Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hike 94: Fish Canyon Falls, Long Way

Hiked Sunday, October 24. This was a repeat of one of my earlier hikes, which I blogged about here. When I last hiked the long way, it was back in February. Once it gets warmer, the long way is a very tough hike. There's about a 1,400 foot gain you need to attack both coming and going, as you climb high along Van Tassel Ridge to get around the Vulcan Mining development at the mouth of Fish Canyon.

There are still no signs for the parking area to access this long way around to Fish Canyon. Basically, if you don't know what you're looking for, you'd never know there's a long way around to Fish Canyon. To get here, you take the 605 north to Huntington Drive. Turn right at the light, head past two traffic lights and turn left on Encanto Drive (just before crossing the San Gabriel River). Drive about 1.5 miles north, past a park, past several residential streets, and past a sign for an equestrian center. Park in the unmarked flat area to your left.

The trail heads out of the northwest end of the parking lot. It starts out level, running behind a number of equestrian pens. Once you pass them all, the trail turns left and begins a long and steep climb up Van Tassel Ridge. It's about two miles to the top, with the aforementioned 1,400 foot gain. From that first ridge, look south and you'll overlook the San Gabriel Valley. You'll also overlook Van Tassel Ridge, which would be removed if the proposed Vulcan mining swap goes through.

Heading north, you walk through a "jungle," with thick growth that includes lots of poison oak. Fortunately, in the fall, the poison oak leaves are bright red and easy to spot (in the winter, the leaves fall and the going is a little easier).

Exiting the jungle, the trail parallels a chain link fence. Current Vulcan gravel mining goes on to the east of the fence.

When the fence ends, the trail tends to your left. A firebreak cut is the trail for a hundred yards or so. The trail then leaves the firebreak and heads to the left, looping around a summit. Alternatively, the firebreak continues to the right. The two routes merge, so your choice at the split depends on whether you want 300 yards of extremely steep climbing or 1000 yards of less steep switchbacks.

Once you finish a bit more climbing, you then have one mile of a very steep decline, giving back about 1,200 of the feet your fought so hard to gain on the way up. You then rejoin the "regular" Fish Canyon trail, which is a short, 2 mile trail that still has some ups and a few downs before you reach the multi-part Fish Canyon Falls. By contrast, the long way is more than twice as long, and with a ridiculous bit of ridge climbing both coming and going. That means after you enjoy your view of the falls, you've got a very tough return trip waiting for you.

That's unless you wait for one of the occasional hiking days when Vulcan runs a free shuttle van to the trailhead. The difference is that if you go on one of their hiking days, you'll be sharing the trail with several van loads of fellow hikers, and you have no chance of solitude at the falls. By contrast, on the day I hiked, I only ran into three other hikers. Two were eating lunch near the falls, while one I passed as I was making the descent into Fish Canyon and he was heading out.

The falls are in four parts: Three cascades that comprise the upper falls and one for the lower falls. Of the upper falls, the first and third segments look to be about 30 feet tall, while the middle segment is only about 12 feet tall. The third segment flows into a decent but shallow pool. The lower falls drops into a fair-sized and deeper pool.
One very sad thing about my hike today was seeing the area near where the "short" and "long" trails merge. The area was completely overgrown with "Tree of Heaven," and hard to kill and very invasive non-native plant.

I shot a video over looking the falls. However, after waiting several hours, it appears the video will not load to the site. I'll try again with that tomorrow.

[Note: This hike is no longer possible. When the "new" trail was built from the rock quarry was built, the detour trail was decommissioned. Sections had washed out a while ago, making this route (as far as I know) no longer feasible. Additionally, the area was closed following the 2015 "Fish Fire," and has not reopened.]


  1. Hi. I was wondering if you think it would be possible to take the shorter route on the non shuttle days? I was hoping to finish this trail within 5 hours or less so I guess the shorter route is my only option.

  2. At a political event once, I ran into someone who worked for Vulcan Materials. She gave me a card and said I should call if I ever wanted to hike Fish Canyon. This implied that rides could be arranged on non-shuttle days.

    Also, the last time I hiked Fish Canyon (a non-shuttle day), a Vulcan Materials pick-up truck kept honking at the shortway trailhead. I assume that meant the driver was waiting to pick someone up and take them back.

    So I would suggest contacting them and asking. Worst thing that can happen is they'll say no!