It often blows my mind that something like this can be found just 30 minutes from the heart of Los Angeles!
On top of that, it’s only a 4-mile round-trip hike on a trail so easy, it suits “non-hikers and hikers who are drunk,” according to the wise friend who’d invited us. Not that any of us would be drunk at 10 in the morning… and not that Blue Moon in a can counts as a drink…
Fish Canyon Falls is one of the hidden wonders of the San Gabriel Mountains, and its access is so limited that most people have never heard of it.
Every year, Vulcan Materials (the mining company that owns the land at the trailhead) gives access to the Fish Canyon trail a couple Saturdays a month in the spring and summer. You simply pick a date on their calendar and show up in their parking lot. They shuttle all the weekend hikers up to their property, where a quick 10-minute walk up the path suddenly makes you forget you were just dropped off at a rock quarry.
The narrow trail takes you along Fish Creek in the Angeles National Forest. It’s fascinating how such a short hike can take you through such diverse landscapes, from scrubby canyons full of cactus and yucca to shady paths lined with live oaks and California bays. (I couldn’t help but do a little “grocery shopping” on the trail by plucking a few branches of bay leaves to dry at home!)
In spite of such a dry winter, spring wildflowers were in full bloom… a mix of thistle, mustard, mountain lilac, golden yarrow, many more I can’t name, and a barrel of beautiful desert sunflowers.
The trail also passes the remnants of some early-1900s cabins that were destroyed by fire in the 1960s. I was a little taken aback when I spotted several jade trees flourishing in the canyon; they seemed so out of place in the wild. Then I realized they all surrounded the old walkways to the cabins, and I pictured those bygone homesteaders in their little gardens, tending to their jade trees. It’s so neat to think about the places where people used to settle, and how they must have lived back then.
After a leisurely 2-mile hike, the first cascade comes into view — a small waterfall from which adventurous hikers jump off a 15-foot cliff.
A few more steps, and the real gem of the hike appears — a three-tiered waterfall roaring down an 80-foot cliff into a deep pool.
The water felt amazing after a hot hike, but the pure snowmelt was so icy, you either had to jump in or not at all. There was no point in torturing yourself by wading in!
Fish Canyon Falls is not a remote hike by any means. It’s not the kind of hike you do when you want to get away from it all. It’s a very busy trail on Saturdays with shuttle loads of hikers (and their kids and their dogs) tailgating the whole way. But I have to say that was one of the things I loved about the hike. It felt like the quintessential hot summer day in LA, with happy people picnicking and splashing around and enjoying a lazy afternoon outside.
If you do want some solitude, go on a weekday when the shuttles aren’t running. There’s a different trail to the falls on public land via Van Tassel Ridge, but it’s supposed to be gnarly. It turns a pleasant, semi-shady, 4-mile stroll with only 900 feet of elevation gain into a strenuous, southern-exposed, 9-mile hike with 3,200 feet of elevation gain. I’d rather not bushwhack through poison oak to attempt it… but what I might attempt someday is the trail in the creek itself.
I saw a couple of hikers in wetsuits wading and boulder-hopping through Fish Creek, all by themselves, while hikers above on the actual trail moseyed along in single file. It seemed like the perfect compromise between ease and peace… and not a bad way to cool down before you reach the waterfall.