Distance (round-trip)

16 mi

Time

8 hrs

Elevation Gain

4000 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

A long-distance trail, his hike has just about everything that makes hiking in Southern California great. Stream crossings and boulder scramblings, sycamore groves and chaparral, shady canyons, waterfalls, mountain peaks and more. And you don’t even have to hike the whole way to see it.

NOTE: This trail was heavily damaged in the Station Fire but has been reopened as of May 24, 2012. Reports from hikers and trail crews have consistently said the trail is currently only passable to just a bit north of Trail Canyon Falls. Beyond that, the trail to Condor Peak has all but vanished. Only attempt this if you have excellent routefinding skills and are OK with basically bushwhacking on an unmaintained trail that has essentially been abandoned.

Shortly after 6AM, my friend Will and I were suited up and cruising through the otherworldly trafic-less-ness of the San Fernando Valley. We’d reached the trailhead by about 6:35 – much earlier than I’d expected – and made our way in as the first beams of sunlight illuminated the peaks around us.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 003
I realized as we made our way around some of the old Forest Service cabins near the trailhead that this path was actually the very first trail I ever hiked in the Angeles National Forest. Waaay back in the by-gone days of 2006.

I cut my teeth on some simple hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains and an easy summit in Joshua Tree earlier, and I heard there was a nice waterfall up on this trail. My first stream crossings were overly cautious affairs, and I didn’t do much other than hike about 3 miles in, lounge around the waterfall for a while, and hike out. 6 miles was a very big deal back then.

Not anymore.

The light was low, but the trail came back to me as we crossed the small-but-steady Trail Canyon Creek and made our way over a handful of stream crossings, the stream providing a gentle gurgling white noise that accompanied us for most of our way along the canyon floor.

Every once in a while, as we slowly gained elevation, we had to turn back to see the mountains unfolding before us in the daylight. You usually only get that treat when you wake up on-time after camping.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 005
Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 007

The hike from the trailhead to the falls is a clear, easy-to-travel route. In the spring, the 40 foot waterfall gushes and tumbles almost out of nowhere. It’s a surprise when you first see it, because you’ve just come up out of some hot, dry, canyon sides – far from the cool water. For us, the waterfall was light, but still flowing. We pledged to stop on the way back, because we didn’t want to use up any time or get lulled in by the water – which is very easy for us.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 004
There is a small use-trail that will take you to the base of the falls – and once you get above the waterfall itself there’s also a small swimming hole just a bit upstream.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 009
I get the idea that most people just hit this waterfall and turn around – partially because they probably think there’s nothing else of interest but mostly because the trail beyond the waterfall is heavily overgrown. Not impassible, by any means, but it travels a bit slower than the clear trail that precedes it. We were happy to be wearing long sleeves and pants as we deflected branches and brambles flying from all directions.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 011>
After one (of the many) stream crossings, we came upon a tiny campsite by the water. It looked like it was fighting a losing battle at keeping back the forest but a cozy place to spend a night:

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 012
“Lazy Lucas” is what’s left of the old Tom Lucas Camp – a single stove, a makeshift shelter, and maybe room for one or two small tents. The homemade sign helpfully pointed out that the actual camp was just a bit further down the trail, and after peeking around a bit, we were back on the trail and boulder-hopping again.

The trail along the way was almost completely shaded by sycamores hugging the creek, so it was nice to hit a small clearing near the actual Tom Lucas Camp around 3.8 miles in. This camp had several stoves, as well as picnic tables and room for a small group of tents, but even parts of this camp looked like they’d lost some ground back to the wilderness. Inevitable, I guess.

We sat at the picnic table and had a short breather before moving on through a small, sunny field …

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 021
Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 022

… and into a dense green canopy of trees. Will mentioned the tree cover felt like something out of his old Southern stomping grounds, while I noticed the rocks along the stream had the cracked, layered, glacial look of New England boulders. Either way, it sure didn’t feel like Southern California.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 023
Soon enough, though, we were out of the shade and into the chaparral, the sun now getting more overhead and direct. This felt more like the low San Gabriels – hot, sunny, and full of Spanish Bayonets. After some painful inclined hiking through thick brush, we reached the saddle, gasping. But it was great to turn south and look at the full length of Trail Canyon, conquered.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 028
At the saddle, we could see the reddish-brown Iron Mountain to our immediate west. It looked a few miles away, and we’d tagged it as a potential side trail if we were feeling especially frisky. But Condor Peak was the Main Event.

Most maps mark the route between this saddle and Condor Peak as ‘cross-country,’ which usually means an unmarked path, uneven ground, and unkempt brush. While this part of the trail was marked as such it was a clear-cut, wide open route that clearly snaked along the ridge between Iron Mountain and Condor Peak. It’s not a gentle trail by any means – it’s relentlessly uphill with little shade and even fewer stretches of level ground.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 032
Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 033

Walking along the ridge did provide some beautiful views of the valleys around us, though. Visibility was great, so we could even clearly make out the buildings and streets of the Valley cities. Without the gentle gurgling of the creek, though, the air up here was unbelievably silent. It’s a bit surreal to see millions of people going about their City Lives down below you and not hear them making any noise.

It does make cities a lot more peaceful, though. That’s for sure. And being able to turn our heads slightly to the left and get healthy visual dose of nature’s empty goodness helped, too.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 031
At this point, we’d been hiking for about four hours straight. All we knew about the path up to Condor Peak was that we were supposed to see a use-trail somewhere off the main drag, and we hadn’t seen it yet. We continued as the trail wrapped its way around the north face of Condor Peak, which was much too steep and jagged for any sensible ascent.

We were starting to get a bit disheartened. Exhausted, hot, tired, and without a trail ascent in sight, we were losing our energy and had reduced our usually steady hiking pace to a halfhearted shuffle.

Even Will’s dog Dingo, who is a usually a reliable source of perpetual energy, looked like she was ready to call it quits. While we were making our way up, she’d run in front of us, find a tiny spot of shade and fall to the ground, panting.

On a shaded spot on the north face near the saddle we theorized would have the use trail, we all joined her in the dirt, eating a mini-lunch and taking in the sweeping panorama of mountains before us.

It’s amazing what a little fructose will do for your attitude. My sagging energy was completely restored, and I was ready to tackle the rest of the hike … I’m gonna have to start packing more apples from now on.

Well, the good news was the use trail to the summit of Condor Peak was right around the corner from us. The bad news was the use trail was a nearly-vertical rock scramble, which our battle-weary legs weren’t necessarily very excited about taking on just then.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 036
The prospect of a good ol-fashioned scramble did break up the monotony of standard trail hiking, though, and we ended up making good time up the side of the peak. And once at the top, we took in the expansive views – from the Pacific, Channel Islands, and snow-capped Los Padres in the west, to the rolling peaks of the Angeles in the north and east, and south toward Catalina and the Cleveland National Forest.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 043
Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 044

And after taking in the view (and I taking off my shoes), we lounged on some of the peak’s rock outcroppings and indulged in a bit of peaknapping. Incidentally, the only other time I’ve ever done that was at the summit of Mount Baldy.

Rocks have never been so comfortable.

After getting lightly sunburned, we made our way back down the mountainside. We spotted a mountain biker perched on the saddle to our immediate east – the first person we saw since we passed a small group near the trailhead. If you’re looking for some on-trail solitude, this is definitely the place to be.

By now, the sun was out and in full force, and it really illuminated the darker sections of the riparian canyon. The shade and cool air near the creek were a welcome respite from the sun-baked temperatures near the peak.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 047
Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 048

We made good time coming back down, stopping once in a while to let Dingo take a dip in the creek to cool off, or dipping our heads in to achieve the same effect. The mountain biker we saw near Condor Peak passed us on the way down, but other than that, the only other people we saw were at or going to the waterfall.

When we reached the falls, we kept our promise to do a bit of exploring. Hopping across the boulders and carved rock, we followed the stream down a few smaller falls before it reached the big one. The water was much lower than it was the last time I was there, so most of the rocks were dry and left plenty of room to hop across and lounge on.

Will took his spot perched on the very edge of the falls, on a rock that split the flow of water into smaller streams to each side of it. I scrambled up alongside the edge to try to snag a shot of the falls and the pool below. It looks like it’d be quite welcoming on a hot summer day, and a bit less accessible (and therefore less crowded) than the more well-known and heavily-heeled Switzer Falls.

Will was digging his perch at the falls’ edge, and invited me to swap places to check out how amazing it was.

He was right. The split stream provided bubbling white noise in stereo, and when a breeze came up the falls, I’d get a light spray of cool mist from below me. A perfect way to pass the time … although obviously I wouldn’t recommend it if the water levels were higher.

Condor Peak via Trail Canyon 062
After getting our fill of the falls, we were back on the trail and made it back to the parking lot to sign the register, take off our shoes, and head home. Dingo passed out in the back seat, a happy and tired puppy.

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





Camping

Dog-Friendly

Historical Interest

Multi-Use Trail

Solitude

Views / Vista

Waterfall

Trail Map

31 Comments

Matteson Perry Apr 1, 2019 10:04

Did this hike on 3/31/19. We made it about 4.5 miles in before the trail gave out. There are two campsites with fire pits - the trail is perfect until the first, after which it's a little tougher, but there are still cairns and orange ribbon. At the second campsite, the trails disappears - no obvious path, lots of brush, and no more orange ribbons. We tried to carry on, but after about 30 minutes got tired of the sticker bushes and yucca's stabbing us and turned back. If you want to reach the peak, you'll need patience, thick pants and sleeves, and possibly a machete.

The rest of the hike was great though and we barely saw any other people beyond the falls. The falls are flowing hard right now and very beautiful.

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Brant Williams Jan 26, 2019 09:01

Hiked up to the Tom Lucas trail camp yesterday (1-25-2019) and the trail was clear and well maintained all the way up. Saw signs of recent sawing and tree fall removal so a maintenance crew must have been up there pretty recently. I've seen and read about a few different iterations of the Tom Lucas trail camp but what I found was a very well maintained single tent site and metal fire pit (the crew filled the fire pit with rocks as there are no fires allowed currently). This camp was a good half mile before where my GPS said the trail camp was. I hiked another mile or so up the canyon beyond this camp and the trail was a little less clear but still marked with blazes and cairns. I don't know if it is clear all the way up to Condor or not but it's worth checking out.

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Austin Jan 26, 2018 16:01

The hike past the Tom Lucas Camp is impossible to complete. I attempted this with a friend on January 24, 2018 using the GPX file from this page. Please read my Yelp review here: https://www.yelp.com/biz/condor-peak-via-trail-canyon-falls-trail-sunland-tujunga

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Casey Schreiner Apr 16, 2017 09:04In reply to: Alexander van Gaalen

haha - no worries! :)

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Alexander van Gaalen Apr 15, 2017 13:04

Thanks for the info. You just saved me your ordeal.

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Francisco Villalobos Apr 9, 2017 22:04

Hiked this route yesterday. The trail past the falls up to Tom Lucas Camp starts to get pretty tricky, but it is doable. The next two miles is impossible to follow the trail. I went cross country on the way up and met back up with the trail not too far from the saddle. Took me 6 hours just to reach the peak. The way down I tried to follow the trail as far as possible and had to fight my way through 7 foot tall brush and overgrown/fallen trees til I got back to Tom Lucas trail camp (which is in terrible shape). Found one small open section to spend the night and headed back to the trailhead in the morning. I do not recommend this hike unless you are very experienced and composed, because at times even I was ready to break. Those two miles in the middle were absolute hell, but the rest of this home was gorgeous.

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Casey Schreiner Jun 15, 2015 14:06In reply to: Darren Stoddart

And thanks for your info, Darren! I'm REALLY hoping some crews get into that section of the San Gabriels soon. These routes were really beautiful and I'm looking forward to the day when we can all hike them again without needing a machete :)

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Darren Stoddart Jun 15, 2015 08:06

I hiked this one yesterday with a major reroute at the saddle.

My trip started by meeting the volunteers that have cleared and repaired the trail to the falls and somewhat past it, a great and helpful couple making this area more accessible for us all. They are the "restoration legacy crew" on facebook, connect with them and tell them thanks for their hard work!

As has been mentioned in previous posts the trail past the falls is being cleared up to the old camp at which point it is almost completely overgrown and it only gets worse until you start the final climb out of the canyon. Some kind souls have left trail markers over the years so I only needed the GPS once to check my location against the track posted on this website.

Here is my lesson learned for this section...
- DO NOT do it in shorts
- Bring an extra pair of glasses / sunglasses (a rogue limb broke mine in two)
- Don't go past the falls if loosing the trail for a minute or two is more stress than you like
- Consider taking a machete

After reaching the saddle with my legs ripped to shreds I decided that I should take an alternate path back down that I discussed with the trail stewards before I started. I skipped the peak because it was obvious that I bit off more than I could chew with this one. My route was as follows Trail canyon trail -> Condor Peak Spur -> Mendenhall Ridge Road -> Yerba Buena Trail -> Gold Canyon Road. This route makes the trip almost 17 miles with 8400' total climbing according to my GPS. You will find absolutely no shade along the Spur and two Roads, I took a gallon and a half of water and had to do some minor rationing over the last 2-3 miles. The Yerba Buena Trail would be a great connector but is highly eroded up to Mt McKinely and is VERY tough to locate after Mt McKinely, like the upper section of Trail Canyon Trail it is totally overgrown.

Here is my lesson learned for this section...
- I wouldn't do it again unless I knew it was going to be below 80 degrees (it was 93-95)
- I wouldn't do it alone (even though I hike with an emergency satellite radio)
- DO NOT attempt Yerba Buena Trail without poles and a GPS with the trail loaded in it. There is lots of exposure up to Mt McKinley and you will be bushwhacking after that.

Thanks to Casey and all of the posters for all of the information on this trail.

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Casey Schreiner Apr 6, 2015 11:04In reply to: Christopher Ross Larson

Thanks for the update, Christopher!

I spoke with some of the trail repair crews recently, and they're working on clearing the trail past Trail Canyon Falls and up to Tom Lucas Camp right now. It may be a while before the rest of the route has been cleared, unfortunately.

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Christopher Ross Larson Apr 5, 2015 20:04

Just letting everyone know. My buddy and I made it up to about 3,800 ft. We were pretty much hacking shrub, and slipping and sliding past the make-shift campground. Not much left of it. We had just got up the canyon wall ridge-line to try a summit, but the trail is pretty much gone. No stones, not tree markers, no footpath. Not that there was much a trail before this. The issue is now that you really need a machete to do this climb, just to speed up the process. We did the first 4 miles in just about under 2 hours, and then the next 1.5 miles in about 2 hours. Just no way to make the summit and get back without serious risk hiking in the dark.

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