Distance (round-trip)

4.8 mi

Time

2.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

836 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

NOTE: Due to the San Gabriel Complex Fire, this trail and trailhead are closed as of June, 2016.

Fish Canyon Falls has been a somewhat elusive beast since I moved here. Because the mouth of the canyon is occupied by a Vulcan Materials quarry, access to the canyon’s famed three-tier waterfall has always seemed just a little bit too much trouble. You either had to hike on the one day a month the company would provide a limited shuttle through the property to get to the trailhead or you could hike a “compromise” access trail the company built in 1999 over nearby Van Tassel Ridge that added an extra three miles and almost 2400 feet of elevation gain – a route the venerable Dan Simpson called “a ridiculous option … only for diehard adventurers willing to endure the absurd.”

Well, after years of litigation and waiting, a brand new, 365-days-a-year access trail at the mouth of the canyon was opened to the public on June 18, 2014. Now, as long as hikers pay attention to the varying rules and regulations, they are able to access the canyon and the waterfalls whenever they’d like – as long as they’re willing to endure a short trip through an active quarry.

While you’re driving down Encanto Parkway, it crosses over into the private property of Vulcan and becomes a rougher, slower road. At the end of this street you’ll reach a large fence with three different routes – the center route will most likely be the only one open and that’s the one for hikers. Look for a small white sign that says “TRAIL” and you’re on the right path. At the end of this short gravel road is a surprisingly large, fenced-in parking area with a few informational kiosks detailing the access trail’s rules and regulations, which are as follows:

The trail open seven days a week, all-year round. From April – September the hours are 7AM to 7PM; from October – March they’re 7AM to 5PM. Gates to the access trail and parking area are promptly closed at those times and any cars left in the parking area will be towed at their owners’ expense. Trespassing on quarry land is strictly forbidden and the trail is for hikers only – no bikes or equestrians. Dogs are allowed, but only on Saturdays and Sundays.

Once all that rule-reading is out of the way, head past the info kiosk and start your hike on the access trail. The scenery isn’t exactly pristine, but I have to imagine it’s pretty dang unique as far as hiking trails go.

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If you hike during the week like I did, be prepared for a lot of noise and some extra dust in the air as you walk through the Vulcan Materials quarry. When I went they were blasting on both sides of the canyon, sending constant rockslides tumbling down the slopes.

Like I said, pretty unique for a hiking trail.

The first half mile is all on industrial territory – you’ll pass large machinery, underneath a giant conveyer belt, watch rocks tumble down slopes – and maybe hear a blast or two if you’re lucky. All while walking on what is basically a fenced-off section of their already-existing road that will leave you wondering why it took them so long to come up with such a simple and cheap access solution.

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After that half mile mark, the trail ducks under the access road and hugs the bed of Fish Canyon Creek. This area has been left in a mostly-natural state and its the first time you’ll feel like you’re actually hiking in the wilderness on this route.

As part of its lease to work in the area, Vulcan is working with the Wildlife Habitat Council to ensure the safety and preservation of Fish Canyon Creek’s riparian woodlands. This lower stretch of the canyon is lined with California sagebrush, brittlebush, white sage, and towering ceanothus bushes. In the late winter and early spring, the sage and ceanothus may be blooming – while the the brittlebush usually wait until it’s a little bit hotter. It should be noted that the soil, vegetation, and water in this area is protected and not part of the trail. Hiking off the trail here is prohibited and punishable by fines or incarceration.

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brittlebush getting ready to flower

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ceanothus flowers on display

At the 0.7 mile mark, you’ll reach the northern boundary of the Vulcan property and cross a bridge across the creek and you’ll be back on the historic Fish Canyon Trail in earnest.

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The juxtaposition between the trail you’ve been walking on and the trail you’re currently walking on is shocking to say the least. Gone are the dust and heavy machinery (although you’ll still be able to hear and smell them for a short while), replaced by thick sagebrush and cacti, lush canyon oaks, and a rustic trail. Now this is hiking!

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A series of storms in late December, 2014 did some damage to the trail and canyon – but ended up being a good thing overall. The San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders were able to get into the canyon to cut back some of the overgrown vegetation, and their trail restoration in the landslide-damaged areas made noticeable improvements to the trail in many areas. The storms also restored water flow to the parched canyon, which restored quite a bit of plant life along the way (not to mention at the waterfall itself!), although in the late Winter of 2015 you could still see many areas of intense silt buildup in the creek.

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water in the creek!

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a large landslide on the east side of the canyon with silt buildup in the creek below

As you come around the first bend in the trail, you’ll see an old plaque dedicated to the history of Fish Canyon. There are a scattering of others along the rest of the canyon and they provide some good background and nice historic photos … along with a little bit of white-washing about the old Van Tassel Ridge Trail, too.

The trail leaves the creek bed rather quickly and travels north into the canyon on a ridge. Visually and character-wise, the trail reminded me a lot of a split-difference between the Santa Anita Canyon trail (especially during the shadier parts) and the East Fork Trail (especially the sunnier parts). Canyon views begin to open up as you hike and after a little bit of elevation gain, the trail levels out a bit around the 0.86 mark. If you are hiking in the cool months, look out for lots of blooming wildflowers, vines, and bushes along the way.

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Along the way, you may notice that some of the plants seem a little – out of place. That’s because these are all that remains of the gardens of the nearly 100 cabins that used to line the canyon. Historically, cabins in the San Gabriels haven’t fared that well – but unlike the survivors in nearby Santa Anita Canyon, ALL of the cabins that once stood here were destroyed – most by a 1958 wildfire or winter floods.

Keep your eyes peeled as you hike – some of the cabin remains are still visible.

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The Trailbuilders did a lot of hacking back these plants in this section of trail. It helps that many of these plants are deciduous and lose their leaves in the winter, but now you don’t have to worry quite as much about getting jabbed by cacti or swallowed up in a jungle.

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At the 1.2 mile mark, the trail hops the seasonal creek coming out of Fern Canyon and hangs a right to continue in Fish Canyon and make its most substantial gain in elevation so far – about 240 feet in 2/3 of a mile. It’s not terribly difficult, but you’ll definitely feel it on a hot day on the shadeless stretches – so make sure you drink enough water and take rests if you need them. There are some pockets of very lovely shade along this part of the trail but most of it is in full-sun. While the heat might bug you, be on the look out for some HUGE desert agave along the way. Unflowered, they’ll come up to or surpass your shoulders – if they’ve flowered, the stalk is probably 20-30 feet above you.

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At about the 1.7 mile mark the trail levels out again for a short while and even makes a short descent as it rounds the last major bend in the canyon before Fish Canyon Falls. There are some very beautiful sections of trail cut into the rock here, along with one very short and very steep switchback that might slow you down a bit as you hike.

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Near the 1.9 mile mark, it appears the trail forks at an intersection with a steep canyon. Ignore this side canyon on the left and continue to the right as the trail descends a broad ridge and dives into the creek bed itself (during the wet months, you may need to do a bit of boulder hopping here).

The trail quickly leaves the rocky creekbed and crawls up the eastern granite wall of the canyon on a narrow path that marks your final stretch of trail before you reach the falls.

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At the 2.3 mile mark you’ll cross into Angeles National Forest land and get your first view of the falls … or, if you’re hiking in the summer months, where the falls would be.

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The trail winds its way to the base of the falls, sliding down one short slickrock section along the way. If there’s water, you’ll be treated to a three-tiered waterfall with two sizable swimming holes. If there isn’t, you’ll see the high water mark on the rocks at the base of the falls and will just have to use your imagination instead.

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the waterfall in action, February, 2015

 

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The same pool in the summer of 2014

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The lower pool

While obviously the main draw of this hike is the waterfall, even if there’s zero water coming down over those cascades this is still a lovely trail and a decent little workout. If you come in the late winter or spring after a few rainstorms, though, this trail absolutely sings. The waterfall is definitely one of – if not the loveliest in the San Gabriel Mountains.

As the new, easily-accessed trailhead becomes more popular, it will be important for hikers to watch out for signs of overuse and graffiti. Sadly, there remain several instances of graffiti on the trail and at the waterfall itself – although it seemed like many had been there for some time.

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Additional Public Transit Directions: Foothill Transit line 187 stops at Huntington Drive and Las Lomas Road. The trailhead is about a 1.7 mile walk from the stop.

If you’re coming from the west, Line 187 stops at the Gold Line Sierra Madre Villa stop.

The city of Duarte also operates a free shuttle on Saturdays, which runs from the Duarte Gold Line stop to the trailhead from 7AM to 6PM from April through June. This shuttle service began in 2016 and does not appear to have a set annual schedule yet, so be sure to check the Duarte web site for more information.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





Dog-Friendly

Historical Interest

Kid-Friendly

Shade

Water Features

Waterfall

Trail Map

28 Comments

Casey Schreiner May 1, 2018 12:05In reply to: Emilio

This trail won't be open for a while.

From what I've heard, volunteer trail crews haven't been allowed into the canyon yet and likely won't be until later this year at the earliest. I'd guess 2019 or 2020, realistically, but that's just a guess at this point!

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Emilio May 1, 2018 12:05

I went a over a month ago and it was closed, it’s one of my favorite ones in Cali , when is it going to open again? I want to go this weekend

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Emilio May 1, 2018 12:05In reply to: Susie Houlden

Hi !! Been going to this hike a lot , awesome hike one of my favorite, so when is it going to open up again ? I went over a month ago and it was closed

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Kevin Feb 27, 2018 09:02In reply to: Susie Houlden

Thanks, Susie

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Susie Houlden Jan 29, 2018 11:01

A friend and I were in the area and saw on another hiking guide that this trail is back open so we decided to give it a shot.
Alas- it is still closed b/c of the Fish Fire. Just wanted to post an up to date notice in case anybody was curious about this hike.
There was no information on the sign regarding when it would open back up.

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Jerry McCormick Jun 17, 2016 08:06

Hey Hikers,
Most of the Stoners from Cerritos, CA. used to hike up there back in the late '70s & early '80s to party. This was before the Factory came along & messed up the beggining of the Canyon. Back then we used to call it Marijuana Falls because there were stories that it used to grow wild at the top of the Falls many years ago. One night we even took a Keg up to where we used to call Painted Rocks, a spot about 1/3 of the way up where Graffiti is painted on rocks in the stream bed by Hippies. During those years of hiking up there a few people had fallen & there were more than 1 or 2 deaths by a person from our school, Cerritos High. We have seen Trantilas, Rabbits, & many Rattle Snakes on our hikes , so watch your dogs carefully. Alot of Cub & Boys Scouts have hiked there. Some poeple that I have seen personally used to bring Guns up with them to horse around with, back in the day. It's a Great Hike & I plan to start going back with my Family.

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Brandon May 16, 2016 15:05

Being an avid hiker for quite sometime now, I've done a great many hikes in SoCal and the surrounding areas. I must say, this is probably one of the more beautiful hikes I've ever done. It had rained the day we went, so things seemed a bit wet, but it added to the enchantment of the place. There are some pretty damn high drop offs, so watch your step! The flora and fauna of this place are like nothing I've seen before. Drastic changes from the beginning of the hike till the amazing waterfall at the end. Watch for the poison oak, take lots of water, and make sure and watch your step!

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Amanda Feb 8, 2016 12:02

I went this past weekend and the water was flowing well. Lovely warm day and really pretty all along the trail. This is one of the nicest trails I have done since I moved to LA 5 months ago. Definitely recommend it. Fit beginner to moderate is about right. There are a few uphill sections and a bit of rock scrambling but nothing too difficult.

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Casey Schreiner Nov 10, 2015 08:11In reply to: Bernard Ohanian

thanks for the typo catch!

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Bernard Ohanian Nov 10, 2015 06:11

the directions refer to the "northern terminus of the 610 freeway." ain't no such beast. it's the northern terminus of the 605 freeway....

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Cynthia Jul 8, 2015 10:07

You're welcome! It's still a nice hike with plenty of shade and protection. But if they're expecting an awesome waterfall at the end, it's anti-climatic. Take care!

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dshadovi Jul 7, 2015 23:07In reply to: Cynthia

Thanks so much! My son's camp is heading there on 7/14, based on my recommendation after our April visit. I'll pass along what you said, and they can decide whether to go or cancel.

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Cynthia Jul 7, 2015 23:07In reply to: dshadovi

Yes there is water at the base so you can dip your feet in if you'd like. If you stare at the rocks where the waterfall should be, you can see some water trickle down through the foliage. But not a huge waterfall at all.

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dshadovi Jul 7, 2015 22:07In reply to: Cynthia

Oh no! Cynthia, was there water pooled at the base of the falls?

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Cynthia Jul 7, 2015 13:07

I hiked this trail on Friday, 7/3/15 and there was no water flowing! =( It was still a decent hike though, not terribly difficult but good just to get out in nature. Absolutely appreciated the shady spots, even though it wasn't too warm that day.

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Araceli Jun 16, 2015 14:06

Hiked to Fish Canyon Falls yesterday (6.15.15). The falls are still flowing but as expected much less than when I last did this hike in April. Despite the heat, the trail was still enjoyable thanks to all the shaded portions. Unfortunately, there was a lot of fresh graffiti along the trail with at least 5 large "pieces" surrounding the falls and pool area. Lots of litter along the trail as well including discarded clothing hanging from branches. On the bright side,there was evidence of recent trail maintenance along most of the route (cut branches, brush, etc.) as well as a small re-routed section. Best of all, yuccas are now in bloom throughout the canyon!

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Casey Schreiner May 16, 2015 21:05In reply to: adri

Glad to have you along for the hikes! Glad you enjoyed Fish Canyon. That whole area has seen a lot of love from volunteers and it definitely shows.

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adri May 16, 2015 19:05

Just went today After the last couple days of rain. It was beautiful! First time going and i know for sure I'll be back for more. Thanks for putting up such detailed descriptions of the trails. This is the first place i check out when im looking for somewhere to go.

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Justin B Feb 12, 2015 16:02In reply to: Casey Schreiner

BTW, thanks for the FB update on the trail status. That's why I headed out that there.

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Casey Schreiner Feb 12, 2015 14:02In reply to: Justin B

Ooo, good to know!

I may make a trek out tomorrow to beat the weekend crowds (and maybe adjust the difficulty with the new trail work!)

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Justin B Feb 12, 2015 14:02

I was at the falls today. The water is indeed flowing. It was great to have a triple waterfall all to myself for lunch.

It's a nice little hike. Although I'd rate the difficulty closer to easy-moderate.

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Casey Schreiner Feb 11, 2015 15:02In reply to: Ben White

Thanks, Ben! We removed the closure notice earlier this afternoon and sent out links on Facebook and Twitter. I'm hoping to check this trail out again to see if there's any water left in the falls!

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Ben White Feb 11, 2015 15:02

Trail opened today.

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Liza Robinson Feb 7, 2015 20:02In reply to: Bill

Do you know if it's still closed?

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Bill Jan 3, 2015 09:01In reply to: Veronica Bayron

No adventure pass required. There's a large public parking lot, free of charge. However the canyon is closed until the forest service clears a landslide caused by recent rain.

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Riah Dec 22, 2014 12:12

Went there this past weekend - the trail was CLOSED, effective Dec 17th. The sign said "due to a rock slide" and "once the trail is deemed safe ... trail access will re-open". We went to Sunset Peak instead – pretty cool!

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Veronica Bayron Dec 18, 2014 21:12

Is an adventure pass required to park near the trail?

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Josh Jul 3, 2014 14:07

Wow, that really shows how dry it is in California it has a lot of water when I went last yeat! Nice write up though

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