Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hike 2011.044A -- Lewis Falls.

Hiked Wednesday, July 13. After completing my hike to South Mt. Hawkins, I decided to try doing this Lewis Falls hike.

This is one of the waterfall hikes listed on an Angeles National Forest handout (if I could find a link to it, I'd put it in here, but I can't immediately find that link). However, directions on that handout are skimpy, to say the least. Still, between that and some Internet research, I knew the hike itself was supposed to be quite short, and I knew about where the trailhead should be. As I drove up to Crystal Lake, I saw numerous cars parked at one point, where I already suspected the trail began. On my return trip, I stopped, hiked, and confirmed this was the place for Lewis Falls.

To get to this trailhead from the city, take the 210 freeway, exit at Azusa, and head north, past East Fork Road, past the OHV parking area, past the West Fork parking area, past the trailhead for Upper Bear Creek trail, and past the Coldbrook camp area.

Continue driving northward, paying attention to the white mileage markers on the side of the road. At the 34.5 mile point, there is currently a rusted sand dispenser that Caltrans used in repairing CA-39. The road takes you around that structure, and continues climbing. After a relatively tight right turn, it straightens out, and you'll see the road heading towards a ravine before it makes a hairpin turn to the left. Look for parking at that hairpin turn, on your right. There are small turnouts with additional parking on the other side of the road, either above or below this area.

There's no sign indicating Lewis Falls at this parking area. There is only a "No Fires" sign. A relatively clear trail does head past that sign, into the ravine. It climbs somewhat steeply, then bends sharply to the right, away from the water. You're not far from the water, but you don't need to approach the water yet, which is good, because the vegetation near the water is extremely thick.

Instead, you keep climbing, eventually passing behind one of several mountain cabins along the way. Despite the close proximity to the cabin, the trail is not posted "No Trespassing." So whether this is public land or private land with a hiking easement, the trail is (with care) easy to follow.

In addition to the standing cabins, there are the foundations, rock walls, and other remnants suggesting a number of other cabins once stood here.

The vegetation is pretty thick even up here, but the trail has obviously been maintained. In one spot, however, walking along downed logs is the easiest way to proceed. After about 1/3 of a mile of this steep zig-zagging (which included passing by a healthy Humboldt Lily), the trail drops down to water level. I crossed where the trail seemed clearest, which included walking over a down tree. Then it was mostly on the left bank (when facing upstream). Not sure if I had to cross a few more times.

Finally, when I was getting to the point of thinking the falls should be here by now, I came to a narrow point in the ravine. A very large downed log crossed the stream, and led to the top of a large boulder. From there, the falls were visible, although still partially shielded. Sort of like Switzers Falls, this stream partially reversed direction as it falls, so the face of the falls is pointing slightly back towards the direction of flow. If I wasn't already tired from my hike to South Hawkins, I should probably have removed my shoes, again, and picked my way up the various pools below the falls, to get a more face-on view. Instead, I settled for the partially obscured view.

While I was there, three young men appeared to be doing some climbing down the ravine past and to the right of Lewis Falls. I didn't talk to them, so I don't know how far they went or what they saw. However, when they returned, they moved very quickly under the growth that was on the left side (when facing upstream) of the creek. Thus, where I crossed on the log, apparently it would be pretty easy to push under the vegetation along the left side, and get to the pool below the falls. From there, obviously, it would be easy to cross the pool and get a view of the falls from a more visible angle. But I was too tired to want to try that.

Water flow here is much greater than at any of the other falls I've visited recently. Also, the deep ravine is largely shaded, so this area felt a little like a rainforest. Columbine grew along one of the walls, and framed a relaxing scene.

Despite the short distance of this hike, you need to make several somewhat careful balancing and climbing maneuvers to navigate your way across and along the stream. As I often say, I'm short, uncoordinated and obese, so it's not THAT hard. But I do a lot of hiking, and I can recognize when I'm getting in over my head. More importantly, I'm willing to sound a retreat when that happens. If you go on this hike, be careful, and be willing to turn around without achieving your objective.


  1. Hey, Skyhiker, thanks for inviting me to this write-up. It's always fun to read a different perspective. You mentioned steepness, which puzzled me. I found that the grade was gentle.

  2. Just the very start of the trail is steep. It climbs sharply away from the road, and switchbacks to the right (uphill), when your (my) inclination would be to stay near the water. I wanted to stress the steepness so that folks would be deterred from staying near the water, which is overgrown and not passable.

    I enjoyed reading your write-up because obviously I knew exactly which big "log to nowhere" you were talking about. :D

  3. We don't do a lot of waterfall hikes but this one looks nice. Love those humboldt lilies.

  4. It's a bit of an adventure because there's some scrambling over downed trees and boulders involved. But it's also very short. Best to combine it with something like Mt. Islip or one of the Hawkins peaks up around Crystal Lake, or with a Smith Mountain hike. Might also be best to do it first, just to make sure it gets done. ;D

  5. I was there on July 4th! It's a beautiful hike and so glad I did it! I took pictures and have some videos of Lewis Falls, so you can get an idea of what it's like before you actually go out there. Comments and likes are welcomed on our photos! Enjoy!