An email from the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy (AFC) announcing a docent-led hike by Paul Ayers piqued my interest. It read: “Join local trails expert and railroad historian Paul Ayers on a strenuous loop deep into Rubio Canyon, along recently restored trails.” I had been exchanging emails with Paul for years related to various Rubio Canyon issues, so I thought it would be fun to do some hiking in Rubio with the expert. As it ended up, the hike wasn’t “deep into Rubio Canyon,” but only up the mountainside at the mouth of the canyon. So before the day would end, I ended up doing a second hike, and this time it was deep into the canyon.
A sunny and nice Saturday sandwiched between a rainy Friday and Sunday turned out to be ideal for hiking. I arose Saturday morning and headed to Altadena for the hike beginning 9:00. There were seven of us who met at the intersection of Loma Alta Drive and Camp Huntington Drive, just east of the bridge crossing Rubio creek.
Hike One: Historic Trail Loop
9:17 AM - Begin hike: Historic Trail Loop. The air is brisk and everything is fresh from yesterday’s rain. We head up canyon and a shortly transition to the old SCE Tractor Road (built in 1926) heading east past the covered reservoir. Paul and other volunteers have been working at restoring the route. It’s still a little rough but passable. Paul points out things along the way. Views out over the human sprawl are hazy. The sun feels good. There were recent efforts to remove the invasive, non-native fountain grass.
9:51 - Reach a gap in the ridge marking the boundary between AFC property and Angeles National Forest. We continue east along the along the brushy trail on the steep mountainside. Shortly we double back and continue our climb.
10:12 - Arrive at the junction of Lone Tree Trail just below the power towers. We climb the few steps to the towers for a good view into Rubio Canyon. Paul points out various landmarks. We have a great view across the canyon toward the old incline tram bed heading to Echo Mt. We leave at 10:31 and begin our descent on the old Lower Lone Tree Trail (1888), which was been recently roughed out in the early stages of restoration. It’s quite steep. At 11:04 we reach the junction of the SCE trail near the covered reservoir and retrace our steps back to the start.
11:09 - Finish Hike. A very pleasant outing. Good company. About 3 miles round trip with 800 feet in elevation gain. Paul was good docent providing lots of interesting information. Most everyone leaves and Kevin, Marilynne, and I linger and talk. I mention that I’m still up for more hiking. So Kevin suggests hiking up Rubio Canyon to Leontine Falls. Sounds good to me. We’ll do it. Say goodbye to Marilynne, get into our cars, and drive the few blocks to the trailhead at the intersection of Rubio Vista Road and Pleasantridge Road.
Hike Two: Rubio Canyon to Leontine Falls
11:46 - Begin hike. We pass between the two houses and head northwest on the old trolley rail bed (Rubio-Right of-Way Trail). We can look across the canyon and see the trail we were on earlier. Kevin has lived in the area all his life and has hiked all over these mountains. He shares lot of interesting tidbits. The trail is in good condition. Fluffy white clouds garnish the blue sky to the north.
11:57 - Reach the old Rubio Pavilion foundation and reflect on times past. Climb down to the creek bed and begin to follow it upstream. There is no water flowing, which is a huge contrast from when I was here in March and had to navigate dicey creek crossings.
12:17 - Ribbon Rock/Moss Grotto Falls. Water is flower over the falls, but it’s not gushing as in the spring. It’s still beautiful, though. We linger and enjoy the splendid setting. So far, we have had the canyon all to ourselves. At 12:37 we head up the ravine on the right (east). In about 100 yards we pass the beginning of the path that leads to the base of Grand Chasm Falls, but we continue about 100 yards more to the route that cuts left and will take us higher. A fig tree marks the spot. The path is rough and steep but not precarious. A narrow view opens to the civilization beyond the canyon. As we wade through the invasive fountain grass we debate the impacts of non-native plants.
12:52 - Outcropping with views into chasm below. Dramatic topography! We scramble over the rocks to the Thalehaha Falls Overlook to view one of the most dramatic waterfalls in the San Gabriels, deep in the canyon below. We hear voices down there. A bee stings me in the neck...ouch! After soaking in the beauty, we leave at 1:13 and continue north up the ridge. The path is still rough and steep but not too precarious. It’s a little brushy in places but the efforts of those who have trimmed make the route doable. We get a glimpse below of a group (5 men) in the canyon above Thalehaha Falls. It looks like they are equipped for canyoneering.
1:35 - Reach the ridge overlooking Leontine Falls. The falls are only partially in view from this point, but the scenery is breathtaking. Now comes the adventure. The route cuts back northeast toward the falls and drops precipitously 120 feet to the canyon bottom. It’s perilously steep. Ropes attached to trees make the descent doable. I have to admit, it’s a little scary, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Kevin has been here recently so serves as a good guide as he leads the way down. Gloves would have been good.
1:52 - Reach the canyon bottom below Leontine Falls. Wow, that was a trip. We cross the creek and make our way up the rocks and along the bare rock canyon wall toward the falls. It’s really dicey and a misstep could result in a top story on the evening news. Kevin’s experience proves helpful in getting through safely.
2:01 - Arrive at the base of Leontine Falls. What a splendid scene! Water is flowing down the sheer rock face. We can see only to the top of this bottom tier, maybe 50 feet. Two more tiers are above that. This sylvan sanctuary is free from litter and graffiti...no doubt, the arduous adventure getting here deters the yahoos and idiots. We sit on a rock next to the pool, chat, and enjoy the tranquil setting. Finally we carefully negotiate our way back to the start of our climb out.
2:38 - Begin our climb up the incredibly steep slope, hand over hand on the ropes. This is not hiking! Actually, the climb was not as bad as I anticipated and it takes us only 10 minutes to reach the ridge. Gray clouds creep in over the southland staging themselves for tomorrow’s forecasted rain. We retrace our steps back to the Thalehaha overlook, over the outcropping, through the fountain grass, and arrive at the ravine at 3:21. We continue to retrace our steps back past Ribbon Rock/Moss Grotto Falls and take more photos in the changing light. It is still curios to me that we are the only ones on the trail in such a beautiful location on such an ideal hiking day.
As we pass over the locations where Bay Arbor Falls and Maidenhair Falls stood previously before being buried, Kevin reflects on the changes in this canyon over the 40 years he’s hike here. At 3:47 we reach the pavilion site. Kevin asks if we would want to return by hiking down the canyon bottom. I am a little reluctant because I know such routes can become quite brushy and riddled with obstructions and surprises, and it was getting pretty late in the day. But he assures me that he had hiked it just two weeks ago and it is a quite doable route. So I agreed to the added adventure.
3:58 - Leave the pavilion site and head down stream. It’s quite beautiful. Had to carefully dodge some poison oak, but it wasn’t bad. Lots of white alder and mule fat. Bigleaf maple sports its fall colors. There is some water in several pools, but certainly this route would be a completely different scene when the creek is full and flowing. I’m thoroughly enjoying our ramble down this delightful canyon. At 4:41 we reach the junction of Camp Huntington Trail and in another 100 yards intersect the trail we were on with the group this morning, to complete the connection. We double back to Camp Huntington Trail and climb back to the main trail on the rail bed (the climb took about 8 minutes). I love the warm lighting this time of day. We linger a bit. A young man and women pass us coming down...the only people we directly encountered for the entire hike. We walk up the trial a short distance to get some views up canyon to where we were earlier, then head down.
5:18 - End hike.
Epilog - What a thoroughly enjoyable day! Two hikes. Good company. Historic Rubio Canyon always offers a splendid experience. I reflect on the diversity of the San Gabriels. Just last week I was climbing 9,500-foot peaks in spectacular high county (which now has snow) and this week I’m rambling through the rich chaparral and canyons of the front range. I suspect that the front range will now be my primary hiking venue until the snow melts in the late spring.
Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy (AFC) - Much of Rubio Canyon, including the land that the hike to the falls passes through, has been preserved by the AFC, a local nonprofit land trust. Visit their website for lots of helpful and interesting information about trail restoration, volunteer opportunities, docent-lead hikes, events, news, history, membership, and how to make tax-deductible contributions to their important work.
See blog posts from other hikes in Rubio Canyon:
- Plants in Bailey and Rubio Canyons - March 27, 2011
- Echo Mt. and Rubio Canyon Hike - December 27, 2010
See Rubio Canyon Hike Description on Dan’s Hiking Pages