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Hike to Smith Mountain, Bear Canyon, and West Fork of the San Gabriel River

Hike Organizer: Saint Paul

Hike Location: Angeles National Forest

Distance: 13 miles one way

Elevation Gain: 1,900 feet (gain); 2,800 feet (loss)

Hike Classification: 6.5/10 (moderate to strenuous)

Time: 7-8 hours

THIS HIKE INVOLVES BOULDER HOPPING AND STREAM CROSSINGS FOR SEVERAL MILES AT THE TOP OF BEAR CANYON SO PLEASE BE PREPARED WITH APPROPRIATE FOOTWEAR IF YOU SIGN UP FOR THIS HIKE.

INTRODUCTION: 5,111’ Smith Mountain stands tall on the divide separating the North Fork of the San Gabriel River from Bear Creek, right on the eastern boundary of the rugged San Gabriel Wilderness. The superb view from the summit of Smith Mountain takes in the eastern half of this wilderness area, with the deep chasm of Bear Canyon right below. The lower 4-mile stretch of Bear Canyon is a particular highlight of this trip – Bear Creek dances and cascades under tall stands of big-cone spruce, alder, and oak, interspersed with chaparral glades. There are grassy flats where the canyon widens, and rock-ribbed corridors where it narrows.

HIKE DESCRIPTION: The Bear Creek Trail begins at Highway 39 and switchbacks 3 miles up to Smith Saddle, at which point there is a ½ mile hike/scramble to the top of Smith Mountain. After taking in the view from the summit we return to Smith Saddle and then continue down the Bear Canyon Trail into the San Gabriel Wilderness. The trail takes us first to the creek at Upper Bear wilderness campsite, 7 miles in, and then down-canyon, across the creek, and on to West Fork Bear wilderness campsite. Continuing down the canyon, we emerge from forest cover and scramble across boulders where the creek turns into a rocky wash, passing under oaks and alders to Bear Creek wilderness campsite. It is a short distance from here to the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, which we cross and follow the fire road east for 1 mile to the parking lot at Highway 39.

WHAT TO BRING: Make sure that you wear appropriate footwear as there will be stream crossings and some rock scrambling. Bring at least 2 liters of water, copious amounts of sweet snacks to munch along the way, and lunch.

DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD: Exit the 210 Freeway at Azusa Avenue (Highway 39) and drive north to the junction of the North and West forks of the San Gabriel River, approx. 11 ½ miles north of Azusa, to the parking area where we will be ending the hike. At this point we will arrange a car shuttle taking some of the cars to the Bear Canyon Trailhead 6 miles farther north.

An additional carpool place will be Monrovia Park and Ride on the west side of Myrtle Avenue just south of the 210 Freeway for those people driving from the west, at 7.30 a.m.

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  • Paul

    Love the diversity of this hike, you get mountains and creek all in one. Thanks to all for a great days hike, terrific group of people on this one. Special thanks to David for sweeping and Ken for saving us all with the water filter!

    July 17, 2013

  • chris

    Glad I attended, nice intro to hiking the San Gabriels. Pleasure to meet everyone. Thanks to Paul and y'all and those that drove the extra mile to make carpooling happen. Big shout out to Ken and shareing your water purifier pump. Definitely some cool photos in the mix.

    July 15, 2013

  • Kamila J.

    Hi Amanda, I am in West L.A. but can meet you at the 405/101 and we can drive together. How about that?

    July 7, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Amanda, and anyone else interested. http://www.kcet.org/l...­

      July 15, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      I have mailed a few of the tickets back with a letter stating 'im not paying' Then I just started throwing them out. I've even walked a few back into the local ranger station and said 'no thank you' left it with them. I have never been summoned to court, had a problem with my vehicle registration, etc ... I've ignored close to 50. The money collected does go to a good cause, which I understand to be trash clean up and other basic maintenance, they just used the wrong way to support it. To wrap this up, the forestry still issues tickets because they haven't been told to stop and, they know that most recipients will pay due to lack of knowledge regarding this issue.

      July 15, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    This was a great hike Paul!!! Thanks for organizing it. I REALLY needded this work out.

    July 15, 2013

  • Shine

    Thanks to Paul and all great hikers. It's a wonderful hike and look forward to see you all soon....

    July 14, 2013

    • Mark N.

      I wasn't ready..I will do this hike on my own and return prepared.

      July 14, 2013

    • Mark N.

      I started to hyperventilate on this hike I became overheated and thought it would be wise to turn back. I went to Crystal lake and hiked the Windy Gap trail and returned about 8pm.

      July 14, 2013

  • Kamila J.

    Just amazing. I always wanted to do this challenging and somewhat obscure hike. Perfect mix of steep uphill, then steep downhill and roughing it through a canyon with water and shade. Great 12 mile workout for me.

    July 14, 2013

  • Jamie

    Sorry family emergency came up

    July 13, 2013

  • Joshua B.

    Sure. Thanks. I'm sending you my phone number

    July 12, 2013

  • Kamila J.

    Do you still want a ride? I can pick you up off the 210 at 7:30.

    July 12, 2013

  • Joshua B.

    I would like to go, but am in Pasadena without a car. Can meet anyone at 210 freeway and lake in pasadena and would chip in.

    July 12, 2013

  • Rob

    Did something to my achilles yesterday. I'm out for a few weeks.

    July 9, 2013

  • Ray D.

    Paul, I'd like to do the Smith Mountain part as well. What are the direction to Bear Canyon trailhead?

    July 9, 2013

    • Paul

      Ray, directions to Bear Canyon trailhead are in the write-up.

      July 9, 2013

    • Ray D.

      Thanks Paul - (feeling a little red-faced since I did read it before asking ;{

      July 9, 2013

  • Amanda S.

    Paul, I am sure you mentioned this, though will we need a wilderness pass? permit anything like that?

    July 8, 2013

    • Paul

      Amanda, an Adventure Pass is required.

      July 9, 2013

  • Rimona

    Hello Paul, I'm back from Europe.... I was thinking...Is there a way I could do half of the hike?? I need to be somewhere at 2pm...Will I get lost or should I not even consider this hike at all...?

    July 8, 2013

    • Rimona

      Great...could you tell me where is the Bear Canyon Trailhead? Is it the one on the way to Swtizer Falls???

      July 8, 2013

    • Paul

      Rimona, read the hike write-up for directions to the Bear Canyon trailhead.

      July 9, 2013

  • Amanda S.

    I would like to go if anyone would like to carpool from the valley. i am in the Sherman Oaks area and will pitch in for gas/wilderness pass.

    July 7, 2013

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