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Checking in on Angeles National Forest trails

January 15, 2010 |  4:41 pm

With most of the Angeles National Forest closed due to damage from last year's Station Fire — and major rain on the way — SoCal hikers who love the trails off Angeles Crest Highway have had to look for alternatives. With the exception of next week, when rain on barren hillsides could lead to trail-demolishing mudslides — the foothills are the answer.

Arroyo forest sign A Christmas Day hike I took on the Gabrielino Trail out of Altadena was an eye-opener. Hikers walked around a closure sign and over a big mound of dirt to continue along the trail lining the Arroyo Seco (left).

Out of curiosity, and since nothing seemed to be stopping people, I followed the crowd and continued on to Gould Mesa. What we saw en route was jarring. The stream was flowing but without boulders along the shore to keep the water inside the creekbed, the trail was a mess. 

It was a dry day but the footing was muddy and at several points we had to walk around giant metal culverts (below right), which had been exposed after erosion from rains in mid-December.
Trail damage Arroyo Hillsides normally thick with chaparral were bare, with vertical cracks in the brown surface, threatening to slide at any time. But Gould Mesa and several stretches along the Arroyo were lush with new grass sprouted since the rain. After the hike, I called the forest service to find out how "closed" the area actually is. I was told the Station Fire closure map on their website (click on Exhibit B under Station Fire Recovery Order) is still in effect and that anything within the blue line on the map is off limits. Because it's difficult to enforce such a huge area (394,000 acres are still closed), the rangers are asking that people stay off trails to protect themselves and the land. Standing dead trees and unstable hillsides are just some of the dangers.

There's no time frame for trail restoration work, with three potentially rainy months on the horizon. Significant re-vegetation might not occur until spring 2011, I was told. Hopefully the situation won't turn into another Henninger Flats, where a slide wasn't cleared out for more than four years.

This was enough to convince me to stay away from the Angeles, so a couple weeks later I tried a hiking option in Monrovia Canyon Park. No, it's not as challenging as a high-country trek, but it's dog-friendly and the trails are lovely.

Monrovia waterfall The park is open every day except Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (make sure you're out of the parking lot at 5 because gates are locked promptly). A hike to a waterfall is 1.7 miles one way (if you park in the lower parking lot, a shorter distance if you park in an upper lot), perfect for hiking with kids and/or elderly Labrador retrievers (left). A more challenging hike is the Ben Overturff Trail, a 7-miler with 2,000 feet of elevation gain. That'll tide me over til the Angeles recovers, but I'll probably leave the doggy seniors at home.

— Julie Sheer

Photos by Julie Sheer