Monrovia Canyon Park is a small, 80-acre park that sits just outside the boundaries of the Angeles National Forest in the foothills of the San Gabriels – but don’t let its small size or city park status dissuade you from a visit. Monrovia Canyon not only features a year-round cascading 30-foot Monrovia Canyon Falls waterfall, but it’s also one of the loveliest riparian canyons I’ve had the pleasure of hiking in – and it’s very accessible for families and our four-legged friends.
This route follows the Bill Cull Trail from the lower parking area to Monrovia Canyon Falls, then returns through Emerson Flat and along the paved road. You will have several different options when hiking here, however. If you decide to park at the Middle Parking Lot, it’s only 1 mile to the falls, and if you park at the Nature Center it’s only 3/4 of a mile one-way.
From the Lower Lot, however, park and pay your automobile admission fee ($5 during the week, $6 on weekends and holidays) then hike past the entry kiosk and look for the signed entrance to the Bill Cull Trail on your left.
Take a left to start your ascent – making sure to follow the signed regulations at all times:
This first stretch of trail is only 0.2 miles long, but somehow manages to travel west, east, north, and then south all in that short distance. The trail itself is typical south-facing San Gabriels terrain but also features some wonderfully fragrant plants along the way as well. Keep your eyes (and noses) peeled for California bay laurel, black sage, and several very large white sage clusters along this stretch. Gently rub your hands along their leaves for some wonderful smells – just make sure you know exactly what plant you’re looking at before you start rubbing your hands all over it!
To the northeast, the large curved concrete form of the Sawpit Dam will come into view. This imposing 147-foot tall structure was built in 1927 as a flood control dam but shortly after it was completed, engineers discovered the foundation beneath the dam was too weak to hold the water it was designed to. The reservoir behind it was never filled to capacity because it wouldn’t have withstood an earthquake, and in 2000 the Department of Public Works cut a notch in the dam and turned it into a free-flowing waterfall.
The dam is not accessible from this trail, but you can hike along the Sawpit Fire Road to reach it if you’d like.
At the 0.2 mile mark, keep right at the trail junction to head toward the Waterfall. Here, the trail continues its slow but steady ascent along the left flank of the canyon wall.
There is plenty of shade on the trail here and for most of the rest of the hike you’ll be in cool, dappled sunlight. Even on a hot summer day, this is a great trail to explore – especially once the trail dips down to the canyon floor itself around the 0.6 mile mark, where you’ll be stepping over babbling brooks and overshadowed by enormous, tangled oaks.
Once you cross the stream, you’ll join up with the Nature Trail that begins at the Middle Parking Area. Turn left to head north and continue your hike deeper into the canyon toward Monrovia Canyon Falls.
You’ll notice several signposts along this stretch of trail with neat little custom ceramic plates attached to them. These mark the guided sections of the Nature Trail and if you snag a guide from the entry kiosk you’ll be able to learn a bit more about this canyon. Unfortunately when I went they were out, but if you were able to get one this would make an excellent time to help younger members of your party learn about their local ecosystems.
Follow the trail north and when it parallels the paved road, be sure to stay straight on into the canyon. The road will take you up to the Visitor Center if you’re interested.
The trail past the road passes a few flood control dams (familiar sights to anyone who’s spent time in nearby Santa Anita Canyon) and along some beautifully constructed stonework. You’ll also hike through some of the most beautiful riparian groves I’ve seen in the San Gabriels.
At the 1.3 mile mark, you’ll hop over a few boulders and reach the rocky bottom of Monrovia Canyon Falls.
This 30 foot double-cascade is not the tallest nor most impressive waterfall in the San Gabriels, but even with a steady stream of hikers coming and going this is still an absolutely lovely and serene grove that feels a million miles away from city life. We just sat here and enjoyed the cool mist and white noise with our fellow outdoors-lovers for a while.
Note: Park is closed on Tuesdays.