Saturday, March 22, 2014

Fish Canyon Falls Farewell Tour - March 22, 2014

Dan Simpson at Fish Canyon Falls, March 22, 2014
See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages

It’s spring and that means Fish Canyon Falls! Since April 2005, when Vulcan Materials began providing free access days to Fish Canyon, hiking to this splendid waterfall has been my springtime ritual. Every year I have relished the shared experience of hiking to the falls with hundreds of others. All of that is changing now as Vulcan has suspended the access days for this year as it is nearly done with the new access trail heading through quarry, which is required to be completed by August.

With virtually no rainfall this year aside from a good storm three weeks ago, I suspect that the flowing water, flowers, and green vegetation of springtime will be short lived. The new access trail will be good and bad. The good is that anyone will be able to hike to Fish Canyon Falls 365 days a year. The bad is that with ease of access, all the reprobates who have horribly vandalize places like Eaton Canyon, Hermit Falls, and Bonita Falls, will be able to invade our pristine canyon and turn it into a hell hole. I fear that one of the most unspoiled and beautiful canyons in the San Gabriels has its days numbered. So it’s time for a farewell tour of my beloved Fish Canyon.

Fish Canyon Trail Vulcan entrance
I made special arrangements with Vulcan to access the trail through their quarry and invited some hiking acquaintances to join me: Nancy, Chris, Doug, and his young daughter Alex. The five of us rendezvoused at the Vulcan Materials gate in Azusa and the security guard signed us in.

8:08 a.m. - Begin hike. As we stroll through the quarry I point out the parking lot for the new access trail and the route it will take. Steep canyon walls soar above us. The reclamation efforts that are required by the new mining plan are well underway. Soon the 50-foot so called “Mayan benches” will be transformed into 12-inch micro benches.

After the 0.6 mile walk through quarry, we arrive at the gate next to the bridge at 8:23 only to find it locked. I make a phone call and soon the security guard arrives and unlocks the gate.

Fish Canyon Trail damage from Madre Fire
8:33 - Cross the bridge into the Angeles National Forest. The water flow in the creek is unseasonably low, as anticipated. Everything has greened up nicely. The shiny leaves of poison oak have come back in abundance after their winter hiatus.

As we round the first bend we encounter the results of the September 2013 Madre Fire, which consumed about 300 acres at the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon and portions of Roberts Canyon and Fish Canyon. The recent rains have washed tons of earth and rock from the burned mountainside to the canyon bottom. The creek has carved a trench through the debris. The deep pool near the trail is buried.

Fish Canyon Trail
We continue up the trail enjoying the beauty of the canyon. The cloudy weather makes for very pleasant hiking conditions. A rockslide has buried a portion of the trail. Shortly a group of hikers who came over Van Tassel Ridge pass us heading to the falls. A large white alder has fallen across the trail and requires some finagling to get by. Poison oak requires vigilance to avoid in some place along the trail throughout the hike.

Miner's lettuce on Fish Canyon Trail
There is not much in bloom yet: a few occurrences of mustard*, castor bean, everlasting*, vinca (periwinkle)*, filaree, wild cucumber*, miner’s lettuce*, common yarrow, common sunflower*, wishbone bush, Douglas nightshade, purple nightshade, spreading larkspur, cape-ivy, California buckwheat*, tree tobacco*, bay, mule fat, bush monkeyflower*, and lots of blue dicks* and eupatory. (* plants with asterisks are featured in my Fish Canyon Trail Plant Guide. See also my Fish Canyon Plants Hike - May 10, 2013 with photos of 18 plants and links to other pages featuring Fish Canyon plants). We see a couple newts (Taricha torosa) and I mention to the group that the toxin on their skin is highly poisonous.

Fish Canyon Trail
At Old Cheezer’s, I am pleased to see that somebody in the past year has taken a saw to the trunks of the fallen trees that were blocking the trail, clearing the route. Chris disappears ahead at a faster pace. Nancy and I take a side jaunt to Darlin’ Donna Falls. There is not a lot of water in the main creek as we cross to the canyon’s east wall. We take another side jaunt to look at the rare dudleya densiflora (see blog post from 7-7-11). Shortly we meet Chris as he is returning from the falls. As we approach the falls the other group is leaving.

Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, March 22, 2014
10:24 - Fish Canyon Falls. I love this place! The water is flowing but not as much as it would be if we had normal amounts of rainfall. I’m pleased that there is very little trash here. There is a party of two people and they leave shortly. A group of several guys arrive and leave before we do. It always feels a little odd being at Fish Canyon Falls with no crowd. We explore, relax, eat, and enjoy the beauty of this special place.

11:47 - Leave falls. It’s still cloudy and cool. Our pace is leisurely. A group of about five young folks pass us heading to the falls. As we pass Old Cheezer’s, a group of three guys pass us heading up. And we encounter a guy with a dog without a leash. I mention that leashes are required in the National Forest but he has no sense that the laws apply to him. As we near the end, the clouds begin to break up and we get some sun and patches of blue.

1:19 - Arrive at bridge and locked gates. As I pull out my phone to call the security guard, she pulls up…great timing! She unlocks the gates and we begin our walk through the quarry.

1:44 - Finish hike. Sign out with the security guard.

Fish Canyon Falls
Epilog - What a splendid way to spend the first Saturday of spring! Great weather, good company, green plant life, flowers, a rugged canyon, a superb footpath, a melodic creek, and a grand waterfall. I don’t know what will happen to this special place once the quarry no longer provides a protective barrier. So I will cherish the kaleidoscope of memories of so many hikes over the years to my beloved Fish Canyon Falls. icon

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See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages (including a link list for my other blog post for Fish Canyon)
NEXT > Fish Canyon Falls - A New Era - June 21, 2014
PREVIOUS > Fish Canyon Plants Hike - May 10, 2013


  1. I have never hiked this area but I sure would like to.

    1. Key, this is a wonderful trial and quite suitable for those who might not be up to a more challenging hike. Worth putting on your to-hike list. But unless Vulcan finishes the access trail within the next couple months, it would probably be best to wait till late winter or spring to get the most enjoyment out of it.

  2. Hey Dan ever since I found your blog and hiking page I've been motivated to do more hiking in san gabriel mountains. I went yesterday to fish canyons and i had to admit that switch back trail was pretty tough on the way back. I was just wondering how much the tail gets shorter in terms of time if you go through that shortcut with the vulcan company? I love to go with friends next spring when there's more water but I don't think they can do that first part of the trail that starts behind the horse ranch.

    1. John, the new access trail through the quarry opened on June 21 and will provide a splendid springtime hike.