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Northern California Hikes:

  • Yosemite Valley to Half Dome

  • Southern California Hike Descriptions are on this page and photos are through the links:

  • Hike Desc:Eaton Canyon Nature Hike Desc Hike Photos:Eaton Canyon Nature Hike Photos
  • Hike Desc:Henninger Flats Hike Desc Hike Photos:Henninger Flats Hike Photos
  • Hike Desc:Switzer Canyon and Bear Canyon Hike Desc Hike Photos:Towards Tom Sloan Saddle , Return To Switzer Canyon
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    Below is a log of a hike at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center.

    Note: Photos from this hike can be viewed at Eaton Canyon Nature Hike Photos

    The Eaton Canyon Natural Area is located at 1750 N. Altadena Drive Pasadena, CA 91107 (626) 398-5420 www.ecnca.org. The nature area is at the base of Mt. Wilson along the southern end of the San Gabriel Mountains. From the I-210 East, take Altadena Drive north 1.6 miles just past New York Drive on the right hand side. The park is open from dawn until dusk while the office and gift shop are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    The park is approximately 190 acres. Having been completely destroyed by the October 1993 fire, the Eaton Canyon nature Center was reopened in November 1998. Visitors can see Coast Live Oaks, Acorn Woodpeckers, Western Fence Lizards, Scrub Jays, Tarantula Hawks, Cottontail Rabbits, Redtailed Hawks, Rattlesnakes and Great Horned Owls.

    The Eaton Canyon Nature Center(elevation 960 ft.) is about 1.1 miles from the Henninger Flats Toll Road Bridge(elevation 1250 ft.). It is about 1.5 miles from the Eaton Canyon Waterfalls. Henninger Flats(elevation 2,600 ft.) is about 3.7 miles from the Nature Center. Mount Wilson(elevation 5,710 ft.) is a little over 10 miles from the Nature Center.

    The morning of Feb 2, 2003 we took our son on his first hike at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center. It was a warm day for winter but the workers at the Nature Center said it was still cold enough that the rattlesnakes were hibernating. We did the Junior Nature Trail Hike which was developed for kids in memory of Mary Shannon.

    Stop 1 on the hike was at a medium size pond. We didn't see any tadpoles but they are in the pond throughout the year. They turn into frogs and toads that live throughout the canyon. There is a Sycamore tree near the pond and plenty of birds making noise. The Laurel Sumac Plant was our second stop. There was also some California Sagebrush near by. The documentation on the hike says that cowboys used to rub California Sagebrush on their clothes to make them smell better before going into town after weeks of working with cattle. The Nature Center Guide goes on to say that this is how California Sagebrush got the nickname of cowboy cologne. A large oak tree was Stop 3 on the hike. The Coast Live Oak Tree is called live because it keeps its leaves all year long. The thick bark helped the tree survive the October 1993 fire. The tree had acorns all over the place. It is said that poison oak grows around oak trees so we were on the lookout for the itchy plant, trying to avoid it at all costs. The next stop was the Prickly Pear Cactus which is said to have yellow flowers in the spring. Part of Stop 5 included a large Sycamore tree which is said to be used by hummingbirds. Stop 6 of the hike shows the types of rocks in Eaton Canyon. We looked for footprints at Stop 7. Unfortunately we didn't see a whole lot but there are supposed to be a lot of California Ground Squirrels and Cottontail Rabbits in hte area. We saw the Scale Broom plant at Stop 8. Stop 9 allowed us to compare the White Sage on the left to the Black Sage on the right. The mountains can be seen from throughout the canyon. We made a conscious effort to pause at Stop 10 and enjoy the view. One nice thing about the winter weather in the Los Angeles basin is that the smog isn't as bad as in the summer. We were able to enjoy a clear view with blue skies. Stop 11 marked the end of our hike. The stop had a Coffeberry bush. Deer and coyotes are known to eat the Coffeeberry berries. In summary, the hike was extremely short. If you want to try a longer hike then see my notes on this page regarding the Henninger Flats hike.
    Below is a log of a hike to Henninger Flats.

    Note: Photos from this hike can be viewed at Henninger Flats Hike Photos

    This hike is actually number 26 in the John Robinson book, Trails Of The Angeles. We have a nice review of this book which can be read by going to our Review of Trails of the Angeles page.

    I left for my friend Juan's house at 9:45am on the morning of Saturday, November 30th 2002. It had been raining the night before but that morning the skies were relatively clear and the rain from the previous day had flushed the smog out of the area. Arriving at Juan's house at 10:30, we quickly drove to the trail head in Altadena near the Balian House and started the hike from upper Eaton Canyon at about 11:00am. We made good time down the trail, across the bridge and up the trail. Stopping for our first water break after about 20 minutes, we had alrady made a substantial elevation gain. Because the skies were clear we could see the buildings in Downtown L.A. and other landmarks. Upon reaching the second water break, the Santa Anita Racetrack was clearly visible to the east. The trail was unusually crowded and most of the people were friendly, saying "hi" when passing by. We reached the Henninger Flats Sign in a little over an hour and we were somewhat tired. The hike is not long distance wise(about 2.6 miles), but it can be tired because the entire hike is uphill after crossing the bridge. It is not easy to gain a few thousand feet but the view is well worth it.

    Upon reaching the top, we ate our Turkey sandwiches and drank more water. Next I put on my jacket because the cold started to set in once I stopped moving around. We went inside the Visitor Center to learn more about the area. Even though there were many other people up there, I was the first to sign the log. The Visitor Center has literature that tells about the LA Fire Department's forestry nursery at Henninger Flats. The complete Eaton Canyon watershed is shown in maps. The literature explains that Henninger Flats was created by a large landslide about 12,000 years ago. It also explains that Henninger Flats is about one third of the way up to Mount Wilson(I've done the Mout Wilson hike but that was a long time ago and it is another story). The mammal skull case in the Visitor Center educates hikers on the types of animals in the area. Among the carnivores are bobcats, mountain lions, weasels, badgers and foxes. Among the omnivores are raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and black bears. The bird study explains that some birds can only be seen during migratory periods. The rattlesnake display has a startling photograph of a human hand after a snake bite. Turning purple and bubbly, the hand is hardly recognizable. There are many different rattlesnakes in the mountains around Henninger Flats. They hibernate in the winter so we weren't especially nervous about them on this hike.

    The Visitor Center explains that camping is allowed at Henninger Flats but fires are not permitted. I stayed the night up there on a separate trip and it was a pleasant experience. The Visitor Center has a soda machine but it only takes quarters and there wasn't a change machine. We weren't too woried about missing out on the soda since there is a water fountain right outside. Henninger Flats has many points of interest like the old miner's cabin and the nursery. Tours of the nursery are available but we didn't take one on this hike. The lookout tower outside the Visitor Center is neat as there is an impressive view of Pasadena below. The Vistitor Center has information on the Mt. Lowe Railroad including videos.

    The early residents of the San Gabriels brought all types of bottles into the mountains. Bottle collectors have put together a display of the different types and it is now a part of the area history displayed in the Visitor Center. The rock and mineral samples educate visitors on the components of the San Gabriel Mountains.

    The history of Henninger Flats is well told in the Visitor Center. The name comes from William K. Henninger who moved to the area from Virginia around 1880. There are photographs of William and his family by their cabin. The historical display shows a quartz mining claim dated 1917. The raccoon and rattlesnake skin show that the miners were constantly interacting with nature. The old photographs from Henninger Flats and Mount Lowe are from the turn of the century. At this time the Mt. Lowe Incline Railroad took thousands of people to resort hotels in the mountains. At that time it cost 25 cents to walk up the Mt. Wilson Toll Road.

    The cone display in the Visitor Center shows different cones from the small Hemlock to the large Coulter pine. The Giant Sequoia which is the largest tree in the world comes from small seeds and cones. A California Redwood is on display. The tree was a sapling in 1215 A.D. making it about 750 years old when it was cut down. The rings can be hand counted. California Redwoods can live to be over 2,000 years old!

    The Indian Artifacts display shows the history of Native Americans in the area. The Spanish called the native people Gabrielinos after the San Gabriel Mission. They also named the mountains the San Gabriel Mountains.

    Juan and I walked around awhile before leaving the area. The trees were impressive, but a recent fire took out many of the trees in the northeast section of Henninger Flats. After about 10 minutes of hiking down we were hit hard with rain and hail. Fortunately we had both packed waterproof jackets but some of the other hikers and joggers were not as lucky. We were completely drenched by the time we got to the truck, but it was still a fun hike.

    Below is a log of a hike to Switzer Canyon and Bear Canyon.

    Note: Photos from this hike can be viewed at Switzer And Bear Canyons Hike Photos and Switzer And Bear Canyons RETURN Hike Photos

    I left for my friend Matt's place at 8:25am on the morning of Sunday, February 9, 2003. We made good time on the freeways as the traffic was not bad that morning. After driving about 10 miles up the Angeles Crest Freeway, we pulled over at the Ranger Station and purchased an adventure pass. Next we drove about 1/4 mile further to the Switzer Picnic Area entrance. We then turned down and drove to the parking area. The start of the hike took us down through the picnic area and across a bridge over the creek. It seemed like no time before we reached the Switzer trail which went up and out of the canyon on the right side. The trail is actually over a mile from where we parked but we didn't notice the distance beause we were going downhill.

    The trail rises up the mountain quickly and before we know it we were looking over huge cliffs. It was strange because they have fences over some of the cliffs but the worst cliffs of all were not fenced off. Soon we reached a fork in the trail, but my copy of the Trails Of The Angeles book said to take the left fork for our hike(our hike was a combination of hikes 17,18 and 33 in the book). It wasn't long before the trail came back down into the canyon and we were boulder hopping. We went up about 1/4 to a medium size waterfall and took some nice pictures.

    After taking in a nice view of the falls we went back downstream. It wasn't long before we were back where the Switzer Trail had dropped us into the canyon. We saw a water dog enjoying the pools as we continued hiking downstream. Finally, we saw the Little Bear Canyon creem merging into the canyon. A short distance past the Little Bear Canyon we hit Bear Canyon and followed the trail up the creek. At one point the canyon really opened up and we were able to see a great deal of sunlight. We reached the Bear Canyon campground and noticed that it appears to be a good place to stop overnight. There were plenty of flat places to pitch a tent along with numerous picnic tables and a fire pit. The camp was above the water (which probably lessens the impact of bugs in the summer months) yet close enough to the creek to easily retrieve water for cooking and meals(assuming that a filter was used).

    We continued up the canyon until we reached the old cabin ruins that were abandoned after a fire. After looking at the ruins we took the trail up out of the canyon to a nice viewpoing just short of Tom Sloan Saddle. Admiring the view, we stopped for lunch and quickly ate our sandwiches.

    We decided to head back towards the truck at 1:05pm after eating lunch. Keeping things interesting, we made a friendly bet on what time we would arrive back at the truck. I bet on 3:05pm and Matt bett on 4:00pm. In no time we were back at the ruins in the canyon. We continued to make good time as we quickly came back to the Bear Canyon Creek. A short time after passing Bear Canyon Creek, we missed the time saving trail and traveled one of the more difficult parts of the canyon by boulder hopping. At one point another hiker spotted us and yelled down stating that the trail was up above us. Once back on the trail we continued our adventure. It was interesting seeing previous landmarks on the way back down. We noticed that we often took different boulder hopping paths on the way down because our vantage point was different that the one on the way up.

    Eventually we came out of Bear Canyon and headed up the Switzer trail. When going uphill our fatigue started to set in and we moved slowly. Once the trail ended it seemed to take forever to do that last mile and we didn't end up getting to the truck until about 3:45pm.

    One thing we did not notice until pulling onto the 210 freeway was a Notice of Non-Compliance from the Forest Service. It had a time of 10:40am from Officer No 109158. Under remarks it said "Scratch Off & Mail D932078." This was strange because we had the date February 09, 2003 scratched off in our pass hanging on the rear view mirror.

    Overall the hike was a huge success. We went under ideal conditions. Onc nice thing about going in the winter was our comfort level with the lack of snakes. It is a well known fact that the rattlesnakes hibernate in the winter so we didn't worry about blindly stepping over leaves, branches and rocks. Another nice thing about going in February was that we didn't get too hot. Yet another benefit was that the trail did not get crowded and we hardly saw any people as we got further and further away from the Angeles Crest Highway. Angelinos are fortunate because the San Gabriel Mountains are a huge mountain range with all kinds of different terrain. In all, we hiked over 10 miles but we didn't notice the exercise because we were too busy taking in the scenery.

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