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

Access Note - 2-19-14:
Posted to Vulcan's Azusa Rock Project website:
Due to the current high-fire conditions in the area, Vulcan Materials Company has postponed its annual announcement of dates in 2014 regarding complimentary van access through our property to the USFS Fish Canyon Trail. We are working in cooperation with local fire and emergency agencies and will post new dates when conditions improve. We appreciate your patience and understanding.

In addition, later this spring, Vulcan Materials Company will be announcing updated information regarding the new access trail we are building to provide daily access through our property to the Fish Canyon Falls trail and its beautiful waterfall. Please stay tuned.
See my post on Dan's Hiking Blog: Van Tassel Ridge Hike - February 15, 2014

Update - 3-20-14:
A Vulcan official reported that they are continuing to move along in working on the access trail, however, they still do not have a projected opening date. They have a few items that they are working on that should help them move forward in the near future. They are required to have the trail completed by August, but they anticipate it will be sooner.


Read about my recent hike to Fish Canyon Falls: Fish Canyon Falls Farewell Tour - March 22, 2014


Trail Stats
See Mileage note below
Mileage (r.t.)
(on access days)
4.0
Bridge 920'
Fish Canyon Falls 1320'
Net el. gain 400'
Report See Hike Reports
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.
Unfortunately, the quarry operation at the mouth of the canyon has restricted the access to this fine trail. There has been an attempt to build a trail up to Van Tassel Ridge, skirting the quarry, and dropping down into the canyon. But this route turns a pleasant 4-mile round trip hike with only 400 feet of elevation gain into a gut-wrenching 8.5-mile hike with 3200 feet of elevation gain! And the trail over Van Tassel Ridge is poorly designed, narrow, steep, rough, and overgrown. This is an absolutely ridiculous option for accessing Fish Canyon and is only for diehard adventurers who are willing to endure the absurd (See my Van Tassel Ridge page for a hike description of an out-and-back adventure up Van Tassel Ridge).

The only sensible way to hike Fish Canyon is through the quarry, so you'll need to make arrangements with Vulcan Materials or take advantage of their access days. (See Access Update below).

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.

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. At 1.3 miles you'll pass the entrance to Encanto Equestrian Center, a dirt road going off to the left. In another 0.2 mile there will be a dirt parking lot on the left side of the road. This is where you would park if you are hiking the Van Tassel Ridge route (no Forest Adventure Pass is needed). When Vulcan offers the shuttle service, parking is available inside the Vulcan main gate, another 0.25 mile past the trailhead parking lot. See street map below


Trail Description:

On the Fish Canyon Trail
Looking north on the Fish Canyon Trail - April 23, 2005 - A family of four on their way to the falls. View large photo.
The only sane route to Fish Canyon Falls is through the quarry. So you'll need to make arrangements with Vulcan Materials, or go on one of the Saturdays when they provide free shuttle rides. Some people try to sneak through the quarry after hours. But the "No Trespassing" sign on the locked gate and the presence of security guards makes it clear that Vulcan does allow uninvited guests on their property. They have had significant property lose due to vandalism, and there is always an issue of safety, so they strictly enforce the trespassing prohibition. (See Access Update below).

If you have made arrangements with Vulcan, they will transport you through the quarry and deliver you to the bridge that marks the beginning of Fish Canyon Trail at the national forest boundary.

There used to be a sign that indicated 2 miles to the falls. Cross the bridge and follow the trail upstream. In a couple minutes the trail follows a couple switchbacks up the west slope before continuing north. This well-maintained 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 were signs pointing out such landmarks as Old Cheezer Mine and Darlin' Donna Falls, but they disappeared sometime between spring 2005 and spring 2006.

Fish Canyon Falls 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, but know that on access days you will probably be sharing this site with many others.

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



Little Darlin' Falls
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 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.





Fish Canyon Trail is within minutes of where the
I-605 intersects the I-210 in Duarte and Irwindale.


Trail Notes:
  • Mileage/Elevation - The distance from the bridge to falls is 4.0 miles round trip. Older trail guides put the 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 (see description here) .
          The difference in elevation between the bridge at the forest boundary (920') and bottom of the falls (1320') is 400 feet. I estimate there are an additional 150 feet in elevation gain resulting from the roller coaster action on the trail.
  • Hazards - Watch out for abundant poison oak.
  • Location - Robinson and others cite this trail as starting from Duarte, when in actuality, it is within the Azusa city limits.
  • Shuttle Access - Vulcan Materials has been providing free shuttle access for hikers to reach the Fish Canyon Trail. They usually begin the season in late fall after the first rains, usually about one Saturday a month, then with four Saturdays in a row in April and then usually about one Saturday a month into about mid summer. On shuttle days, van service begins at 7:00 a.m. from Vulcan's parking lot and will drive you through the quarry to the beginning of the trail at the bridge. The last van to begin hikes leaves at 11:00. The last van leaves from the bridge back to the parking lot at 3:00 p.m. Dogs must be on a leash at all times. For more information visit Vulcan's Azusa Rock Project website for the schedule of upcoming access days: www.azusarock.com. I will post the access dates as they become available to me.

Related links on Dan's Hiking Pages:

Fish Canyon Trail Links:

Books:

  • Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels - by John Robinson. Hike 49: "Duarte to Fish Canyon, Fish Canyon Falls." - Trail descriptions with historical background. In the 6th Edition (Jan. 1990), he places it at 5 miles round trip, 900 feet elevation gain. In his 7th Edition (Sept. 1998), Robinson describes the route going up over Van Tassel Ridge: 8.5 miles round trip, 3,200 feet elevation gain. Also in the 7th Edition, he (or an editor) mistakenly sets the season as "All year" whereas previous editions have the season as November through May. This is a bad mistake. You don't want to go up the Van Tassel Ridge route in the hot season. It would be terribly punishing! Unfortunately, they did not correct season error in the next edition. In the 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 no longer includes a hike 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 description for the Van Tassel Ridge route, but rightly call it "tortuous" and "definitely not recommended."

  • 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.

  • 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). He rightly declares, "The first half of the hike [the Van Tassel Ridge section] is nothing less than horrible."
Last Hiked: March 22, 2014


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