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Nature, History and Adventure: Hike On The Bridge To Nowhere

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

It seems like something out of a movie. Deep in the Angeles National Forest, high above the San Gabriel River's east fork, a stone arch bridge stands sentinel, the only sign of civilization or human presence to be seen. Seeing a picture of the Bridge to Nowhere, one might assume it is located somewhere in a remote South American jungle, or perhaps high in the Canadian Rockies. Yet this architectural oddity is right here in Southern California, about an hour's drive from downtown Los Angeles.

How exactly is it that a bridge winds up stranded in the mountains? It was originally completed in 1936 as part of a plan to link the foothill community of Azusa with the mountain town of Wrightwood. However, flooding in 1938 wiped out the road to and from the bridge. Amazingly, however, the span itself withstood the storm and has survived, almost entirely intact, for three quarters of a century.

Under the jurisdiction of the Angeles National Forest, the Bridge to Nowhere is a popular destination among hikers, and perhaps even more so with bungee jumpers. Although the actual climbing is minimal - the elevation gain of 1,000 feet is spread out over nearly five miles - the hike is a challenging one, due to the rugged terrain. Don't expect to keep your feet dry (although, in the middle of summer heat, many hikers might welcome a little bit of water).

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In addition to the physical challenges of the hike, expect a big crowd at the trailhead, especially on weekends. You must also remember to bring your Adventure Pass, which can be purchased online or at any number of stores in Azusa (as well as sports equipment retailers throughout L.A. such as Big 5). A free Sheep Mountain Wilderness permit, available at the trailhead, is also required.

After leaving Heaton Flats, the first half mile is easy, as the trail follows an old road bed. Soon, however, you may find yourself having to climb up and down the banks, crossing the river and scrambling through bushes. The exact route you take might vary depending on the conditions, but however you go, your direction will be the same: up the canyon. As you head north, the views become more and more dramatic, as the walls rise up nearly a mile on both sides. You may even notice some prospectors panning for gold - although the average take is said to be only about five dollars for every hour of labor.

At a little more than two miles, you'll pass Swan Rock, named for a naturally occurring mark that resembles a swan. A flimsy-looking, but sturdy, footbridge marks the entrance to the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. You continue north through a wide flood-plain, and after making your way back up to the east side of the canyon, you will arrive at an old road bed. You begin the only significant ascent on the trip, and finally you arrive at the Bridge to Nowhere.

Here, from the top, you get a dramatic view both below, into the deep gorge, and above, up to Rattlesnake Peak and Iron Mountain, on the sides of the canyon. Truly brave hikers can venture beyond the Bridge through an area called the Narrows, but for most, this is a good turnaround point.

To get to the Bridge to Nowhere, take Highway 39 from Azusa, north for 12 miles. Turn right on East Fork Road (the first major intersection once you're in the mountains) and go six miles. The road makes a hairpin turn to the right, but you'll head left, over a bridge, and up to the Heaton Flats parking area. (If the lot is packed, you may have to park farther down the street). Remember your Adventure Pass.

For more information on the Bridge to Nowhere hike, click here.

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