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East Fork of the San Gabriel River

A 10 mile hike along the San Gabriel River to the Bridge to Nowhere - a large concrete bridge in a rocky canyon.

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Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 10.2 miles / 16.4 km
Duration: Half day
Dog Friendly
 
Overview: The trail along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to the Bridge to Nowhere is not only one of the best trails in Southern California, but it's also one of the most unique hiking experiences you'll ever have.

After you leave the crowded (and overused) trailhead area, you will increasingly find yourself awed by the rugged canyons deep in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. Multiple river crossings and shaded glens await you on this trek, with the final destination a 130-foot concrete span bridge leftover from an attempt to build a road north through the canyon.

Most of the road is gone, now, but the bridge still stands - and is full of bungee jumpers on the weekends. A short trail down from the bridge leads to some top-notch swimming holes, making this a perfect hike on a hot, summer day.


Tips: Get to the trailhead early, especially on hot days. The San Gabriel River is a very popular spot for locals to cool off, and the parking may fill up quickly.

This trail has a LOT of river crossings. Wear boots you don't mind getting soaked, or even better - wear rugged water sandals instead. Hike in a bathing suit to enjoy the cold swimming holes near the Bridge to Nowhere and pack a picnic lunch before your hike back!

Points of Interest

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Trailhead

Park at Coyote Flat at the end of East Fork Road and display your Adventure Pass. This parking area is small and tends to fill up quickly - especially on hot days. Be sure to get there early, or you'll end up having to park further down the road and add some distance to the hike.

Look for the gate on the northeast side of the lot. Walk through the pedestrian area and continue along the dirt road.
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Heaton Flats Trail Junction

At the small campground and picnic area, ignore the trail heading toward Heaton Flats and continue heading north.

Depending on the water levels, just beyond the camp may be the first time you'll get your feet wet on this hike. Get used to it - there are plenty of crossings left to go. If the water is low or moderate, you may be able to hug the eastern bank of the river and boulder hop to continue on the trail.
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Trail Splits

At about 1.4 miles, just after the second crossing, the trail splits into several use trails, each marked with cairns. All lead to the same place, so take whichever one looks the least overgrown and continue along the river.
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Stay on the East Bank

At about 1.5 miles the flood plain becomes scattered with lots of logs and other debris. Stay as close to the eastern canyon wall as possible for the trails of least resistance.
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Shoemaker Canyon

At 1.67 miles, the canyon makes a sharp turn toward the northeast as it intersects with Shoemaker Canyon to the northwest of this point. If you look up at the western canyon wall, you can find evidence of the failed Shoemaker Canyon Road, which blasted a few tunnels into the mountains as far as this area. Here, the East Fork trail also shows signs of its former status as a paved road. Look down for areas of asphalt and pavement on the trail, heavily overgrown and worn down by 50-plus years of California sun and wind.
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Poison Oak Alert!

For the next .6 miles, the trail follows the river east through a narrow section of canyon. This area is very shaded and generally cooler than the rest of the trail.

The route hugs the southern walls of the canyon, and the shade and moisture here make it a prime growing area for poison oak. Watch out for Leaves of Three!
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Take the Low Road

Ignore the thin use-trail worn into the rock wall and stay on the lower route. It will eventually make a short ascent in a safer area.
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Sheep Mountain Wilderness Boundary

At 2.68 miles, the trail enters the Sheep Mountain Wilderness area at the intersection with Laurel Canyon. The East Fork trail continues north.
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Swan Rock

At 2.78 miles, look toward the western canyon wall. A prominent, twisted vein of quartz gives this formation its name -- Swan Rock. This formation is best viewed in the indirect sunlight of the morning or late afternoon.
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Stay Near the Water

Ignore any use-trails you see here that ascend the ridge to your right and instead stay along the river as it curves northeast from Swan Rock.
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Allison Gulch

Cross the river as it bends north at Allison Gulch. Depending on water levels, there may be a shallow bar in the middle of the river.

If you're up for a big challenge, you can bushwhack up Allison Gulch to the old Allison Gulch Mine. The 1.4 mile trail is unmaintained and very overgrown, and may even be impassable depending on your level of expertise. There is an alternate route to the mine that requires climbing, mountaineering, and pathfinding skills. Needless to say, either of these routes should only be attempted by experts who can proceed with extreme caution. There are open mine shafts in the area, as well as exposed equipment.
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Stay Near the Water Again

At 3.52 miles, the river continues north around a small bend. Ignore the use trail leaving the riverbed and climbing up onto this ridge -- this trail will leave you stranded above the actual route on the old road grade with no safe way down. Instead, continue near the river's edge on the eastern bank.
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River Crossings

Cross the river twice, to another long sand/debris bar stretching northeast. Continue in this direction, and note the old, severely eroded road grade on the southeast side of the canyon. That's where you would have gotten stuck if you took that use trail.
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Onto the Old Road

Cross the river again to the eastern bank. Scan this ridge for a prominent use trail that leads to the old road grade. This route may be marked by a large arrow made of stones.
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Private Property

Pass the sign marking your entrance on Private Property. This is an old gold claim that is still being worked, although it's better known as the home of the Bridge to Nowhere bungee jumpers. Continue on trail.
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Bridge to Nowhere

This is where you'll first come upon the Bridge to Nowhere. From this approach, the bridge doesn't look very impressive. But once you cross the span and look back, you'll be treated to a very unique view -- a lone concrete bridge without any roads nearby.
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Down to the River

At 5.02 miles, look for a few use-trails on your right that scramble down to the river. There are several excellent swimming holes, and many perches to watch bungee jumpers leap off the bridge. When you're done experiencing this unique area, ascend back to the main trail and return the way you came in.

If you'd like, you can also continue about 360 feet further along the trail to the ruins of a very small tunnel. This was supposed to connect to the Bridge, but was abandoned when the rest of the road was washed out.

You can also continue .25 miles farther along the trail as it crosses the river again and travels into The Narrows -- Southern California's deepest gorge. There is an unimproved Trail Camp here that's popular with anglers and adventurers alike. Do not try to camp near the Bridge -- it is private property.
Pictures in this guide taken by: modernhiker, Duncan, RichMaru

East Fork of the San Gabriel River Trail Map


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