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FISH CANYON TEMPORARILY CLOSED FISH CANYON
TEMPORARILY CLOSED


Heavy rain caused a rock side on Wednesday, December 17, which has rendered the trail impassable. The Forest Service has closed the trail until they are able to assess and repair the damage.

See Pasadena Star News article

Fish Canyon Dedication, June 18, 2014 ACCESS TRAIL GRAND OPENING: On Wednesday, June 18, the new access trail was dedicated, and Saturday, June 21, the trail opened for public use. Read about the Dedication and my Hike to Fish Canyon Falls on Grand Opening day.

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Fish Canyon Falls
Azusa / Los Angeles County
Angeles National Forest / Southern California

Trail Stats
See Mileage note below
Mileage (r.t.) 5.4
Trailhead 720'
Fish Canyon Falls 1320'
Total el. gain 750'
Plants Fish Canyon Trail Plant Guide (PDF)
Fish Canyon to Fish Canyon Falls offers a splendid hike. The 80-foot, three-tier waterfalls is one of the very best in the San Gabriels, when in season. The sparkling creek dances and bubbles over boulders and is often graced with quite pools. Abundant sycamore, bay, bigleaf maple, alder, willow, and live oak provide refreshing shade in many sections along the trail. Lush ferns, poison oak, and other green plants create a tropical feel. In the spring you are treated with a fine display of colorful wildflowers. The rugged, chaparral-covered canyon walls rise steeply above you. Indeed, Fish Canyon promises you a delightful outdoor experience.

Fish Canyon Falls
Fish Canyon Falls - April 23, 2005. View large photo.
For many years, the quarry operation at the mouth of the canyon had restricted the access to this fine trail. In 1998, the City of Duarte led the construction of an access trail climbing up to Van Tassel Ridge, skirting the quarry, and dropping down into the canyon. But this route turned a pleasant 5-mile round trip hike with only 800 feet of elevation gain into a gut-wrenching 9-mile hike with 3,200 feet of elevation gain! And the trail over Van Tassel Ridge was poorly designed, narrow, steep, rough, and overgrown. It was a ridiculous option for accessing Fish Canyon and only for diehard adventurers who were willing to endure the absurd (see my archived page of the old access trail over Van Tassel Ridge).

On January 25, 2011, voters in Azusa made a decision that would forever and inextricably change the face of Fish Canyon. In a 2-1 margin of victory, Azusans voted to uphold a July 17, 2010 city council decision which approved a new mining plan for Vulcan Materials, which owns 270 acres at the mouth of Fish Canyon. One of the conditions of the plan was for Vulcan to build an access trail directly through the mouth of the canyon. The City of Duarte protested the plan and tied it up in several years of litigation. In 2013 the courts ruled in favor of Vulcan and the plan began to take shape, with one of the first orders of business to build the new access trail. One Wednesday, June 18, 2014, the access trail was dedicated, and Saturday, June 21 at 7 a.m., the access trail was officially open to the public. And I was the first one to drive into the parking lot and hike the new access trail to Fish Canyon Falls.

Today, hikers can visit Fish Canyon Falls 365 days a years via a pleasant 5.4-mile round-trip hike. The access trail starts at a dedicated trailhead parking lot and travels 0.7 mile through the quarry. Hikers then cross a bridge into the Angeles National Forest and follow the historic trail 2 miles to the waterfalls. But keep in mind, of the 365 days, only about 212 days are worth hiking to Fish Canyon Falls...November through May.

Season: November - May

Because much of the route is in open sun, it would be wise to avoid this hike on a hot summer day. The best time to hike is in winter or spring when the water pouring over the falls can be a real show. In a dry year the falls may be nothing but a trickle by early to mid summer. In the winter, beware that the poison oak will have lost its leaves but the toxic oils on the dead-looking, twiggy branches can still affect you if you come in contact. Spring is my favorite time because of the delightful array of blooming flowers. See Seasons of the San Gabriels for a detailed description of minding the seasons.

Access Trail Hours and Rules
Fish Canyon Falls Note: These rules apply specially to the access trail on Vulcan property. Once the hiker crosses the bridge, Forest Service rules apply.
(The content below is taken exactly from the trailhead kiosk, including errors of capitalization, punctuation, and style.)

HOURS OF OPERATION

  • Open Daily Year Round
  • Daily Hours
        April ~ September: 7am to 7pm
        October ~ March: 7am to 5pm
  • Trail Gates will close when hours end, including the gates from the Parking Lot.
  • Hikers must be sure to return to your cars before the gates close. Cars left in the lot after hours will be towed at the car owner’s expense.
  • After hours calls for assistance must be directed to the Azusa Police Department at (626) 812-3200. For emergencies call 911.
  • The trail may be closed temporarily for safety, emergencies or maintenance activities.
ABSOLUTELY NO TRESPASSING
Any hiker who trespasses onto the quarry property or into Fish Creek or its surrounding protected riparian areas is trespassing under the City of Azusa’s trespassing and loitering ordinances. Azusa Municipal Code Section 46-376 adopted November 21, 1994 and State of California Penal Code Section 647.
  • Do Not Trespass Onto Quarry Property
  • Do Not Trespass Into Fish Creek Or Adjacent Riparian Areas
  • Do Not Loiter On Trail Or In Trail Parking Lot
TRAIL RULES TO ENSURE YOUR SAFETY
  • Always Stay On The Trail
  • Do Not Trespass Onto Quarry Property Of Fish Creek Areas
  • Respect Other Hikers
  • No Vehicles On the Trail, Including Bikes
  • No Alcohol Or Other Intoxicants
  • No Weapons of Any Kind
  • No Horses
  • No Littering On Trail Or in Parking Lot.
  • Use Trash Containers
  • No Camping Or Loitering On the Access Trail Or Parking Lot
  • Dogs are Allowed Only On Saturday And Sunday.
  • Keep Dogs On Leash At All Times
  • Clean Up After Your Dog.


Getting to the Trailhead:

From the I-210 Foothill Freeway, traveling west: exit at Irwindale Avenue in Irwindale. Turn right (north) and go 0.2 mile. Turn left (west) on Foothill Blvd. and go 0.7 mile to Encanto Parkway. Turn right (north).

From the I-210 Foothill Freeway, traveling east (or the I-605 traveling north): Exit Mt. Olive Avenue in Duarte. Turn right (east) on Huntington Drive and go 0.6 mile to Encanto Parkway. Turn left (north).

Drive north on Encanto Parkway 1.7 miles to the entrance of Vulcan Materials Azusa Rock quarry, 3901 Fish Canyon Road. The gate on the left is the quarry entrance. The gate on the right is the dedicated entrance to the trailhead parking lot.
OPEN   April - September:   7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  October - March: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Park in the lot (a Forest Adventure Pass is not needed).


Trail Description:

Fish Canyon Falls From the trailhead parking lot, pass by the kiosk and through the gate to the trail. Turn left and follow the fenced trail through the quarry. Vulcan deliberately placed one of the trail fences on the other side of the creek so hikers won’t feel they are walking through a cattle chute. So please obey the signs to stay on the trail and not to trespass on protected vegetation, soil, and watershed along the steam-side (riparian) area on Vulcan property. Soon you will reach a crossing gate and pass to the west side of the quarry road. Steep Canyon walls tower above you. On the east side of the canyon (to your right), you’ll see Vulcan’s efforts in progress to reclaim the mountainside, replacing the large 30- to 40-foot conventional mining benches with smaller, one- to two-foot "microbenches." As the large conventional benches are sculpted to the smaller size, they are also being contoured and then revegetated with native plants to create a much more natural effect.

When you pass the big rock you transition to a more natural footpath along the restored riparian area. The Wildlife Habitat Council has certified Vulcan’s efforts to return Fish Creek to its pre-mining configuration and restore its biological and hydro-geomorphologic characteristics. Because of that certification, Vulcan is very limited in trimming vegetation to maintain this portion of the trail. Hopefully over time, foot traffic and individual efforts of clipping will continue to improve trail conditions. At 0.7 mile you reach the bridge and the boundary of the Angeles National Forest. There used to be a sign here that indicated 2 miles to the falls.

Fish Canyon Falls Cross the bridge into the national forest and follow the trail upstream. In a couple minutes the trail follows a couple switchbacks up the west slope before continuing north. This classic path enjoys some mild roller coaster action as it generally climbs north up canyon, contouring along the west slope. Be alert for poison oak, which is abundant in the canyon. You'll pass several interpretive signs giving you a glimpse of the canyon's past. There used to be signs pointing out such landmarks as Old Cheezer Mine and Darlin' Donna Falls, but they disappeared sometime between spring 2005 and spring 2006.

Eventually the trail descends and crosses the creek, which can get a little dicey when the water is running high. The trail continues north climbing the east slope and in another 0.25 mile the canyon bends sharply to the west and the falls come into view. Take care in climbing down to the rocks and pools at the base of the falls. This is a delightful place to enjoy a picnic.

Return by the same route, and please, take back everything you brought in. icon


Darlin' Donna Falls, Fish Canyon
Darlin' Donna Falls - January 29, 2011 - Large photo
Darlin' Donna Falls
I had never seen these falls mentioned anywhere, except for a wooden sign along the trail to Fish Canyon Falls. The sign was located on a tributary coming in from the west. The times I had seen it I mistakenly assumed it was humorously referring to the little trickle tumbling over some rocks there. Finally, being tipped off by a hiker friend, I ventured up the stream 75 yards to find a darling 15-foot falls pouring into a shallow pool. What a treat! In dry years, I have found it flowing even after Fish Canyon Falls has dried up.
     The sign is no longer there but the tributary is less than a minute past the distinctive spiral stair steps at about 1.75 miles, a couple minutes before crossing the main creek. There is no formal trail to Darlin' Donna Falls so you will have to scamper up a use path through some thick vegetation (mostly eupatory) along the creek. Watch out for some steep, loose banks, slippery rocks, and some poison oak.


Darlin' Donna sign Darlin' Donna sign - The sign disappeared sometime between spring 2005 and spring 2006. In March 2007 I got an email from a hiker named Mark. He writes: "In Oct. 2006, we we found the sign in a pool about 1/4 mile downstream from the trail. We took it out with us and gave it to the site supervisor."
     I contacted the site supervisor, Jasen Talley, and he stated that he gave the sign to the City of Duarte's trail crew to be reinstalled. View full photo.



Trail Notes:
  • Mileage/Elevation - The distance from the bridge to falls as historically published is 4.0 miles round trip. Vulcan decided on a mileage of 3.8 miles round trip. I have based my stats on the traditional mileage and will lobby Vulcan to do so as well (which they can do when they redo the kiosks after they had them professionally edited). Older trail guides put the total round-trip distance at 5 miles, but that is based on starting the hike from the vicinity of the Vulcan office near the front gate of the quarry. Some trail guides put the hike in the 8-mile range, which is based on climbing the ridiculous trail up and over Van Tassel Ridge, which is now closed due to the mining.
          The elevation at the trailhead is approximately 720 feet and the bottom of the falls is about 1,320 feet, a net gain of 600 feet. I estimate that there are an additional 150 feet in elevation gain resulting from the roller coaster action on the trail, thus a total gain of 750 feet.
  • Hazards - Watch out for abundant poison oak.
  • Location - Robinson and others have cited this trail as starting from Duarte, when in actuality, it is within the Azusa city limits.
  • Dogs must be on leash
  • Dogs must be on leash at all times - This is a rule Vulcan has established for access across its property and is a federal regulation for the national forest [CFR, Title 36, Chapter II, Sec. 261.8 (d) and Sec. 261.16 (j)]. Sec. 261.16 (j)]. See ANF dog policy. Also Vulcan allows dogs on the access trail only on Saturday and Sunday.

Related links on Dan's Hiking Pages:

Links:

  • Vulcan Materials Azusa Rock - Provides lots of information about the access trail and its hours and rules, the quarry, creek restoration, mining reclamation, and company information. Much of the contents on the kiosks is posted to the website. Vulcan built the access trail as one of the conditions of the mining plan approved by the Azusa voters on January 25, 2011 in upholding the July 17, 2010 city council decision. The access trail was opened on June 21, 2014.
  • Permanent access to Fish Canyon Falls provided for first time in 30 years - Article in San Gabriel Valley Tribune, June 18, 2014.
  • Angling for Better Trail to Fish Canyon Falls - Original article by John McKinney in the Los Angeles Times from June 21, 1998 describing the new Fish Canyon access trail along with some history leading up to it
  • Trail Guide and Background - Tom Chester has assembled thorough historical information for this trail. Tom also provides some Links for Fish Canyon Hike (last updated June 1999. Many links broken).

Books:

  • Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels - by John Robinson. Provides trail descriptions with historical background. He has attempted to keep up with the evolving situation from edition to edition, but never has been able to accurately hit the moving target of the Fish Canyon drama.
    6th Edition (Jan. 1990) - Hike 49: "Duarte to Fish Canyon, Fish Canyon Falls." He places it at 5 miles round trip, 900 feet elevation gain (based on walking through the quarry).
    7th Edition (Sept. 1998) - Robinson describes the route going up over Van Tassel Ridge: 8.5 miles round trip, 3,200 feet elevation gain (which is no longer an option). He also mistakenly set the season as "All year" whereas previous editions have the season as November through May. This is a bad mistake because it would be punishing to go up the Van Tassel Ridge route on a hot day. Unfortunately, they did not correct the season error in the next edition.
    8th Edition (April 2005), with Doug Christiansen, they promote the Duarte Family Wilderness Day in April as the primary option for hiking to Fish Canyon Falls, but the event discontinued hikes to Fish Canyon Falls through the quarry. They mistakenly place the mileage at 5.0 r.t. (it's actually only 4.0 miles with the shuttle option, or 6.0 miles from the trailhead through the quarry). They also include the options for now discontinued Van Tassel Ridge route.
    9th Edition (2013), with Doug Christiansen - Hike 50: "Azusa to Fish Canyon, Fish Canyon Falls. They describe the hike using the shuttle access days formerly provided by Vulcan and make no mention of the realities of the new access trail through the quarry. They changed the season to “Winter-summer subject to access,” which is still not helpful since summer is not a pleasant time to hike to Fish Canyon. They also include the option for now discontinued Van Tassel Ridge route.

  • Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County - by Jerry Schad (Wilderness Press: Berkley) - Area B-9, Trip 3: "Fish Canyon Falls." Trail description using Van Tassel Ridge to access the falls trail. He places the round-trip distance to the falls at 8.8 miles with 3,100 feet elevation gain. This route is no longer available due to mining operations.

  • Los Angeles County: A Day Hiker's Guide - by John McKinney (The Trailmaster, 2006). "Fish Canyon Falls: Fish Canyon Trail." Historical background and trail description using Van Tassel Ridge to access the falls trail. He places the round-trip distance to the falls at 9 miles with 1,200 feet elevation gain (obviously neglecting to account for the climb out). This route is no longer available due to mining operations.
Last Hiked: October 25, 2014


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