Distance (round-trip)

6.8 mi

Time

3.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

689 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

A short hike to 50-foot high Switzer Falls, one of the most popular and easily-accessible waterfalls in the Angeles National Forest. This route also includes a trip further down the canyon to Bear Canyon Campground, an easy way to get away from the crowds at Switzer to find some swimming holes you can keep to yourself.

Switzer Falls is one of the most popular waterfall hikes in Los Angeles County, and maybe in all of Southern California. It’s easily accessible from the picturesque Switzer’s Picnic Area – which means this trail can get pretty crowded on the weekends. If you find yourself circling the lower parking area, there are two overflow lots above it on the canyon road – it just means you’d have to add some elevation to your exit hike.

Parking Lot

The first section of the trail is on paved asphalt and travels past several additional picnic areas. A few more small cookouts were getting started up, and a large stream of people were coming up out of the canyon – many of them with dogs in tow.

The pavement doesn’t last for long and soon you’re hopping across boulders and getting up close and personal with the Arroyo Seco, which is passable in all but the highest floods. If we’ve had a decent rainstorm, though, give the canyon a good 48 hours or so to drain out a bit. The trail hugs the river side for most of the way in on this first mile.

This area was badly burned during the 2009 Station Fire, but although the damage is visible the region is recovering nicely.

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At the 1.1 mile mark, you reach a small junction at a stream crossing. The trail to the left takes you through the ruins of Switzer’s Camp, part of one of the early wilderness resorts in the mountains called Switzer-Land. There’s not a whole lot left, and you wouldn’t even know you were walking through ruins unless you read about it ahead of time. You can walk up to the spot where a small chapel once stood overlooking a waterfall. The Forest Service tore it down for safety’s sake, but you can still see some of the arched foundations scattered along the ridge.

If you take the right hand side, you’ll cross the stream. This is the one section of the trail that climbs out of the canyon’s shade and into the scrub of the higher elevations. If the sun’s beating down you’ll definitely feel it. But you’ll also get great vistas of the mountains surrounding you, which can go completely unnoticed when you’re by the riverside. Here’s another spot where you’ll be able to see the effects from the Station Fire for yourself. The first photo below is from before the fire – and the second is one taken after the trail was re-opened.

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At 1.3 miles, stay left to continue on the Bear Canyon Trail. This one of the most gorgeous parts of the hike, offering jaw-dropping views of both the surrounding peaks and deep into the canyon below. The scrub and chaparral were scorched by the Station Fire but look like they’ll bounce back in a few seasons.

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At the 1.7 mile mark, the trail switchbacks from the ridge down onto the floor of Bear Canyon itself. If you want to just hit up the falls, take a left here and Switzer Falls are just 0.1 mile away, making the round trip just under four miles long from the parking area – but if you’re in the mood to explore Bear Canyon, turn right and continue on the trail along the floor of the canyon.

This canyon used to be lined with oaks and sycamores before the Station Fire. I haven’t hiked deep into the canyon since the fire but it at least looks like many of the trees close to the water survived. The following images are all pre-fire.

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At the 2 mile mark, there’s a deep, multilayered pool that’s a great swimming hole. There was at one point a rope swing hanging over the pool for the more adventurous swimmers, too.

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If this pool’s occupied, there’s another, smaller one about 5 minutes further down the canyon at the 2.1 mile mark. That one’s got the added bonus of having fish swimming around in it. There were actually a couple of anglers casting into the pool when I hiked by this time.

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Shortly after the second pool at the 2.3 mile mark, you’ll reach a junction where Bear Canyon Creek meets up with the Arroyo Seco before continuing south. The trail sticks to the canyon wall and keeps going up Bear Canyon to the east. This is about the place where I found a nice flat rock in the stream and sat in the sun for 90 minutes, reading and enjoying nature’s best white noise.

In sharp contrast to the earlier parts of the trail, only two other hikers passed by me while I was sitting out there. So it’s not the total solitude you can get elsewhere, but it’s still pretty nice. Beats the beach crowds any day, though.

After the relaxation I’d come out for, I picked up and continued on along the Bear Canyon Trail, which climbed up piles of fallen, smoothed boulders as the canyon walls closed in. Other than the occasional scramble up and down to the river, the trail kept a pretty level elevation, so it wasn’t too tough.

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After lots of meandering and boulder hopping, I eventually made it to the surprisingly remote, surprisingly large and well-maintained Bear Canyon Campground at the 3.4 mile mark.

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The campground had lots of cleared space, plenty of metal fire rings, picnic tables, and even some metal stoves. Although the camp felt pretty out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere it’s really only a bit more than three miles in from Switzer’s and just a little farther from the other side of the mountains in Altadena. I’m still going to mark it as a stop if I ever do the multi-day trip through the San Gabriels that I’m secretly, constantly planning in the back of my head.

A short hour later and I was back at the Switzer’s Falls junction. Take a right hand turn at the trail junction to trek to the bottom of the falls. If it’s a weekend or summer day, expect some crowds.

Crowds at Switzer

If you’re careful, you can scramble up a use trail to the right of the falls, which will get you to a deep swimming hole just above the plunge. It’s also a nice natural jacuzzi, though much, much colder. If you keep climbing up a bit farther, you can make it to an even more secluded and larger canyon swimming hole, with more water streaming down the sides. The trail dead-ends there. Any further travel is at your own risk … but please, do not attempt to scale up or down the larger waterfall – rescues, injuries, and deaths are all frequent in that section of the canyon.

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In February, 2017, Southern California got hit with one of the largest winter storms in its history. The storm dumped several inches of rain across the region, bringing arroyos and waterways back to life in a way that many long-time residents had never seen in their lives.

The following photos and videos are from a few days after the rain storm (always a good idea to give the canyons a few days to dry out before exploring!). In all my years of hiking in the San Gabriels, I have never seen the Arroyo or the Falls like I did then:

When you’re done relaxing by the falls, just head back out the way you came in.

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

Camping

Dog-Friendly

Historical Interest

Kid-Friendly

Shade

Water Features

Waterfall

45 Comments

Casey Schreiner Mar 28, 2017 06:03In reply to: Mercedes Narez

Hey Mercedes - not sure where that sign is but it sounds like you might have gone off the trail ... maybe you kept walking past the ruins of Switzer's toward the chapel ruins? Because THAT cascade doesn't have a trail and people get airlifted off that every summer. The actual Switzer Falls is much, much smaller and much, much milder - and is reachable by established, well-traveled trail.

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Mercedes Narez Mar 27, 2017 16:03

I went today to hike to the falls but we got to a point where there was a "Danger" sign, graffitied up and hard to read, but it said to go back to the "view point" or the bottom of th falls via Bear Canyon trail. And that something like 18 people died falling accidentally, so we turned back. Should we have kept on going? We never saw the falls.

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Casey Schreiner Mar 2, 2017 08:03In reply to: Alan Coles

Thanks for the update, Alan - I've had a lot of questions about the state of that stretch of trail and hopefully those folks can hop on board the Trail Crew to help get it re-opened faster!

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Alan Coles Mar 1, 2017 21:03

Latest update: There was severe flooding in early 2017 and several short sections of the Bear Canyon Trail have washed away. However, most of the trail from Switzer to the camp is in good shape. The trail above the camp has many down trees and brush has become overgrown on the section leaving the canyon up to Tom Sloan Saddle. For more information on current trail conditions or if you would like to volunteer to work on this trail please contact the Bear Canyon Trail Crew at [email protected]

Also, there has been someone doing unauthorized work on this trail which has made our efforts more difficult. If you encounter anyone doing work that is not part of a forest service volunteer crew (we wear hard hats, have radios, etc.), please get a description and report to us or the forest service. Thank you.

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Brant Williams Dec 6, 2015 17:12

Hiked out to the falls today, December 6, 2015. Trails were beautifully maintained. I half expected the creek and waterfall to be completely dried up but I was happy to see a tiny bit of water flowing. Climbed up the use trail behind the falls to check out the swimming holes but the flash floods must have filled them all in completely with silt. Bummer. The mosquitos were thick right now though. Aside from the random group of loud picnickers who decided to cover their picnic table with hookahs, it was a great hike.

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Alan Coles Nov 29, 2015 21:11In reply to: Aaron

For current information, contact the Bear Canyon Trail Crew at [email protected] We last worked the trail from Switzer to the trail camp on 11/28/15 and it is in fair to good shape with some logs to go over and under.

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Aaron Nov 13, 2015 11:11In reply to: Alan Coles

Has anyone been on this hike in the last few weeks? How is the condition?

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Casey Schreiner Aug 11, 2015 15:08In reply to: Alan Coles

Thanks for your work and thanks for the update, Alan. It's much appreciated!

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Alan Coles Aug 10, 2015 21:08

Surveyed the trail on 8/815 from Switzer to the trail camp. There was a lot of damage from the floods in July but I was able to clean most of it up. Trail is still in good shape to the trail camp with a few logs to cross over. There are a few false trails so watch for places where it leaves the stream bed. It is likely that the trail beyond the camp will be more difficult. We plan to start work again in September.

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Tory Terzian Jul 28, 2015 01:07

The last time I had hiked this trail was at least 5 or 6 years ago. I hadn't expected it to change so much since then! Huge sections of trail by the creek have been washed away or torn up, often with huge logs piling up and blocking the way. Even the footbridge near the parking lot (a few feet above creek level) was covered in silt, so there must have been one hell of a flash flood. All of the wonderful rock pools on the way to the Bear Canyon campground have been filled to the brim with silt. One of the pools used to be deep enough to do a bit of cliff jumping, and now it's a flat span of mud with a creek running on top of it. My girlfriend didn't believe that we were standing on top of what used to be a 10 foot deep pool! Guess we hiked in our bathing suits for nothing. A hiker we passed said that he had been up here only a month prior, and that a lot of the damage was new and made the trail almost unrecognizable. Most of it must have occurred during the heavy rains on July 19-20. Other than that, it's a beautiful hike. Dog loved it and we had fun.

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Casey Schreiner May 18, 2015 22:05In reply to: Alan Coles

Awesome! Thanks for the update (and the trail work!)

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Alan Coles May 18, 2015 22:05

Bear Canyon Trail from Switzer Picnic Area to the Bear Canyon Trail Camp is in good shape as of today with only 1 tree left to remove. Trail above the camp to Tom Sloan Saddle is in fair shape with many trees over the trail but easily passable. Bear Canyon Trail Crew is a USFS volunteer group dedicated to maintaining this trail. For trail status and volunteer opportunities contact us at [email protected]

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Zach Feb 17, 2015 12:02In reply to: Casey Schreiner

Was there this weekend. Sign is still there but heavily tagged on. You can still see the sign says closed but not as obvious as it used to be.

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Casey Schreiner Feb 14, 2015 20:02In reply to: Kristine

Looks like you went on to the Gabrieleno Trail. Was the sign saying it was closed removed?

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Kristine Feb 14, 2015 20:02

Ahhh... I usually print out the trail post to make sure I hit all the marks right but couldnt get to a printer for this trail. So I tried to wing it. I turned right at a junction when you're out of the canyon thinking that's where I was supposed to veer right. It was fun, very narrow and exciting but we had to turn back when the trail was just too overgrown. We backtracked and went left which as I know now is Bear Canyon. Do you know what the trail to the right (in img_5014) I accidentally took was?

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Jon Neustadter Oct 6, 2014 09:10

I did this hike yesterday (October 5, 2014). A great hike (as always) but, of course, it would be wonderful if we get some rain this winter (it was the driest I have ever seen it). Also, there is LOTS of poison oak right now. I have been meaning to correct the mileage, for a while. I think it was just a typo, but it's 8.8 miles round trip (at least according to the signs and based on my usual hiking speed, it's likely around 8+ miles and not 6.8 miles). The signs indicate it's 1.4 miles to the first junction (where you stay left to keep on Bear Canyon Trail). At that same intersection, there is a pole that indicates it is another 3 miles to Bear Canyon Camp (very hard to read -- but it's there). So, the signs suggest it is about 4.4 miles and not 3.4 miles from the lower Switzer's parking lot to Bear Canyon Trail Camp. I hope that helps!! Jon

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Casey Schreiner Jul 22, 2014 10:07In reply to: Jon B

I'm hoping (along with many, many others) that we get some actual precipitation this winter. There are too many great swimming hole / waterfall trails that just aren't worth going to this summer!

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Jon B Jul 22, 2014 09:07

Just did this hike on Saturday, July 19th. The falls are a trickle right now. With the severe lack of winter precipitation the creek is barely running, and disappears completely in many places (including right below the falls). The trail is still lush and shaded and makes for a good hike on warm summer days.

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Dee May 30, 2014 22:05In reply to: Robert

I hiked this trail on Tuesday. Came across a rattlesnake, coiled up next to the water. Watch where you step, and keep your dogs close!

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Robert May 28, 2014 13:05In reply to: Casey Schreiner

The trail from Switzer, sorry, wasn't clear. As bad as it was and tough for us, we met some "real" hikers who had come up this same trail the night before in total darkness, no moon. I guess the challenge of the trail wasn't enough by itself for them, they had to do it blind!

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Casey Schreiner May 27, 2014 17:05In reply to: Robert

Robert are you describing the trail between Switzer's Camp and the Bear Canyon Campground or were you coming up the Canyon from the Gabrielino Trail?

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Robert May 26, 2014 14:05In reply to: Lauren Ballas

Just got back from an overnight with my daughter to Bear Canyon campground (May 24, 2014). The trail up to the campground is terrible, just as Christpher describes. It is not for the faint of heart if you are carrying a pack of any weight. Felled trees obliterate the trail, lots of flotsam and jetsam make for intense scrambling and finger crossing to find the path. We had to take our packs off multiple times to get thru. All was fine once we reached the great campsite and we were the only ones there : for about an hour, after which the site filled up quickly. No bother, everyone was friendly and well behaved, and it was Memorial Day, so a crowd was to be expected. Any way the path back sucked again, but at least it was downhill.

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Lauren Ballas Mar 12, 2014 01:03

Just did this hike with my family. I agree with everything written above - especially the crowds on the weekends. On a weekend or holiday you will find cub scout troops, large noisy groups, and lots of folks with their pets. We went on a Monday afternoon and only encountered 7 other people during our 5 hour visit. The trail is beautiful and well maintained to Switzer Falls which is probably why it is so popular. I had hiked the Bear Canyon trail two weeks before this trip, but today found it heavily damaged from the 3/1/14 storm. There are many trees down with the bushy/branchy top ends blocking the trail requiring bush whacking, bypassing, climbing and creativity. There are sections of dirt trail reduced to rocks and boulders and sections of previously precarious foot-wide rock trail completely washed out. Patience and persistence paid off and we made it to Bear Camp which was in great shape. Good info and great pictures above!

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Christopher Sep 26, 2012 21:09

I hiked this trail this weekend. The first part of the hike from the picnic area down to the falls was pretty well traveled. The trail was in good condition for the most part. Be aware that this section is pretty popular. We were unlucky enough to be on the trail when some group outing came thundering through. It was 20+ people stomping through like a herd of bellowing elephants. That quickly ruined the sanctuary of the great outdoors. They could be heard screaming and yelling at the falls for the entire trail portion that lowers down into the canyon by the falls. The falls, this late in the season, had slowed to a trickle, so that was a bit anticlimactic. This portion of the trail is very scenic however and the section that opens up before descending toward the falls offers outstanding views looking down canyon.
We (my son and I) were backpacking, intent on staying the night at the Bear Canyon Trail Camp. So, we continued down the canyon from the falls. We left the rabble of the crowd behind, only encountering a hand full of people in the first 1/2 mile or so and then not a soul for the final 1 1/2 miles. I feel compelled to warn anyone attempting this section of the trail that it has not been maintained. The further we went, the worse it got. Many, many trees had fallen across the trial requiring scrambling over and under. Sections of the trail are washed out, requiring very frequent stream hopping to get past impassable areas and back again to where the trail picks up, if you can find where it picks up again. Eroded areas make the trail very narrow with only loose scrabble that threatens to slide you down steep inclines. This makes for really arduous, dangerous, and slow progress, especially if you are weighed down with a loaded pack for camping. There are multiple trees down blocking the trail at the exact spot where the trail camp path splits off to the right, which helped keep us from missing it. No one else was at the camp and at this point in the season, the stream bed by the camp is dry, so the nearest water is a 10 min hike back to the main stream. With trail conditions as they are, I would not choose to do this trip again. With a light day hike pack, it might be more doable, but even then, I'd recommend against it unless you are looking for a hard workout and a very challenging day.

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Marga Feeney Sep 8, 2012 12:09

I started hiking this summer and love it!, got a small group of friends and we go every Wednesday after work and on Sundays we take longer hikes, last weekend we did the bridge to nowhere, it was fantastic, we started driving down the mountain when the road got closed at the bottom because the fire and ended up going around, which was no big deal. tomorrow we'll try something new, maybe the Malibu Creek or the Switzer falls. thank you so much for the information, it is great!

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Seth Aug 15, 2011 14:08

Did this hike twice this month. Truly a great hike. Comparing your pics to mine, you can truly see the devastation the fire did in this area. Still beautiful nonetheless. Ive done this hike 3 times total in the last 6 weeks because I have enjoyed it so much. Bring a hammock back there and set up by the bear canyon pools. The slides are fantastic, and the water is just high enough to go down them. The 4th or 5th pool is deep enough to jump into. There seems to be much more traffic at the falls versus the bear canyon pools. Id love to make this trip part of the larger San Gabrelino trail trip.

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Andrew Saporito Aug 13, 2011 15:08

So when will Bear Canyon be open again? This looks like a great place - I would really like to check it out.

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Kenny Jun 25, 2011 22:06

Yes it is open and is great shape. The place is all new from the toilets to the grills.

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Samuel Jun 24, 2011 15:06

Hi, I was thinking of trying this hike tomorrow, June 25, 2011, do ya'll know if it is open again? I can't quite tell from the closure map. Thanks, great site!

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Kenny May 29, 2011 20:05

Thanks, that was very helpful.

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Modern Hiker May 27, 2011 12:05In reply to: Kenny

You'll have to take a longer drive in through Big Tujunga Canyon, then hook up with the Angeles Forest Highway and take that down to Clear Creek.

I'd still call the rangers before gearing up for this hike, though - it's right on the closure boundary and I don't think this entire route as I've described it is open to hikers just yet, although you may be able to get to the falls through Switzer's.

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Kenny May 27, 2011 07:05

This hike is open now, but since ACH is closed how do you get to the trail head?

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LOIS W. WEETH Sep 5, 2010 12:09

Looking at your story and images of Switzer's Trail brought back happy memories of a childhood visit to Switzer's Camp.
My Dad grew up in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and had hiked all over the area. His family had a cabin someplace near Mt. Wilson.
In the 1920s we lived in Laurel Canyon, and one time we went up to Switzer's Camp, hiking up from Arroyo Seco. I was the younger child, about 5, so Dad rented a burro for me to ride up the trail. Mother, Dad, and my brother hiked up. What an experience! I have clear memories of much of that weekend...

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Modern Hiker Aug 11, 2010 15:08In reply to: Manny

Bear Canyon is closed, unfortunately. You can see down into it from the Echo Mountain Railway Trail, and it looks like it was hit pretty badly.

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Manny Aug 11, 2010 15:08

Bear Canyon looks like it would be such a great overnight hike with the kids... can anyone tell me if it is still currently close...I've been just waiting and waiting... and I cant wait much longer...

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SASHA May 21, 2010 20:05

Oh Switzer, how I miss this trail. Looking forward to the day I am able to hike it again.

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Weekend Party Thread: February - Page 35 - Playa del Carmen, Mexico forum Feb 27, 2010 18:02

[...] Wow! This is it. Looks a lot more popular than when I was doing it 25 years ago. I actually learned many of my outdoor and angling skills right here. What a great place. Hiking Bear Canyon and Switzer Falls | Modern Hiker [...]

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Scott Jan 5, 2010 20:01

This Trail has been closed due to the station fire. I tried going out this weekend to no avail.

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Modern Hiker Nov 21, 2009 09:11

Hey, Jim!

From what I know, the Bear Canyon area was mostly developed much earlier, in L.A.'s so-called "Golden Age Of Hiking," in the 1880's. That's when Bob and Elizabeth Waterman and Commodore Perry Switzer built the stone chapel, camp sites and cabins at Switzer's Camp.

Although the camp was on National Forest land, I think it remained privately owned until the 1950's - but I bet they had a lot of maintenance help from the Forest Service.

If your father was in the CCC, then he and his buddies left their beautiful fingerprints all over the San Gabriels. Beyond the amazing stonework on the bridges, roads, and tunnels, there are still many Forest Service booths and structures all over the Forest (hopefully they survived the fires). And if he had anything to do with cabin building, there are lots of fantastic examples left along Icehouse Canyon and Santa Anita Canyon, too.

Anyone who enjoys the outdoors these days - especially in older state and national parks and lands - owes a great debt of thanks to the CCC and everyone who worked with them!

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Jim Nov 21, 2009 08:11

Do you happen to know if this Bear Canyon was developed during the early thirties by the CCC's? My father worked all over Angeles National Forest in 1932-1934 with CCC Company 551 out of a Bear Canyon camp. They built at least one large swimming hole at their Bear Camp Canyon. Anyway, with the CCC's my daddy worked all over the area in and out of the Forest--Newhall, Saugus, etc--on roads, bridges, hiking trails, flood control, etc. At any rate I know there have been thousands of folks who have enjoyed my father's and his buddies work in the area and wondered if there was any lingering evidence of them having passed through.

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Anthony Hardwick Jul 25, 2009 18:07

Thank you for the great writeup on this hike! I did this hike with my wife and a good buddy of mine yesterday. We hiked to the Bear Cyn Campground, took the high scenic route, and also visited Switzer's falls. We saw a few other hikers along the way, but it was not crowded by any means. One thing we loved about the hike at this time of year was the fact that it was almost entirely shaded by the canopy of trees and the steep canyon walls. We really appreciated the detailed info... thanks again!

Anthony & Linda

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Modern Hiker May 13, 2009 18:05In reply to: Michael Walsh

What a great way to spend time with your kids! Thanks for getting them outside and keeping things fun. They'll appreciate it!

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Michael Walsh May 13, 2009 15:05

Thanks Modern Hiker for maintaining such a great site. We took our girls, 9 & 10, out on Mother's day for our first Backpacking trip of the year. We ususally head to Azusa and Bridge to NoWhere but after finding your site and reviewing all the good hikes we chose this one. I know you hike these in a day but we like to do overnights with the kids. You can check out our hike on our site if you like. Keep up the great work!

Thanks
Michael

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Historical Switzer’s Photographs | Modern Hiker Feb 18, 2009 08:02

[...] remnants of these resorts are still around today - most notably at Switzers, Icehouse Canyon, and - probably in the best condition - Echo Mountain and Santa Anita Canyon. But [...]

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Getting Your Girlfriend (or Boyfriend) to Hike at Modern Hiker Apr 25, 2008 09:04

[...] your partner is willing to drive a little bit farther out of the city, Bear Canyon / Switzer Falls is a slightly more rugged adventure, but still mild enough for beginners. There are lots of easy [...]

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