has been described as being “only for die-hards willing to endure the absurd” and “best left to…those training for a trek in Nepal.”

However, the Azusa Rock Project offers access to the canyon through their quarry on Saturday mornings. In 2012, the first Saturday when these shuttles run is April 14th, starting at 7 am. From the parking lot, shuttles go to a trailhead at the mouth of the canyon, from which it is an easy, 1.6 mile hike to the waterfall. (Of course, gluttons for punishment are still welcome to try the longer, difficult route).

On the trail, a few interpretive plaques describe the history of the canyon, which was once a big vacation destination. At the waterfall itself, there are several rocks where you can sit and enjoy the sight. Fish Canyon Falls cascades down three levels, slightly angled from each other, and into a big pool, and then down a fourth level. You return via the same route.

Keep in mind that even the “easy” version of the hike has its challenges. The trail to Fish Canyon Falls crosses the creek several times, which can be difficult if the water level is high. There are also a few steep stretches and some places where the trail clings to the side of the canyon, not leaving much room. Due to the popularity of the Saturday hikes, there are likely to be many people, and the trail is narrow, so you will have company. Also remember to watch out for the poison oak, especially in the spring months.

However, most hikers will agree that (especially compared to the longer trail) these are small prices to pay to get to see one of Southern California’s best waterfalls. Newcomers will undoubtedly be amazed that this huge waterfall exists so close to L.A., and perhaps doing this hike will inspire further exploration of the San Gabriels. Veteran hikers will appreciate the chance to see the waterfall without having to endure the long, difficult approach (although some may want to do it the hard way just for the bragging rights.)

To get to the trailhead, take I-605 to its northern terminus, Huntington Drive. Turn right (east) on Huntington Drive, go 0.6 miles and turn left on Encanto Parkway. Go 2 miles to the quarry entrance and park in their big lot. Go here for more information about the shuttles to Fish Canyon Falls.

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