I took my son on his first hike to the waterfall in Eaton Canyon – a classic Southern California hike that I’d never been on either.
Mileage: 1 Mile
Day(s) Hiked: 5/18/13
Dog Friendly: Yes
Eaton Canyon is an incredibly popular hiking location in Southern California. It is an easily accessible, short trail that ends with a 40 foot waterfall landing in a crystal clear pool. Sounds awesome right!?! Even John Muir was impressed. His description of the waterfall and surrounding canyon makes it sounds like a paradise.
“It is a charming little thing, with a voice sweet as a songbird’s, leaping some thirty-five or forty feet into a round, mirror pool. The cliff back of it and on both sides is completely covered with thick, furry mosses, and the white fall shines against the green like a silver instrument in a velvet case. Here come the Gabriel lads and lassies from the commonplace orange groves, to make love and gather ferns and dabble away their hot holidays in the cool pool. They are fortunate in finding so fresh a retreat so near their homes. It is the Yosemite of San Gabriel.”
Pretty high praise, but despite living a couple miles from the trailhead for a few years, we’ve always avoided this trail. The reports of mobs of people, and the constant hum of rescue helicopters during the summer have sufficiently dissuaded us from checking out the trail. However, with a recently sprained toe on the mend and 5 and a half month old baby in tow, this past weekend seemed like the perfect time to check it out. For this hike, we chose to start at the Pinecrest Gate at the start of the Mount Wilson toll road. From here, it’s only about a half mile to the waterfall. The regular route starts at the Eaton Canyon visitor center, which adds about a mile of hiking each direction, mostly flat through fields and flowers (Callie and I have hiked that stretch).
The trail goes underneath the toll road bridge and weaves its way through a steep canyon. It’s only about .4 miles from here to the waterfall, so there isn’t much to it. You will do a number of river crossings, but they are really easy in this dry year.
The trail mixes it up by having some more exposed sections between river crossings – i.e. don’t expect full shade the entire time. The nice thing about these stretches is that you can see the steep walls towering over the canyon.
There are a few steep sections that many of the city hikers seemed to struggle with. Make sure you are extremely careful if you are taking a little guy like I was.
After a short walk you’ll be at the waterfall!
Not exactly the wilderness experience that Muir evoked right? At least in our case, there were some positives to take from the experience.
This was my son Owen’s first real hike, and my wife Riss’s first hike in a long time. It was great to get the whole Calitrails family out on the first of what will hopefully be many adventures over the years.
This location is ideal for babies and dogs alike. There is a lot of shade and plenty of water for dogs to play in to cool down. We also opted to walk along the stream for many stretches, which is a great way to avoid the crowds and have fun with your dog.
Owen did amazingly well for his first hike. On the way back to the car, he grabbed the bill of his hat and forced it down to block his entire head from the sun and then promptly passed out. A total pro already.
The hike from a personal perspective was a big success and we are looking forward to more ambitious outings with the little man.
Did I mention this trail is crowded? I should probably mention it a few more times. Over the course of the mile we were on the trail, I’d estimate we say about 800 people and 100 dogs. This is a narrow canyon trail without much room to spread out, so you definitely feel the presence of those people, especially considering that many of them are blasting music or just being obnoxious.
If you take your dog, make sure they are well trained and on leash. There are a lot of poorly trained dogs here. We love to let Callie run around off leash on mountain trails, but this was not a spot for that.
The only other trail I’ve been on that rivals this density of people is the Mist Trail in Yosemite Valley during peak season. I think the difference there is that the Mist Trail is an incredibly dramatic and beautiful trail that is worth seeing no matter how many people you have to deal with. After seeing the landscape of Eaton Canyon, I am deeply puzzled why people choose to flock here and deal with the circus.
I knew going into this hike that it would be crowded, but most reviews and trip reports from this canyon remark how beautiful it is. A lot of people reference it as the most beautiful hike in Los Angeles. So, I figured it was worth dealing with the crowds to see it for myself.
I don’t think those reviewers get out much.
This hike is terrible. The .4 mile trail from the bridge to the waterfall is littered with unimaginable amounts of trash and graffiti. If you removed all of the mobs of people, the trash, and the graffiti you’d have an above average hike in the San Gabriels, but with all of those factors you have one of the worst. Here are some of the grand views that you can expect to see right along the trail to the waterfall. You’ll be seeing something like this every minute or two.
We’ll let the crowds have this one. There are many locations that are far superior in the area, but now I am left wondering how much I want to draw awareness to them.