Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fish Canyon Falls Hike - October 25, 2014

Fish Creek in autumn as seen from Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages

With the opening of the new access trail to Fish Canyon in June, I’m still getting used to the idea that I can hike to Fish Canyon Falls any day I want. Since June, however, there has been no compelling reason to actually want to visit Fish Canyon with its bone dry creek and parched vegetation. It’s about minding the seasons. But I’ve not been hiking in a month and needed to log something for October. As I laid in bed on Friday night, I pondered the local scrappy hikes that might be possible, but none really appealed to me and Fish Canyon didn’t cross my mind. When I awoke at 6 a.m., Fish Canyon popped into my thinking. So I got up and looked through my hike log. I figured if I’d never hiked it in October, that would be my hike. I saw that I’ve visited Fish Canyon Falls in every month except October and December! Bingo! I guess it’s off to hike rather than back to bed.

Front gate at Vulcan Materials and entrance to the Fish Canyon trailhead
After a ten-minute drive from my home in Azusa, I arrive at the Vulcan Materials gate a couple minutes before the 7 a.m. opening time. Two cars are waiting. The guard opens the gate a minute early and we drive in. I am the first one to hit the trail.

On Fish Canyon access trail in Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry
7:00 AM - Begin hike. It’s cloudy but not too cool. There’s a slightly warm breeze. My pace is earnest as I walk along the dedicated corridor through the massive quarry with its silent equipment. It’s still kind of foreign to me that I’m legally walking through Vulcan’s quarry. View south on Fish Canyon access trail through Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry The sun, slipping underneath the clouds, begins to alight on Van Tassel Ridge. The rising sun alights on Van Tassel Ridge as seen from Fish Canyon access trail through Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry

Heading north on Fish Canyon Trail en route to Fish Canyon Falls above Azusa
7:14 - Reach the bridge and begin my walk on the trail. The creek is bone dry, as it was in June. Weedy, dead grasses line the trail. The vegetation is parched. Even the cacti are thirsty. Prickle pear cactus on Fish Canyon Trail en route to Fish Canyon Falls I was hoping to experience some fall colors, but the hues are muted. Many of the deciduous trees and poison oak have already lost most of their leaves. One month into autumn, these deciduous trees stand bare, as seen from Fish Canyon Trail en route to Fish Canyon Falls The tree of heaven jungle is starting to turn yellow. Evergreen trees and shrubs—like bay, oak, toyon, laurel sumac, sugar bush—provide an array of green. There is virtually nothing in bloom.

Dan Simpson at Darlin’ Donna Falls on Fish Canyon Trail en route to Fish Canyon Falls
Soon I’m greeted by one of my daughter’s former teachers as he jogs up the trail. Shortly after, a couple male voices disturb the tranquility. I find that I’m not able to outpace them, so I just stop and let them by. Their voices soon disappear up canyon. There is some water in portions of the creek far below. I take a side jaunt to Darlin’ Donna Falls and am pleasantly surprised that it is still flowing. I don’t understand the hydrological dynamics where such a tiny watershed can produce a year-around stream when the large watershed of upper Fish Creek is dry.

Crossing the main creek on Fish Canyon Trail en route to Fish Canyon Falls
I reach the main creek and it is bone dry. As I climb the canyon’s east wall, I’m enjoying the rugged scenery. Descending north on the east wall of Fish Canyon en route to Fish Canyon Falls It’s peaceful here. The clouds still provide welcome cover. As I approach the falls, the only sound is the voices of the two guys.

8:25 - Fish Canyon Falls. The falls and pool are completely dry. Fish Canyon Falls, dry as a bone on October 25, 2014 The lower pool still has some water. Fish Canyon Falls lower pool on October 25, 2014 Soon the two guys leave and I have the falls all to myself. It’s an unusual scene for here: no water, no people...just an eerie silence. But I’m enjoying the solitude. I have so many memories of this place.

Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, March 22, 2014
3-22-14 - Fish Canyon Falls
Fish Canyon Falls, dry as a bone on October 25, 2014
10-25-14 - Fish Canyon Falls
The End of an Era - On March 22, 2014, I took a farewell tour of my beloved Fish Canyon anticipating that after the new access trail was completed, the pristine beauty of the canyon would be in jeopardy. I anticipated that since anyone will be able to hike to Fish Canyon Falls 365 days a year, 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 am very sad today that the Fish Canyon hell hole is starting to become a reality. Fish Canyon Falls, dry as a bone on October 25, 2014 Unless the feds put some teeth into the new national monument status and launch an aggressive effort to protect and restore Fish Canyon, we can probably cross it off our lists as a place we would want to visit.

Riparian habitat in Fish Canyon along Fish Canyon Trail in autumn Big-leaf maple leaf along Fish Canyon Trail in autumn
Dried wild cucumber fruit along Fish Canyon Trail in autumn View north on Fish Canyon Trail in autumn, Angeles National Forest
Morning sun filters through coast live oaks on Fish Canyon Trail in autumn Tree of heaven along Fish Canyon Trail in autumn, Angeles National Forest
9:05 - Leave the falls. My pace is slow as I soak in the rugged beauty. I try not to dwell on the crimes of vandalism. I can’t help but to think that any efforts I take in reporting the destruction to the forest service will fall on deaf ears and impotence.

After crossing the creek, I encounter my first direct sun. I’m snapping pictures along the way trying to capture the nuances of the canyon, from sweeping mountainsides to the spines on dried wild cucumber fruit. Even in drought conditions, chaparral and riparian plant communities demonstrate resilient beauty. A hiker passes me heading to the falls, and shortly later, three more pass. The sun illuminates the yellowing tree of heaven leaves.

As I get near the end of the trail, I remind myself that there is no shuttle waiting to drive me through the quarry…I’ll have to walk the 0.7 mile back to the parking lot.

View of east wall along Fish Canyon access trail in Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry
10:23 - Cross the bridge and begin my walk on the access trail. Two hikers head to the falls. The sun is bright and warm now. Steep quarry walls soar above me. Another hiker heads to the falls. I have encountered only eight people in five parties over the entire three and a half hours of the hike. That’s a minuscule number compared to the pre-access-trail days when there could be hundreds on a free-shuttle access day. And to think I was all by myself at Fish Canyon Falls today...on a fair-weather Saturday!

10:50 - End hike. It’s 75 degrees and there are four cars in the lot (including mine).

White alder on Fish Canyon Trail
Epilog - What a pleasant outing! I love Fish Canyon. And now I’ve hiked it during every month of the year except for December. But more than half of my dozens of visits were during March, April, and May…the very best time to experience the canyon. I’m sad that thoughtless criminals are stealing the beauty of these iconic falls. I guess we will see if being a national monument means anything. icon

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See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages (including a link list for my other blog posts for Fish Canyon)

NEXT > Fish Canyon Falls Trail Restoration - January 17, 2015
PREVIOUS > Fish Canyon Falls - A New Era - June 21, 2014


  1. Hi, Dan. I've read some of your posts and greatly appreciate the insights you offer. I hiked Fish Canyon for the first time in July with my daughter. I enjoyed it and was struck by: (1) the fact that there was any water at all, and (2) the fact that you can see the normal water level lines at the pools. Wow. What a drought.

    I am thinking of hiking to Ice House Saddle with my teenage daughter here in November. Is it a good time? Should we have sweatshirts/jackets? Should we plan for about six hours or so?



    1. Hi Joe, thanks for your note and kind words. Yes the drought is affecting our local water courses, however, it’s not uncommon for Fish Creek to be dry by late summer. Plan to hike in April or May and you’ll love it.

      Icehouse Canyon would be fine in November as long as we’ve not had snow yet. Snow changes everything. Even without snow, it can get quite cold in Icehouse, so carry warm layers.

      It’s hard for me to estimate your hiking time, but calculating your time at 2 miles per hour is helpful. I always allow more time than I think I need to take into account for lots of time to soak in the beauty. Happy hiking! -- Dan

    2. Thanks for the quick reply, Dan. I'll have to get a Forest Adventure Pass first and then head on up.