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Modern Hiker | West Fork Camp via Shortcut Canyon | Modern Hiker

Distance (round-trip)

7.2 mi

Time

3.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

1550 ft

Season

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Weather

A tranquil route into a wooded canyon on the Silver Moccasin Trail. A good conditioning hike with beautiful campgrounds, streamside views for almost the entire run, and plenty of boulder-hopping and stream crossing along the way. This would be a great candidate for a first-time moderate hike – it’s easy enough for experienced beginners, but difficult enough to make you feel like you worked for it. It’s secluded enough to feel like your own corner of the forest, and fairly difficult to get lost along the way.

NOTE: This area was badly burned in the 2009 Station Fire. Trail conditions may differ from the description below – be sure to read the comments to see recent trail reports!

Shortcut Canyon, like the Santa Anita Canyon, was a major thoroughfare through the San Gabriels before the Angeles Crest Highway was built — back in the “Golden Age of Hiking,” when trail camps and resorts dotted the entire mountain range. Today, Shortcut Canyon is preserved as part of the Silver Moccasin Trail, which runs over 53 miles from Chantry Flats to Vincent Gap in Wrightwood. This route takes you from a very accessible trailhead from the Angeles Crest Highway, deep into Shortcut Canyon and into West Fork Camp. It’s pretty tough to miss the parking area from the road. (As of February, 2015, some hikers have reported the trailhead sign is still missing or in bad shape. For accurate location of the trailhead, use our Google Maps directions).

The Silver Moccasin Trail into Shortcut Canyon starts off with a few quick, steep switchbacks as it makes its way to a tore-up fire road just below the paved Highway. There are signs to the trail, but they can be tough to see, so when you get to the road, take a right and hike toward the west, over the deep ruts.

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The road is not very picturesque, but you won’t be on it for too long. After a very short distance, the trail leaves the south side of the road and descends toward the canyon floor. This opening section of trail is similar to other trails in the front range — namely, dusty, lined with chaparral and yucca, and mostly shadeless. You probably won’t notice the lack of shade on the way down, but if it’s a hot day, you’ll definitely notice it on the way back up.

As you make your way toward the canyon floor and water, the bushes and trees around you start to grow in a bit fuller, providing more and more shade as you head down. There are few downed trees on the trail, a few of which are on some moderately steep slopes. They are passable, just take care.

After about 1.6 miles and descending 1070 feet, you’ll reach the bottom of the canyon, you’ll meet up just south of the confluence of the East and West Forks of Shortcut Canyon Creek, where the water pours through a low cascade into a pool and continues down the canyon. It’s a lush and idyllic setting, the water running its way through a rocky riverbed surrounded on both sides by sycamores and cottonwoods.

Get yourself acquainted with the creek — as you’ll be spending the remaining two miles of the trail crossing it 34 times each way.

Depending on the level of water in the creek, those crossings range from simple “big steps” over narrow sections, to boulder hopping and — in a few cases — fording your way through the water. Either way, be sure you wear grippy, waterproof boots on this trail — or shoes that dry fast. If we’ve had rain, you’re going to get wet.

Although this canyon is part of a major long-distance trail, it looked like it hadn’t been traveled in some time when I was on it. Some of the sections were overgrown, and the footprints I did see in the mud looked like they’d been left a few days before. If you’re lucky enough to get this canyon to yourself, savor it. Take a few chances hopping boulders, splash yourself with some of the cold creek water, and enjoy the short sections where the trail just meanders along the banks.

Right before you make it to West Fork Camp, Shortcut Canyon Creek makes a sharp turn to the east, and the trail crosses twice at a wide, fairly shallow section of the stream.

During my hike, this was the only place where I had to actually ford the water to make it across. The creek was about ankle high, but a quick step and waterproof boots kept my feet mostly dry. Even at this low level, there weren’t any prominent boulders to hop onto, so be prepared to run quickly and get a bit dampened.

Around another two bends in the canyon, the creek meets up with the rushing West Fork of the San Gabriel River. The boulders here are bigger, and the river is deeper and faster. Directly in front of you on the trail is the West Fork Campground, surrounded by a wall of rocks. If you continue a few yards west on the north shore of the West Fork, there’s a slightly easier crossing than the implied crossing directly to the trail. But hey, it’s a stream crossing. Do it where you’re comfortable.

West Fork Campground is a beautiful site to drop your gear and set up a tent. It’s got an outhouse, fire pits, a few stoves, picnic tables, and plenty of shade. It’s also surrounded on three sides by rushing water (with one area that looks like a particularly good swimming hole), which I’m kind of a sucker for.

Here, the Silver Moccasin Trail meets up with the Gabrielino Trail, and it’s possible to head to Chantry Flats (8.8 miles), Switzer Falls (9.5 miles), or take a peek at the surrounding mountains from the top of nearby Mount Wilson (4 miles and 2800 feet of elevation gain). If West Fork is crowded, or if your legs still want to do some exploring, you can head just over another mile to DeVore Campground, the site of an old fishing camp and resort that’s now another USFS trail camp.

While relaxing at West Fork, be sure to note the small rock and cement foundation just west of the tent sites.

This is the remaining foundation from the first US Forest Service ranger station in California (built 1900), which has since been moved down the Angeles Crest Highway to the Chilao Visitor’s Center. Not much to look at now, but it’s a point of historical interest.

Once you’re done, continue back north in Shortcut Canyon, enjoying all the same stream crossings you’ve conquered before — by now, you’ll probably have a bit more confidence in making the jumps.

There is one section on the return route where a false trail just past the stream ford, where it appears the trail continues on the east bank of the stream and rises into the forest above it. Instead, the trail crosses the river.

If you take the false trail, you’ll figure it out pretty quickly, as it soon reaches some very difficult, step wooded terrain that you won’t remember from the way in. Enjoy the shade and stream while you can — you’ll be feeling that final ascent back to the trailhead.

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

Shade

Solitude

Water Features

Trail Map


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36 Comments


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Carson Aug 15, 2018 09:08In reply to:

In my experience in the West Fork area, if you encounter a vine that looks just like poison oak but has big thorns instead of an oily sheen, you've got blackberry. There's a ton of it between WFCG and Devore Trail Camp. Fruits and ripens in late summer, Aug-Sep. depending on how dry it is. Freaking delicious, but those thorns will shred you.

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evan.a.wood Jun 9, 2017 22:06In reply to: Flor Chavez

Hiked this today (6/9/2017). The trail was in decent condition but with the creek bed dry in several spots it can be easy to lose if you aren't paying attention. The flora got pretty dense in many places and I'm still picking seeds out of my socks. Saw what we thought was a striped racer and had a fairly close encounter with a medium sized rattlesnake once we were down in the canyon. We talked with some campers who hiked in on Red Box, but nobody else on the way in or out.

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Michael May 29, 2017 19:05In reply to: Flor Chavez

Did you hike in and stay? Is it a busy area or secluded. I am trying to find a nice secluded area.

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TN May 22, 2017 19:05In reply to: Flor Chavez

Curious how your first backpacking trip went?

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Bryan M May 17, 2017 11:05In reply to: RP

Wow! Cool stories

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Casey Schreiner May 12, 2017 08:05In reply to: Todd

the hike out is what gets you on this one. DEFINITELY don't forget to pack the bug spray!

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Todd May 12, 2017 07:05In reply to: Flor Chavez

Moderate, really. Downhill most of the way in with some over/under of downed trees in the canyon. The hike out is fairly brutal as it's all up hill to the parking area, but well worth it. Don't forget a water filter, take some bug spray (!!!), pack light, and you'll be fine!

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Flor Chavez May 8, 2017 14:05In reply to: TN

Thanks for your review, we are planning an overnight on the 16th of this month and its good to know the current conditions of the area. I am a little nervous it will be our first time backpacking. What would you say is the difficulty level of the hike?

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TN Apr 26, 2017 12:04

Hiked this on an overnight 4/22/2017. Lots of downed trees and obstacles through the canyon, I'm guessing due to the rainfall we got this year. Made it slow-going in some parts. Creek was refreshing, the camp is nice. Didn't see anybody on the way in or the way out, but there were a few other campers that came in via Red Box. Didn't see any bears or snakes, but did see a deer or two and a few skunks.

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RP May 31, 2016 08:05

We hiked this on Labor Day 2016. There was evidence of recent trail work and no bushwhacking involved. I thought the trail was in excellent condition. No we feet, as the creeks were very low - there were bits of moving water though. We saw 2 other couples packing out to the road - overnighters coming out from camp.

On the way back from West Fork, I came face-to-face with a very large (350lb) black bear coming toward me on the trail. He took one look and sprinted away up the canyon face, dislodging small rocks. 10 minutes later we saw a medium sized rattler. I am *guessing* that due to disuse/neglect of this trail, as mentioned in earlier reports on this page, that wildlife isn't completely accustomed to people being on this trail again.

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