Past Meetup


This Meetup is past

87 people went


Sunday, May 15, 2016 - HISTORICAL HIKE TO THE ST. FRANCIS DAM DISASTER SITE, followed by an Optional 5 Mile Hike

1. Interpretive walk with narration by noted Historian with a visit to the dam site:

Distance: < 1 mile (RT) walk

Time: 1.75 hours including interpretation

Gain: Almost none

Difficulty: Easy

2. Additional Hike Option:

Distance: ~ 5 mile (it will be one way)

Time: Additional 2.5 - 3 hours

Gain: ~ 1000' (hike only)

Difficulty: Moderate (some gain at the start, and a tricky downhill section at the end)

Looking South down San Francisquito Canyon

Looking North up San Francisquito Canyon


At two and a half minutes before midnight, on March 12, 1928, William Mulholland's St. Francis Dam crumbled, sending an immense wall of water crashing down San Francisquito Canyon, turning west at the Santa Clara River. It did not stop until it reached the Pacific Ocean five and a half hours later. Towns across Los Angeles and Ventura Counties — Saugus, Castaic, Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Saticoy, Montalvo — were decimated. 431 Men, women, children - citizens, immigrants, landowners, laborers lost their lives ..... the floodwaters did not discriminate.

The collapse of the St. Francis Dam is considered to be one of the worst American civil engineering disasters of the 20th century and remains the second-greatest loss of life in California's history, after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and fire.

Interpretive Walk to Dam:

We will begin our day at California Historical Landmark# 919, located on the grounds of Powerhouse No. 2 (photo above), 33967 San Francisquito Canyon Road.

CHC Board Member and President, SCV Historical Society (Dr. Alan Pollack), will share his in-depth knowledge of the circumstances and events surrounding the disaster.

At Powerhouse# 2 Alan will review the management of the LA water supply at that time and the role the St Francis Dam was intended to play. We will then drive up San Francisquito Canyon Road and park near the dam before walking to the site of the dam. Those who intend to do the optional hike should plan to leave their cars at / near Power Station #2 and carpool with the rest of the group the 1.5 mile drive to the dam.

At the dam site: Alan will point out the parts of the dam that are still visible and recount the events of that ill-fated night and the aftermath that met citizens of SCV and beyond, as the sun rose the following morning. Alan will conclude his talk by ~ 10:30AM.

Anyone who does not to wish to participate in the 5 mile hike option can leave at this point. We ask that those who have carpooled hikers help by driving them an additional mile up the road to drop the hikers off at a locked white forest gate on the right.

Additional 5 Mile Hike Option:

Leader Disclaimer - If you are uncomfortable with heights, walking a narrow trail with an adjacent drop off, sections with loose scree (rock chips) or similar, this hike will not be for you, see more detail in NOTE at end below.

The remainder of the group will take a hike on an old service road along the East side of the canyon. This road rises gradually from the river basin and eventually flattens out, after a mile. 2.5 miles in we arrive directly above the point where the dam ruptured and have a unique vantage point from which to view the ruins of the approach to the top of the dam from the West (see below).

We then continue South along the road with spectacular views of the entire canyon and many large rock conglomerate outcroppings on the West side of the canyon.

We finally arrive at the top of the pipes carrying water to Powerhouse #2 to generate electricity, far below, where we began our day.

NOTE: At this point we will slowly and carefully descend down a narrow service trail built by the DWP. It has many small wooden steps pinned to the rocky ground. You MUST have hiking shoes/ boots with good thread for this section. Tennis shoes will not cut it (no kidding!). If you follow these instructions, there should be no problem. Hiking poles would be very reassuring and are HIGHLY recommended for this section.

Meet your Leader: For this hike we recommend you go straight to the Meeting place. We will meet in front of Powerhouse #2, 33967 San Francisquito Canyon Road at 8:00AM and start the program here at 8:15 AM SHARP). Note, we will be moving up the road in our cars, after this portion, to be closer to the dam.

Directions to San Francisquito Canyon Interpretive Walk starting point:

Heading North on the I-5 South, through Santa Clarita Valley, exiting right at Route 126 East, Newhall Ranch Road. Turn left at the second light (with the Walmart on the left ) onto Copper Hill Drive. Continue 2.8 miles on Copper Hill to the light at San Francisquito Canyon Road (crest of hill), turn left and continue on San Francisquito Canyon (watch for road bikers). After 6 miles, you will see the DW&P Powerhouse#2 (33967 San Francisquito Canyon Road) on the right on a sharp bend. Park anywhere on the side of the road in this area (we will move most of our cars in < 30 mins). If you are planning to do the hike, arrive and park early.

Dogs: OK, must be on a leash and if well behaved around other dogs and people with hiking poles.

Adventure Pass: No.

BRING: A snack, at least 2-3 L of water and some electrolytes (if hiking), camera, hat and sunscreen. Wear hiking shoes/boots with good tread - No flip-flops.

Historian: Alan Pollock

Hike Leader(s): Dianne / Steve