Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hike 2011.086 -- Rubio Canyon

Hiked Thursday, November 24. I'm typing this three days later, but I'll do my best to recollect what I saw and where.

Dan of Dan's Hiking Blog recently posted about his hiking east of Rubio Canyon, and I figured I'd check this area out. He also posted a map, which looks similar to the one the Conservancy provides at the Rubio Canyon trailhead. Of course, as is my nature, I didn't look too carefully at the map until after I got back home.

This trailhead is where Loma Alta Drive turns into Rubio Canyon Road. An unsigned paved road ("Camp Huntington Road," on Google Maps) heads north from this point. The last time I was in the area, the entrance up this road was plastered with "No Trespassing" and "Keep Out" signs, so I never tried walking up this road before. However, presumably because of work by the Arroyos and Foothills Conservancy, there is now only one "No Trespassing" sign, and it is now clear that this refers to the private homes adjacent to the road and not the road itself.

There's no parking available right at this road, however. Instead, I parked on nearby Rubio Crest Drive, a road that heads north off of Rubio Canyon Road, just 1/10th of a mile or so west of the Rubio Canyon Road/Loma Alta Drive sign post.

Incidentally, if you were to take Rubio Crest Drive north, then turn right at Rubio Vista Drive, parking where that road turns sharply to the left and changes its name to Pleasant Ridge Drive, you would then be at the main Rubio Canyon Trailhead, with reasonable access to a series of waterfalls, as well as access to a very steep trail up to Echo Mountain.

However, today, I parked near the bottom of Rubio Crest Drive and walked the short distance to Camp Huntington Drive. After a very short walk on Camp Huntington Drive, I came across a green gate, which was (and is normally) locked. It provides fire truck and maintenance access to the Rubio CaƱon Land and Water Association facility. I saw several decrepit cabins just beyond this gate.

Almost immediately after crossing the gate, a dirt road dropped down and to the left from the paved road. You should follow that path.

Another water company structure was just ahead, on the left side of the trail. All these structures had fences and warnings about severe federal penalties for trespassing on these properties.

Not long after passing that structure, a well-defined trail headed upstream. However, almost before I got moving that way, there was another, well-engineered switchback on my right. I followed that trail, instead. Soon, I was walking above and behind a large, covered reservoir. As I gained altitude, I could see the main Rubio Canyon trail behind me (across the canyon).

Another trail, marked at the time by numerous orange ties, left my trail and headed in a more uphill and northerly direction. However, I continued more or less on my contour, climbing somewhat, but relatively slowly, and heading mostly to the east. The trail was narrow and it was impossible not to rub against the encroaching plant life. As I did so, I regularly checked for ticks, and found them, with disturbing regularity. Brushed them all off as soon as I saw them, and seem to have made it home without getting bitten.

The ground here is mostly soils, without a lot of hard rocks on which to build a trail. In many places, a careless step can lead to slides and much trail displacement. This was especially true on several spurs I took today.

I followed the main trail for what seemed like a mile, going past one nice ridge (pretty shallow ridge, but with a clearing and some good views over more than 180 degrees to the south). After crossing the ridge, the plant life became largely fountain grass (which I sometimes describe, incorrectly, as "deer grass"). At this point, I was heading northeasterly. At regular intervals I could see those familiar orange ties that marked the trail route. However, the need for frequent tick checks (and the frequent discovery of very large ticks walking on my sweater or pants) deterred me from going too much further this way.

I eventually backtracked to past the ridge line. On the way in, I passed a clear trail that headed down this next canyon over from Rubio. I could see the Altadena Crest trail clearly below, and wondered if one of these spurs would connect with it. I think they sort of do, but it would require a lot of contact with brush, and the accompanying tick threat meant I wasn't willing to do that.

BTW, the three times I have picked up ticks on my San Gabriel Mountain hikes, they've all been on hikes through Rubio Canyon. I don't know if that means this is a particular hotspot for them or if it's just that hiking here often means walking on narrow, ill-defined trails that necessarily lead to contact with brush, but I am especially vigilant in checking for ticks when I'm in Rubio Canyon.

I worked my way back to the ridge, then back down towards the west. There was yet another spur trail heading south from there, and I followed that one down some distance, as well. Again, evidence of vegetation being cut back indicated a lot of labor when into this path finding, but the trail was still mostly just rearranged top soil, which made causing substantial erosion very easy to to.

It eventually became evident that this trail would lead down into someone's backyard, so I headed back up to the trail I came from and returned into Rubio Canyon. Had time permitted, I would have followed the trail that heads up the canyon and towards the waterfalls. But, this being Thanksgiving Day, time did not permit.

With the two spurs I explored and the short walk to and from Camp Huntington Drive, I'm assuming I covered about three miles. I spent over 90 minutes walking.

There are several additional spurs that could be explored from here. Not sure if a hard frost will kill the ticks for the season, but perhaps I will wait until then for my next foray up these trails.


  1. Nice adventure, SkyHiker! When you passed the gap in the ridge you crossed into the ANF. If you would have continued on the "fountain grass trail" you would have found that it doubles back and continues to climb to the power towers on the ridge, then descends the newly restored Lone Tree Trail (the one marked with orange flags) back to the reservoir. The dilapidated cabin is from the old Camp Huntington Boy Scout Camp. The map I posted is the one from the trailhead, created by Paul Ayers, who provided me the electronic file. He has been instrumental in leading the trail restoration. Thanks for your posting! Happy hiking!

  2. Hi, Dan,

    Yeah, I was pretty sure after looking at the map on-line from home that this was the loop you took. However, between the ticks and the time constraint, I was more than willing to turn around early.

    Didn't notice the map at the trailhead, so I guess I should look around for a mailbox next time I'm there.

  3. Dear Skyhiker-the spur that appeared to go into someone’s back yard is an under-construction connector trail between the SCE road and Loma Alta Dr.; the Loma Alta trail head is at 1101 E. Loma Alta. The trail is contained completely in the lower parcels acquired by the AFC this year, no private property is traversed. I will be running a work crew on the trail this Friday from 9-11 and will be using the trail as part of the docent hike I am leading for AFC on Saturday at 9. Come along if you would like to take a look.

    As to ticks-I find they are most plentiful when the weather turns warm after a rain, mostly in spring and fall. I was on the trail multiple times this week and saw none.

    Best regards

    Paul Ayers

  4. Paul,

    Thanks for filling in some details. I'm not sure why the ticks were so thick for me last week.

    When I ask google for 1101 Loma Alta, it points to the hill, so I don't know where on the road the access would be, but I'll definitely keep an eye out for the access point in the coming weeks or months.

    I'm still in Kentucky. Won't be back in the San Gabriel Valley for another two weeks or so. May try to join you guys in late December, before I start actual work.

    Thanks for all your hard work on the Altadena Crest Trail.

  5. Skyhiker-To get to the trail head walk east on Loma Alta from Camp Huntington Road. The first driveway you will encounter is asphalt. Next to the driveway is a house with "1101" on it. Go up the driveway and at the top bear right and the trail will be apparent. The driveway and the house are both on the lowest of the AFC parcels.

    Best regards


  6. Very nice writeup. The trail you passed off to the left is called the Lone Tree Trail (built in 1888), and the one you took to the east is the old SCE Tractor Road aka Gooseberry Motorway. If you stay to the left on it, the trail drops into Pine Canyon and eventually goes all the way to Eaton Canyon's red zone, high above the Altadena Crest Trail. If you go right instead it will connect with the Altadena Crest Trail. By the way that east and west canyon you passed through (with the reservoir) is called Dry Canyon, and somewhere underneath it is the longest water tunnel ever built (for its time) back in 1884-86. It was 3000 feet long, and water was never found.

    1. Thanks! You know what's interesting is how much this area has changed just since I started hiking the area. That collapsing cabin continues to collapse, and some of the water company structures have disappeared. And a lot more trails have been constructed!

      By "red zone," I assume the part of Eaton Canyon that is illegal to enter?