A moderate trek around one of the most breathtaking natural landmarks in the region. A hike to Devil’s Chair gives you panoramic views of what happens to the ground near one of the most active seismic zones in the world. With the right gear, this is a beautiful winter trek – especially after the Punchbowl and San Gabriels get a dusting of snow.
The Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area is one of my favorite parks in the San Gabriels. Hidden on the northeastern range of the San Gabriels – far away from us city slickers – the otherwise flat high desert is slowly being ripped and bent into odd angles by the tearing of the San Andreas and Punchbowl Faults, with the resulting canyons further eroded by the wind and water from the 8000+ft peaks right to its south. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and every time I catch the first glimpse of the formation from the road, I’m still awestruck.
On this particular day, I came after a weekend of on-and-off precipitation, which at this elevation was snow. The Punchbowl was lightly dusted, which served to highlight the jutting slabs of sandstone.
Here, there was about an inch, maybe an inch-and-a-half of snow. The sound under my boots was soothing, and the cold air filling my lungs was better than any cup of coffee I’ve ever had.
As the trail continued, it seemed like every time I had a stretch of elevation gain, it’d be immediately countered by a quick decline … which makes sense, as the trail was basically hugging the lower north face of the mountains as it crawled eastward. The scenery and fresh air were great, but I’m not sure how much of that just had to do with the fresh snowfall …
After reaching and passing several mini-summits that seem like they’re the end of the trail, the pathway finally peaks out just in front of Holcomb Canyon. From here, you won’t be able to see the Devil’s Chair itself, but you will get broad, sweeping views of Holcomb behind you and the Punchbowl in front of you. You’ll also see a beautiful, gnarled old tree husk that a certain Northern California hiker/blogger would definitely stop to take a snapshot of.
Wherever you are on this trail, make sure you stop every once in a while to take a look down at the Punchbowl formation. You never know when you’re going to get those angles just right.
And then, as I returned to the trailhead, I was treated to another beautiful sunset. I’ll have to say, the decreased daylight hours are a drag, but if I keep getting these brilliant sunsets at the ends of my hikes, I think I’m sold on winter hiking.
Excellent. The opening section of the trail is on fire-road, but the Punchbowl Trail / High Desert National Recreation Trail is a great, well-maintained single track trail. The only junctions on this route are at the trailhead, the Burkhart Trail, and the spur to South Fork Camp, all of which are clearly marked. The area near the Devil's Chair itself may inspire a bit of vertigo in some hikers. You'll be thankful for the guard rails.
Take Interstate 5 North to California 14N toward Palmdale. After about 30 miles, take exit 30 to the Pearblossom Highway. Continue on this road until 87th Street East, where you'll take a right. Take a left onto Fort Tejon, a right onto Longview, and a left on Tumbleweed. Parking at the Punchbowl is free, but the park closes at sunset.