Aaron Flynn, descending Newcomb Pass toward Sturtevant trail.
The Gabrielino trail is a 28.5 mile path that lies in the canyons of the Angeles National Forest. Its spans from Alta Dena, California to Chantry Flat recreational area (just north of Arcadia, California). It was created in 1970 when several existing trails were renamed as a consequence of the National Trail System Act. The Forest Service announcement read as follows:
"This trail has been created for you - the city dweller - so that you might exchange, for a short time, the hectic scene of your urban life for the rugged beauty and freedom of adventure into the solitary wonderland of nature."
In 2009, over 160,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest were devoured by the Station Fire (one of the largest wild fires in the history of California). The fire's impact compromised the Gabrielino trail's integrity, leaving portions closed for nearly 8 years.
The national recreational trail is made of nearly 100% single track trail, with many sources of filterable water (during winter and spring) and travels through shaded and desolate canyons of the Angeles National Forest. Its terrain includes mostly defined class 1 trail, several creek crossings, and a few downed trees. It weaves through the lush, forested canyons of the Arroyo Seco and West Fork. All of these qualities make it an endurance runners dream trail and fortunately for us, it was recently reopened due to the fantastic trail work of Southern California's incredibly motivated mountain biking community.
The Arroyo Seco
Trail sign in Alta Dena marking the beginning of the Gabrielino trail in Alta Dena, California.
Sunday November 12th, 2017 -- After our plans of hosting a larger group run had dwindled down to two, Aaron and I arrived at the Windsor blvd trail head parking lot to start at 7:30 AM. We strolled North along the fire road at an easy pace mostly to catch up since the previous week's C2C2C
adventure. Within a couple of miles, the fire road gave way to single track and it was just too enjoyable to hold back.
The infamous Brown Mountain Forest Service Dam in the Arroyo seco.
By 8:10 AM, after staying within the lowest point of the canyon for 4 miles, we had made it to the Paul Little picnic area junction, and took the path to the right where we would climb roughly 100 feet to bypass the infamous Brown Mountain Forest Service Dam and land back in the Arroyo Seco. At this point we had already crossed the mostly calm creek around 8 times and this trend would persist.
Overlooking Bear Canyon
Bear Canyon with San Gabriel peak in its wake.
We made it to the Ken Burton Trail junction where we stayed along the canyon and just a mile later, we reached a confluence in the Arroyo Seco. We took the North Fork to begin a 1,300 foot climb toward Commodore Switzer Camp. From the highest point, we could see all of Bear Canyon and its surrounding peaks; the change of scenery was refreshing. We met an older couple following the path in the opposite direction. The woman stood quiet while the gentleman asked about conditions, noting that they had spent the night at Devore Campground. We assured him the trail was passable and he let out the most classic "OH BOY!" as he walked away. The reassurance of being nearly finished with their trek must have been extremely motivating, especially after backpacking 10 miles in a day on a trail he wasn't sure would get he and his wife safely back to civilization.
Switzer Picnic Area
8.5 mi | + 2552 | - 700 ft
Approaching the Switzer Picnic Area from just above Switzer Falls.
By 9:45 AM, we had reached Switzer picnic area and besides a couple of hills the grade was steady enough to maintain a strong jog for most of the ascent. We quickly passed the parking area to cross a bridge and return the fun single track. The now east facing canyon trail paralleled the Angeles Crest highway. Several miles later, we reached another false junction (ladybug Canyon rd?) but easily avoided falling off track by staying to the South side of the canyon (away from highway 2) and continuing our ascent toward Redbox Picnic Area.
14 miles | + 4600 ft | - 1168 ft
A lady bug orgy.
Aaron and I both brought water filters (Katadyn Befree, and the Vestergaard LifeStraw), and although we had passed a lot of stream water on the way up, we knew we that there was reliable water source at Red Box. I stopped in the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center for a Coke and some Knott's Cookies and within minutes we were back on the trail (located near the bathroom), descending the opposite side of Red Box Gap in the West Fork San Gabriel River.
Confusion near Devore
There is a fungus Among us.
Six miles and 2,600 feet of descent lead us past both Valley Forge and Kenyon-Devore trail junctions, and we earned a stay at West Fork campground. So far, our trek had included five different campsites with flowing water at each and we were now in a lush green forested landscape. I was beginning to understand both how good of a backpacking trail we were running through and, as the trail became more overgrown, how little research we did on an entire 2 mile section.
Two lost dudes, happy as ever.
Approaching Devore campground the path became increasingly vague; often presenting sections overgrown with ferns, tall grass, poison oak, and my absolute favorite STINGING NETTLE. We cautiously navigated the route and as our confidence started to fade I decided to use my GPS device to help us stay on track. To my dismay, I had failed to upload the route correctly. Fortunately, Aaron had a topo of the area on his phone. We quickly found our way and put my lack of preparedness behind us.
21 miles | +6,500 ft | -1168 ft
This sign really pulled through on inspiring me to give the rest of the trail a good effort. Thanks Herman.
As we climbed south from devore, the path crossed Rincon Red Box Road before finishing off with a few switchbacks and topping out at Newcomb Pass. The 1,200 foot hustle left us winded and relieved to know that were now sure there would be no more climbing. After taking a minute to admire the plaque commemorating a deceased Forest Service Volunteer, we made for Sturtevant Camp.
We knew we were almost finished and Landing on the classic Mount Wilson loop made it real. With each passing day hiker, the vision of my car and more importantly what was inside of it became clearer. A fresh room temperature beer was anxiously waiting to be imbibed and it had its beer goggles set on me. The remainder of the climb toward Chantry Flat would be a breeze (kind of).
Sunset on Register Ridge
Yep, we ACTUALLY made it for sunset mid-Register Ridge after a near 30 mile day and some Chipotle for lunch.
I drove along the mildly congested 210 freeway while Aaron was catching up on his phone, he abruptly turned his head asked if I'd like to go climb Mount Baldy with a friend. We turned the car around and made for Manker Flat...The END.
Where we started: 898 West Altadena Drive, Altadena, CA 91001
Where we left my car: Adams Pack Station, Chantry Flat Road, Arcadia, CA
Total Distance: 28.5 miles
Total Elevation (feet): 6,500 ft +
Completion Time: 6.5 hours (running with minimal breaks)
Trail Difficulty: Easy/Moderate.
- Steady class 1 trail.
- Trail is well marked, but being inside of the canyons can cause difficulties navigating due to loss of direction. Bring a compass/GPS watch/do your homework.
- Great for backpacking or long day hikes if you are ready for the mileage.
- Mild bushwhacking near Devore campground.
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. Although the the trail is well marked and water is usually not an issue, the sheer distance makes this backpacking trail a toughie for the average day hiker.
Gabrielino Trail (Trail Run) - GPX FILE
Please be aware that distance, route and overall elevation gain may vary. Uploading this to Cal Topo, Google Earth & Strava, I found that there was a difference of +500 ft of vertical gain and up to 2 miles. Thats a big deal when you're dragging your knuckles across the floor.